I just purchased a copy of artist Wil Freeborn’s new book Learning to Paint in Watercolor with 50 Paintings: Pick Up the Skils, Put on the Paint, Hang Up Your Art. (Quarry, ISBN 978-1-63159-277-5) (The link is to Amazon for convenience, but I’m not affiliated, but it where you can.)
I read half of the book at one sitting and then said to myself, “Well it’s silly to read any more without getting some paints out.” That’s because the book is structured so that you’ll actually attempt something along the lines of each of the 50 watercolor paintings he write about. Just reading through the book you get a sense of how the author thinks about painting and how he breaks things down, but if you want any of this to stick with you it’s definitely time to get the paints out and play.
That’s why I stopped reading and decided to write the review before I’d finished the rest of the book.
Each section such as Landscapes, Cityscapes, Abstract Patterns, Simplifying What You See, Grouping Subjects, Three Color Washes, Simplifying People, etc. span a two-page spread.
A materials list including tools and pigments can be found on the left. The rest of the spread is filled with a step-by-step series of images showing how Freeborn drew and painted the image which makes whatever point about the topic under consideration. (Hint—his paintings are all gems. I first learned about Freeborn in 2010 when I wrote a post about him here. Use my blog’s search engine you can find other posts about him as well.)
Freeborn begins his book with some basics about getting your painting kit together, selecting paper, and laying in a wash; so even if you’re just beginning in watercolor you’ll find this book welcoming. Then he dives into the various examples.
There are a couple of typos that didn’t get caught that might confuse a beginner. These include an image on page 13 where items 9, 10, 11, and 12 are incorrectly identified. (The correct identification in case you’re new to these types of tools is 9 Travel Brush, 10 Pentel Pocket Brush Pen, 11 Aquash Brush Pen from Pentel, and 12 Platinum Carbon Black Fountain Pen. I’m telling you that so that if you are a beginner you will still go and get this book! A few pages later “cold press paper” is misidentified as either “rough” or “not,” but in the US we have a “cold press paper” that corresponds to “not,” and we have a “rough”—”not” and “rough” are very different and I recommend the beginner start avoid “rough” at first. I hope these errors will be fixed in a future edition along with the more general typos that can be worked out through context.
If you like to work in series or work from prompts you’ll find this book helpful. Just draw the subject he suggests every day for 50 days and your skills are going to improve. Of course your shoes are going to look different than his, and you might not have a toy robot to work on your hard edges with, but you’ll find something similar to each of his subjects, you’ll understand his process so that you can build your painting, and you’ll put in your practice time.
Unlike many of the recent art-tutorial books I’ve seen recently this book also has a lovely, uncluttered layout. (Even the cover with press varnish on the framed images is yummy.) But the book’s greatest strength is that it clearly presents useful approaches for subject matter that any watercolorist will encounter and want to capture (like sky and cloud treatments and building textures).
This book has the potential to help people improve their watercolor painting skills by showing them what is possible to do with this delightful medium, how versatile it can be for any preference in subject matter, and how to build a painting and develop a process for controlling the medium while exploiting its strengths. Go pick up a copy, get out your paints, and start painting.