Book review: Trace & Paint Watercolour from Search Press

Remember painting by numbers?  Artists Terry Harrison, Geoff Kersey and Arnold Lowrey help you to achieve quick watercolour painting results in a similar way with the added advantage of plenty of guidance along the way.  There are no block colours here, though!

Trace & Paint Watercolour is a kind of learn by osmosis book rather than a traditional tutor book, and part of a huge range of similar reasonably priced items from British publisher Search Press dealing with a wide range of arts and crafts.  The range is distributed overseas, so if you are on the other side of the world, you should have no problem finding any of their titles through your usual book stockist.

This is my version of Geoff Kersey's

This is my version of Geoff Kersey’s “Snow Scene” from Trace & Paint Watercolour. I found this image particularly appealing, as it echoes the winter scenes in the forests surrounding our village. A range of five standard round brushes is called for in the instructions, ten colours and masking fluid in addition to the 300 gsm rough paper – nothing too excessive!

Eighteen A3-sized outline tracing sheets provide a range of traditional British scenes – landscapes, cottages and natural features.  Fourteen of these sheets are accompanied by step-by-step instructions and plenty of photographs to show you how to progress through each project.  

The book is divided into three sections, with landscapes introduced by Terry Harrison, trees and woodlands by Geoff Kersey and finally hills and mountains by Arnold Lowrey.  The scenes in the first section are a little too kitsch and staged for my taste, but still a lot of fun to paint, introducing many interesting and useful techniques – and there are plenty of people who would love to receive them as gifts.  The other sections contain some particularly beautiful scenes; the final few on smooth paper by Arnold Lowrey introduce some truly lovely ethereal effects and will surprise you in their use of colour – once you try these, you will start to see a lot more in your own natural surroundings.

As each of the guided projects is self-contained, there is no particular reason to progress through them in order, so you should be able to pick the items most appealing to you rather than feeling chained to a work list.  Having said that, the earlier images are a little simpler, and it would definitely be worth starting in the first section if you haven’t painted before.  For example, the blue door surrounded by stonework is bold and fairly simple, but will give you a very pleasing result even if you don’t achieve the subtlety shown in the book.  The “Poppy Field” below is the very first project in the book:

This is my version of Terry Harrison's

This is my version of Terry Harrison’s “Poppy Field”, the first project in Trace & Paint Watercolour. I wasn’t willing to invest in his range of brushes, but still had fun working on this one, which introduces you to a range of techniques.

The materials list per project is generally fairly modest; most projects are done on 300 gsm (140 lb) rough watercolour paper – so one pad of A3 should be enough.  A box of tubes of paint should see you through all projects – the authors favour these over pans (the little dried blocks of paint) because they produce more intense colours.  Specific paint colours are listed per project, with rough guidance on mixing to achieve the desired hues.  You will also need masking tape to create a neat border, and many projects also require masking fluid.

I felt a little less happy about the list of brushes mentioned in the general introduction to the book and the earlier projects – you need some brushes, of course, but there was a distinct smell of marketing.  A number of the listed brushes have been developed by one of the authors to achieve particular effects; they are quite expensive, although they do exactly what they say they will.  What bothers me is that if a project tells you that you need a particular brush, you may feel that your painting life cannot continue without it.  Don’t be put off!  This could be your moment for experimenting with other brushes on scrap paper in order to achieve something similar, helping you to develop your own style and enjoy a sense of creativity which goes beyond following instructions. So, do what works for you; if that means investing in extra brushes, go for it, but don’t be put off if you can’t afford them.  The book tells you the simplest way to achieve the results in the photographs, but not the only way.  There are plenty of amazing watercolourists out there achieving incredible effects with two or three brushes.

The advantages of Trace & Paint Watercolour are simple:

  • attractive projects
  • no need for drawing skills
  • no need to worry about composition – it’s all there for you
  • step-by-step instructions (you won’t forget sections you need to mask, and brush choices are made for you)
  • photographs detailing each step
  • quick, good results

As with everything, there are some disadvantages:

  • difficult to develop a personal style
  • tunnel vision approach – one right way (this could also be an advantage, but limits creativity)
  • you may find yourself investing in more equipment than you really need

If you are fairly new to watercolour painting and don’t want to spend a lot of time on drawing before you paint, this book should provide you with something to get your teeth into.  What’s more, a generous copyright notice permits budding watercolourists to reproduce any of the tracings or other paintings in the book as many times as you like for your “personal use, or for the purposes of selling for charity, free of charge and without the prior permission of the Publishers”.  You are not allowed to reproduce and sell any for personal (commercial) gain, which is fair enough.


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