Richard McDaniel

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A Comprehensive Guide to Drawing and Painting Nature

by Richard McDaniel

REVIEW: The Pastel Journal
January/February 2000
By Janie Hutchinson

This is a book that rarely stays on my library shelf. I spend a lot of time looking for it because it often gets lost. I'm always carrying it around the house. It could be by my bed, where I like to read a chapter before sleep; in the living room; in my outside painting bag, just for reference; or in my studio. When I wanted to review it for this article, I found it in my office next to the computer.

If you're an artist who loves the landscape, this book is for you. McDaniel provides a thorough analysis of painting landscapes. The instruction, while focusing on drawing methods and geared to pastel and oil painters, could be helpful to any artist.

McDaniel provides a very organized presentation of the information. He begins with a brief but scholarly survey of the origins of landscape painting, from the Sung Dynasty in China through early European and American Schools; from the World Wars to contemporary landscape painters. The presentation points out how the changing conditions of our cultures and the world have had an enormous effect on art technique and the evolution of landscape painting.

Among other artists' work through the centuries, McDaniel includes pictures of the abstracted landscape painted by Richard Dicbenkorn, the simplicity of Wolf Kahn's renderings of the landscape, and some cityscapes by Wayne Thiebaud.

McDaniel places immense emphasis on the importance of drawing skills. An earlier book, The Drawing Book: Materials and techniques for Today's Artist attests to this. He admonishes that searching for a "style" in painting should not be the main goal of the artist. He says style is a side effect of practice and inserting your own personality into a painting, and it's better to concentrate on drawing or painting the best way you can to make your ideas visible. On the other hand, he does not believe in overemphasizing technique.

"While good technique will not make bad ideas good, it will make good ideas better. Yet bad technique can get in the way of good ideas. The appropriate use of technique means understanding the medium and finding the best way to communicate an idea regardless of style - Realist, Impressionist, Expressionist, or any other." McDaniel says.

McDaniel provides the reader with a summary of general principles and advice on using pastels and oils on a toned versus an un-toned ground, as well as an overview for various techniques used in drawing and painting with pastels or oils.

He recommends painting on location and finds it enjoyable in spite of changing light, insects, wind, hunger and other hardships, because it moves him to concentrate on the most important aspects of the painting, and to work quickly. He includes information about preparation for outside painting, including basic equipment, how to find a painting site and how to deal with the elements. He also talks about travel and workshop painting and painting in the studio.

He covers elements of composition, color and value, and addresses the need for artists to observe nature carefully and gain knowledge for skies, trees, water, light and shadow and weather. He makes a point of developing the ability to see the natural elements as being more important than specifies on "how to paint" them.

While I may have had trouble keeping track of where I've left this helpful book in my studio or house, it's not hard to locate a copy to purchase. It's available in bookstores and art supply stores, as well as on-line.

Janie Hutchinson is a pastel artist and publisher of The Pastel Journal.

REVIEW: American Artist Magazine
December 1997
"Recommended Books"

Many how-to books on art approach their subject in a paint-by-numbers manner, offering step-by-step demonstrations of a particular art genre as if art were the same thing as constructing a closet or crocheting a doily. Yes, there is obviously a technical side to all art, but as the author of this book says in his introduction, "...theory and technique are only a means to an end, not substitutes for inspiration and creativity".

Beginning with a chapter on the history of landscapes, readers get an overview of what has been accomplished in landscape painting and an opportunity to examine reproductions of historical works, as well as the various ways of handling the subject. The nitty-gritty nutshell of this book is that McDaniel lives up to the "comprehensive" in the guide's subtitle. The topics covered and demonstrated are so extensive, there is no room here to list them all, but they include information on materials, blocking in, choosing locations, planning your palette, painting on a toned ground, working alla prima or wet-in-wet, understanding positive and negative shapes, using linear perspective, and even how to distinguish one tree from another. He deals with weather, natural and man-made forms, and even abstraction. He also discusses the differences between working on location and in the studio.

McDaniel's paintings are very colorful, expressionistic, and very clear in concept and execution. They're the type of paintings to inspire a landscape or would-be landscape painter. Over all, this is one of the best how-to art instruction books available.


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