The Essence of Watercolour: A Book by Hazel Soan

November 17, 2017
Cover of “The Essence of Watercolor,” by artist and author Hazel Soan.

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.

You can visit Soan’s website to see here work at this link.

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. 




    • Kate
    • November 18, 2017

    I really like Hazel Soan’s approach to watercolor. I realized this book is the paperback version the hardcover published several years ago. When I was checking on that, I found that she has an hour long video on Amazon, which is free if you have Amazon Prime. Learn Watercolor quickly With Hazel Soan . I’ve put it on my watch next list.

    1. Reply

      Thanks for solving the question the other reader had on whether this was a reprint of the hardcover book. I have seen on Soan’s webpage that she teaches so it’s fun to know there is a demo one can watch. It would be fun to see her working in this very loose fashion. Thanks for digging that out for us. OH, and since it’s on Prime I can watch it for free. I’ll have to do that! Thanks Kate.

    • Karen
    • November 21, 2017

    Roz, I love your art and your book reviews. There is, however for me, something missing from this post on Soan’s 2017 book, and so I am hoping you’ll comment or even amend this post. The missing aspect is your perspective on how this 2017 book compares with Soan’s 2011 book of the exact same title. I’d love to know your impressions on that. Thanks so much in advance for considering this request; I’ll be checking back!

    1. Reply

      I can’t comment on a comparison with the other book as I don’t have it. With the stack of books I have here waiting for me to read I’m not going to seek it out. Sorry I can’t help you with this. I saw that it had been originally copyrighted in 2011 but thought this was simply a soft-cover version of a hard cover book. (I shouldn’t have simply assumed, but in my defense I was under the weather at the time.)

      I can write to the publisher and ask them to comment on your question. Let’s see what they say. I’ll keep you posted.

      Note: if your read a comment below you’ll see someone else is confirming it’s simply a soft cover version…

      • Kate
      • November 22, 2017

      Karen, If you go to Roz’s link for this book on Amazon, you’ll see another edition labelled “hardcover.” That’s the 2011 edition that I have. The few sample pages they give under the paperback listing also correspond exactly as to content and page number to my 2011 edition.

      1. Reply

        Thanks for posting this for Karen.

          • Karen
          • December 3, 2017

          Hi Roz, and Kate. Thanks for this follow-up on the editions question.

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