Haidee-Jo Summers is a wonderful painter well known for her lively plein air paintings. She is a member of the Royal Institute of Oil Painters and an associate member of the Royal Society of Marine Artists. I have met her a couple of times at various art exhibitions in London and always enjoyed seeing her work. She has recently produced a DVD and a book titled Vibrant Oils; no title could be more suitable to describe her work.
Painterly, loose, colourful, experienced, and skilful are some of the words I would use to describe her many landscapes, seascapes and still life paintings. It is pretty much the opposite of the way I paint myself, but that does not mean I don’t enjoy her work. Her colour choices are wonderful and her work is full of the most amazing light. Light and colour are just two of the topics discussed in her book.
Vibrant Oils is a paperback book, about 1 cm or 175 pages thick, and printed in full colour. Browsing through it the book comes across playful and colourful with lots of images and coloured text blocks. It seems fun and light hearted. Yet the contents page shows me that despite the fun there is some serious stuff to deal with. No less than 25 chapters discuss a huge range of topics ranging from your basic materials to painting moving figures and dealing with lost and found edges. I cannot really discover a logic in the ordering of the chapters but perhaps there is no need: this book will offer one large heap of great topics for the reader to dip in whenever they feel like it.
Some Grumpy Notes First
If I thought this book was rubbish I would not have written a review of it. So you already know, by reading this blog post, that I love the book. It is wonderful.
But I do have a few critical notes, which I’ll get out of the way first. The book is fabulous when it talks about plein air painting, sketching, colours and values and such topics. I was a little less keen on the chapters on using photography (Haidee-Jo seems pretty skeptical about it), portraiture (readers will be awed how quickly she gets a decent looking face onto the canvas, but how on earth did she do that?) or the explanations of the use of mediums and solvents.
These are just minor points that did not spoil the book for me at all. I imagine some of these chapters were added in order to provide a complete package. But I am not sure it was needed as the strength of the book really lies in the chapters on plein air painting and the lively style and mood that oozes from the book and Haidee-Jo’s work.
What do you Get?
But what do you get? Is it useful? Is it beautiful? Will it teach me to paint like Haidee-Jo? Will it leave me inspired? Is it for me? Is it for oil painters only? Is it expensive?
Let’s tackle these questions, in the hope that my answers will tell you whether this book is for you or not.
Is it useful?
Vibrant Oils is incredibly useful, especially for the beginner or amateur painter. Haidee-Jo has a wonderful style of writing which shines especially when she describes how to find inspiring subject matter, how to find beauty and how to ‘see’. I love that. But she also shares some real basics such as which materials to get, the value of drawing, what to bring when painting plein air (outside), how to choose and use your colours, how to make and use greys, working with lost and found edges and so much more. All very informative and relevant.
I particularly liked the chapters and exercises on painting alla prima; working fast and within a time limit. The chapters on values and colour were insightful and informative and as a mud-lover myself I loved the addition of a chapter on greys (the world is much greyer than you think!).
Her chapter on planning your painting before you start is truly excellent. Never start a painting, if you can help it, without first having a little think about what and how and where. She ends the book with some thoughts on finding your own voice with some really down-to-earth practical exercises.
I was less keen on her regular use of unspecified amounts of solvents and mediums. It would have been nice to point out one can paint without toxic solvents and I know many beginners are wondering how much medium to use. Also the fat-over-lean rule could have been explained more extensively as many freak out over this. But I suppose readers can visit my blog for this, he he….
So is this book useful? Yes! Vibrant Oils is an avalanche of information, perhaps best read now and then and not in one go. Lots of topics are discussed, explained and illustrated. Topics range from beginners’ basics to more advanced issues such as edges and values. There are a few step-by-step demonstrations which you can follow to see how Haidee-Jo does it all herself as well as plenty of suggestions to do your own exercises.
Is it Beautiful?
As art lovers we all want books to look good as well as be informative. Vibrant Oils is a pleasure to browse through. It is packed with reproductions of Haidee-Jo’s work and lovely photos of materials. There’s not a page without an image. The whole book is colourful and playful, informal and fun.
Will it Teach me How to Paint like Haidee-Jo?
No. But it will teach you how to paint in oils in your own personal manner, while some chapters can also be used for other painting mediums even. It will teach you how to paint alla prima and it will teach you how to paint better.
Will it Leave me Inspired?
Unless you hate Haidee-Jo’s work (how can you?!) it will leave you inspired to grab your brushes and go outside. I am no plein air painter, as you all know, but who can resist the idea of standing on a beach in Cornwall and painting the boats come in? In my next life I am going to be Haidee-Jo.
Is it for Oil Painters Only?
Yes and no. The book is mainly aimed at oil painters but the chapters on edges, values, colour, drawing, alla prima, and many more, can easily be applied to pastel, acrylics and sometimes watercolour.
Is it for me?
If you are a beginning oil painter and want to learn more about materials and techniques? Yes. If you are an advanced painter and want to freshen up your habits? Yes. If you want a great picture book full of Haidee-Jo’s work? Yes. If you are traditional portrait and lace painter who enjoys seeing (trying) different techniques and styles? Yes.
Is it expensive?
It will be published in Italian and French soon. Congratulations Haidee-Jo! (Will Dutch be next?)
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