Monday, 31 January 2011

Realistic Abstracts by Kees van Aalst.... a review

© Search Press
When I buy an art book it's not always the written content that's the clincher for me to part with my pennies. Sometimes it's the amount and quality of the illustrations that it contains. The title and cover of this book were enough for me to know that I needed it. I had it on order from Search Press before it was released and it hasn't disappointed. I confess I hadn't heard of this artist/author/teacher before who is from the Netherlands, after reading this book I would love to attend one of his workshops. To me his paintings portray a sincere love of painting, there is a lot of joy and enthusiastic excitement in the brushstrokes and fluidity of the paint that shines through.


As the book is aimed at more experienced painters to challenge and stretch their working methods, rather than beginners, there is a very short discussion at the beginning about colours and materials that might be needed and some examples of techniques.  It's almost as a reminder rather than one of those long and laborious explanations that take up vast portions of other books, which personally I find frustrating. The book is aimed at those using water based media although in many ways I think it is useful for all mediums.

Rather the majority of the book is used to explain the concepts of seven principles, (unity, contrast, dominance, repetition, variety, balance, and harmony) and seven elements, (line, tone, colour, texture, form, proportion and direction). Each is eloquently explained with lots of illustrations. As a list I would say it is a very useful guideline for analysing and improving your work. The onus of the book is to transform, '...reality by means of elimination and simplification' with reference to these elements and principles.
© Kees van Aalst
The illustration on the right is from page 111 and is the culmination of a step-by-step demonstration showing how using a limited palette and building up the tones leads to a unified painting whilst also re enforcing the other principles and elements.

You are encouraged to, 'Paint what you feel, not what you see.' which is a far cry from the 'paint what you see not what you think you see' often chanted at art school.  It's not a how to paint book as such but more a how to express what you feel, encouraging you to develop you own self expression in a fluid, gestural and impressionistic way. I see this book as an encouraging bridge between the realms of competent amateur and the first steps to becoming an artist.

As well as many examples by van Aalst to illustrate the points made he has also included works by other artists; Xavier Swolfs (one of my favourite watercolourists) Heleen Vriesendorp, Viktoria Prischedko and Cao Bei-An amongst others. I think this makes for an interesting mix of people who use this kind of approach in their painting. The collection of illustrations alone make this book stand out for me and I know it is one I will dip in and out of for inspiration for some time to come.

I'd like to end this post with a big thank you to Search Press especially Mary and Vanessa for allowing me to reproduce the images and a huge thank you to the author Kees Van Aalst for writing such an interesting, inspiring and exciting book.

12 comments:

WILLIE........! said...

"Paint What You Feel, Not What You See"
What a lovely saying....!
First thing that came to mind.....
It applies in life as well....!
Brilliant....WELL...It moved me....
So there....! :)

Sherrie Y said...

Wait! Books have WORDS?!?! And apparently some good ones, too. Thank you for the encouragement to look at some of library again.

Jala Pfaff said...

He does lovely artwork... Is it just watercolor, though (the book)?

Jala Pfaff said...

P.S. Just realized you did say it was watermedia. Anyway, I'd still love to look.

Lisa Le Quelenec said...

Hi Sherrie, ....I know the first time I noticed I thought it was a conspiracy! :op Bizarre! What do you have in your library?

Hi Jala, the book is mostly watercolour, gouache and acrylic but to me the guidelines given are transferable across all mediums. I think it would work in oils, pastel, collage, mixed media etc because it's more about different approaches to seeing.

Just so as you know, the book comes out in March in the US, I thought it had already been released...ooops!

Edo Hannema said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Julz of the World said...

Hi! Searching for reviews on Realistic Abstracts, I came across your blog. Your comments have done the trick. I'm going to buy it right away!
Love your delightful seashore images. I live at the beach, too.

Lisa Le Quelenec said...

Hi Julz, thank you for stopping by. I know you will have fun with some of the techniques in this book. It really is a gem and very inspirational. Have fun.

Rapid Ron said...

I love this book. I like the idea of looking at objects and then painting them abstractly. Christopher Schink did this in his book "Mastering Color and Design in Watercolor" from his studies at the University of California in Berkeley. Kees van Aalst does a great job of showing a few steps on how he develops his paintings. It would have been nice to have actually photographs of the scene that he was paintings, but it was not necessary. I like the way he blocks in the background with big brush strokes and then completes the dark small details within the openings of his white surface of the main subject. Brilliant.

Lisa Le Quelenec said...

Hi Ron, thank you for visiting and taking the time to comment. I will have to look up the Schink book. It sounds interesting. Best wishes.

Anonymous said...

I bought this book last year and keep it close by as I find it truly inspirational. Kees van Aalst has put into words, simply but clearly what,to me, Art is all about and his paintings are wonderfully expressive.
Thank you Kees.

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