“The Watercolorist’s Essential Notebook” by Gordon Mackenzie

Watercolourists Essential Notebook smAnother lovely guide to painting with watercolour.

There are practically no photographs in Gordon’s book. But it’s cartoonish style makes the book feel friendly and approachable. As a result it makes the perfect kind of book to pick up and dip into. You’re sure to find some interesting nugget. Gordon doesn’t lay down any hard and fast rules, as such, but more general information to help expand your creative process.

Gordon seems to excel in the wet-in-wet process and many of his paintings within this book demonstrate his skill in painting natural subjects such as foliage and natural shadow effects.


IMG_64391 – Tools of the trade – Gordon looks at the different forms of watercolour paints, brushes, paper, palettes and other materials.

2 – Painting techniques – In which Gordon looks at various ways of applying paint (with brushes and with other tools) and how the paint interacts with water. He discusses washes and glazes and the process of fading out.

3 – Putting your composition together – By far this is the largest section in Gordon’s book. Where he discusses the various elements which come together when creating piece . Amongst other things he looks at subject, movement, values, colour schemes and negative areas. He also looks at different ways of IMG_6440approaching the composition and how intuition can work in tandem with planning. Lastly there is a section in this part of the book which looks at saving compositions from various problems.

A lovely book to use as both a reference book and to just to browse.

144 pages

2 Comments on ““The Watercolorist’s Essential Notebook” by Gordon Mackenzie”

  1. love your work, do you have a list of books you would recommend for an illustration student?


  2. Mmm, let me see.
    First of all I have to add the caveat that I can only recommended books which I’ve got and used and which I also find useful in some way.

    Well – top of the list would have to be Danny Gregory’s “Creative License”. If you don’t draw every day, then I would say that that is the biggest leap forward that you can make. I know that when I started drawing every day that is when you begin to develop as an illustrator. Hand in hand with that would be finding a bunch of materials that you are comfortable carting around with you; this could be as simple as a little notebook, in which you use whatever drawing tool is to hand, all the way up to a dedicated set of pens/pencils/paints and sketchbooks.

    I don’t think I used a particular book about drawing/illustration; but one thing I did do was try to find artists/illustrators who spoke to me. Whose work I liked and could see similarities with my own. From there I studied their work. Tried to figure out how they went about producing such an effect.
    Then trying out those techniques in your own work. And certainly don’t just study one, single artist; try to find several. You’ll get different techniques from each, which you will twist and warp into your own style. If they’ve written books, then, sure; go out and by them – it’s a wonderful way to study somebody else’s style – pouring over their illustrations, looking for tips and clues.
    Personal style will come with a combination of time, effort, chance, mistakes.
    The difficulty is making sure that you don’t totally copy that creative’s style. You have to continue with the daily practice, in order to develop your own style. Otherwise your just copying. My illustrations are sometimes compared to certain artist’s, and while I can see the connection, it’s not a conscious process.

    If you’re looking for sketching inspiration; I quite like some of the books with compilations of many different sketchers and illustrators – where they discuss their materials and techniques;
    “Work Small, Think Big”
    “Urban Sketchers Singapore”
    “An Illustrated Life” – edited by Danny Gregory
    “An illustrated Journey” – edited by Danny Gregory
    One of my favourite books about drawing, though, is John Torreano’s “Drawing by Seeing – using gestalt perception” – I missed out on the art training thing, so this to me felt like a drawing class in a book.

    Austin Kleon’s books are full of good sense about being creative, especially “Steal Like and Artist”, which is a wonderful guide to creating. But “Show Your Work” is a handy guide on getting your work seen by a greater audience.
    Hugh MacLeod’s “Ignore Everybody” has handy tips on carving your own creative path.

    One of my favourite all round books about being creative is Twyla Tharp’s “The Creative Habit”. Coming from a dance/choreography background Twyla discusses creativity in a wonderfully exciting way and there are a series of exercises along they way.

    I hope this helps – mm


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