Near the end of this past summer I received a note from Batsford asking if I would like to review a the Hazel Soan book: “The Essence of Watercolor.”
(I provided the above link to Amazon so you can read more about the book and see a flip through one reader has put up. I’m not connected with Amazon or the publisher.)
I normally say no to those requests because there is often a sense of obligation about how the review will go. I didn’t hesitate this time to say yes, because I’m a fan of Soan’s loose watercolors which suggest and shimmer with life. (I have other books by her.)
The Minnesota State Fair and other events and obligations prevented me from reading the book until recently.
Frankly I love it. Instead of step-by-step demos which instruct the reader to execute a narrow technique for a very specific project/subject, this book looks at the various aspects of the watercolor experience, succinctly states what the reader might expect or encounter, and then offers suggestions for ways to work with the medium to build skills around that aspect of the paint/water/paper interaction so the reader can be prepared for any situation.
My copy is littered with margin notes saying, “great tip,” “succinctly stated,” “helpful observations.” All of these textual items are accompanied by lovely loose watercolors which bring those related points home to the reader.
Beginners willing to dive in and experiment, rather than follow and repeat step-by-step approaches will find a wealth of information in these pages that will save them from lots of frustration.
Painters already working in watercolor will be delighted by the “reminders” that occur throughout the book, and inspired by the lovely work that fills each page.
Studying how Soan handles the issues of simplicity and paint manipulation, and achieves glowing light and stunning contrast will encourage the reader to look at his or her own work with fresh eyes to see how his or her approach to watercolor might be tweaked to take full advantage of the inherent characteristics of the medium.
If you’re interested in detailed discussions on color theory and and the steps to achieve photo realistic images rendered in watercolor this won’t be the book for you.
If you’re interested in exploring the strengths of this medium and its ability to catch light, suggest mood, and allow the idiosyncratic vision of each artist to shine through then there will be much in this book to delight you.
There is looseness that happens in a rush, and sometimes that is effective. But there is also looseness that is achieved after mastery of the quirks and characteristics of the medium are understood and worked with; a looseness which requires contemplation, a bit of planning, and then a familiarity based on rigorous practice. Soan’s book suggests many ways that you can rethink looseness and quickly start to think about getting the paint to work for you.
Note: This book seems to be a soft-cover release of the 2011 hardcover book with the same title. I don’t have the hardcover book, but based on Amazon listings it seems to be the same book.