Thursday, January 15, 2009

What sort of art book is missing from our bookshelves?

The books that are missing shelves - part of my "stacks"

I've been asking what sort of art book is missing from our bookshelves. You've been volunteering your comments and views about which are the published books you like and what sort of book you would like to see on your shelves - if it were available. There was a great deal of commonality about the key issues, expressed from different perspectives. Some people talked about what they didn't like while others talked about what they wanted to see more of.

Views are summarised below. Please note that as in yesterday's post Your favourite art books - what you like
  • The quotations in this post are from people who commented on the two posts last week about art instruction books and the one from yesterday
  • The italicised comments are 'asides' from me.
To get started - here's what Julie Douglas from County Clare said this morning.........
The Art Book That's Missing from our shelves? ....the ones we're writing!! (cheeky!) Which means, I think, colourful, image-ful and as few words as possible. The average adult student won't read much.
Now that's an interesting perspective from a practising artist and teacher. I think I'm of the view that the hobby/beginner artist level is pretty well catered to in a variety of ways - with lots of pics and not a lot of text.
The problem with a lot of instruction books is, that the first idea for it is born in someones publishers office. "What is our target group with the most possible sales?" Very often it seems only the very beginners come to their mind. "So, don't scare them off, it all has to be easy looking = bigger sales."
Whether they do it well is debateable.....
I have a lot of art instruction books and the frustrating thing for me is that it all looks so easy and quick.

For a while I felt inadequate as sometimes a piece took me a long time to complete. There are more than 5 easy steps to a drawing or painting - getting the number of pages to show or explain that may be difficult.
To my mind the market which is less well satisfied - and is asking for more text - is "beyond the beginner" or what one might call the serious student. I think the serious student wants more than just eye candy.
So many art instruction books are picture books for adults: in essence, eye candy that feeds, or feeds on, your dreams of becoming an artist without delivering much of value.
If it's made to look easy - and it isn't - doesn't that just make the student feel like a failure? Should books be about fulfilling dreams or enabling potential?

What's very interesting about blogging is that I think it's uncovered a whole bunch of art bloggers who fall into the category of serious student (or lifelong student). These are typically people whose blogs are still alive after 3 months and who manage at least a few posts each month and more typically 1-2 posts per week. I come across a lot of people whose art blogs provide lots of evidence of a willingness to persist and a wish to continue learning. I note a lot of interest in any blog which provides serious and good quality information and advice, tips or techniques.

So maybe the audience for the "beyond the beginner" book has moved online?

Characteristics of an art instruction book you'd like to read

You mentioned several characteristics which I've summarised below. I've grouped comments into themes. You'll note that a number of the positive statements are the counterpart of the aspects which people didn't like. Also they are not describing one book so much as identifying characteristics they'd like to see more of.
  • Books which promote different ways of seeing and different ways of doing
    • a technical drawing book that was NOT so concerned with photo-realism (There are several available - but they're not always well known. See The Big Drawing Book Review - Resources for Artists )
    • books which promote an inductive approach - demonstrating the very many different ways different artists approach the application of a basic principle (including those that ignore it or push it to its limits)
    • books which are not limited to being a digest of a particular painter's style or way of doing things
    • books which avoid the generic formulaic and take pleasure in highlighting different ways of doing things (eg Sarah Simblet's The Drawing Book: An Innovative, Practical Approach to Drawing the World Around You - includes lots of pictures - but they exhibit great variety and include many by great artists of the past and present)
  • Books which treat you as if you were in a class or a workshop -
    • books which bring out all the attention to detail of process that you get from a good tutor eg how to stretch a canvas; how to use a brush (Jennifer Young highlighted how much she appreciated the books by Emile Gruppe ("Direct Techniques in Oil", "Brushwork and "Gruppe on Color") - and yet most of them are out of print - including the one on brushwork!)
    • books which bring a strong flavour of the artist rather than the views of the publisher (ie if the artist can't teach then don't ask them to do an art instruction book; however if an artist has developed a big following of students enthusiastic about their teaching the chances are the artist knows how to teach as well as how to produce art - and may well have a better idea of what works than the publishers)
  • books linked to a feedback mechanism - books on their own are not enough
  • books which teach you how artists developed their work - an accessible art instruction version of art history. A chance to learn how an artist developed his work, identifying all the preliminary and necessary steps along the way and what choice was made in the context of what was possible (ie what some art schools focus on)
......books are also the lifeline to the working methods of the 19th Century painters, and I put more stock in reading these primary accounts than in information passed down through four or five generations of word of mouth or master/pupil.
James Gurney
  • A book which rivalled the quality of material available online for free - Does this mean that priced products - like books - need to ratchet up both their content and quality?
  • a book which is honest and doesn't try to suggest it's all easy and quick. Books which don't make readers feel inadequate.
  • A proper book - one that you can pick up. Neither you nor I are yet convinced that serious students are ready to read e-books using an e-book reader or that the technology can deliver it effectively via a Kindle or Sony Reader or somesuch. However this doesn't rule out self-publishing via Lulu or Blurb and the options of hardback, softback or online. [HOWEVER - late update - it is very interesting to see which art books can be delivered by Amazon to Kindle]
What do you think? Does my summary above describe the sort of book you'd want to read? Has anything been left out?

22 comments:

Felicity said...

I think you've covered everything! It's the feedback option that is perhaps the biggest drawback to books so with that it would be ideal. Books that are honest and don't make everything look easy and quick is an important point. Although with just about everything being dumbed down and aimed at the masses, I'm sure it's not easy for publishers to take a chance on a book that might not appeal to the largest audience. Very unlikely, but a book I'd like to see would be written by those artists who take weeks, months or even years over their work. They are silent but many artists work this way. However, in the ideal world of the art instruction book a long drawing or painting is done in a matter of hours rather than minutes!

Katherine Tyrrell said...

Your point about the economics prompts me to restate where I started from

The economics of publishing will always mean that publishers are limited by demand profiles and budgets and the unit costs of print runs.

However artists who choose to be authors are not.

If any of feels that we have a book inside us which may only have a limited appeal, there's nothing to stop us having a go at putting the proverbial 'toe in the water'.

I'd love to see books which show us all the stages in the development of a painting - filling in all those bits which get missed out from the "five easy steps"!

I'd love to see books which are about the development of a series, how it came about, what happened as it progressed and how the decision was made to complete it.

Maybe I should have a go at developing one for my Ecology Park Pond series! :) (she says before going back to sorting out the website so it's included!)

Carol H. said...

I would like to see a book that gets more into the nuts and bolts of how the artist actually creates a painting. For instance, as a still life artist, I would like to know how other artists think about setting up their own still lifes, what made them choose the height of the table, the objects, the lighting. Also, if they are working from photos, how they take the photos and how they get their ideas from photo to painting surface. If they are working from life, I'd love to know how they keep fruit from rotting, flowers from drooping, how they deal with the changing light, what lighting they use if working from artificial light, etc. These kinds of things are never addressed in instruction books.

Katherine Tyrrell said...

Exactly!

I know the answer to the flowers and fruit one.

First - get the painting finished in one day

Second - if you need longer then I have a useful tip to pass on from a botanical artist. You should put both fruit and flowers in a fridge as soon as you've finished using them for the day - at a temperature set to keep them cool rather than icy.

I think some people actually import fridges into studios for precisely that purpose.

The other aspect is to paint in a studio which is NOT warm and therefore accelerating the process of deterioation. I guess the third tip is probably to consider thermal underwear for indoor painting as well as outdoors! ;)

I know some art bloggers already talk about their set-up process on their blogs.

If you are one of those bloggers feel free to leave a link to an example of a post explaining your set-up process as a 'comment'

Anonymous said...

"....Which means, I think, colourful, image-ful and as few words as possible. The average adult student won't read much."

What?? I find this comment cynical and disrespectful to the point of offensive, especially as it comes from a person who appears to make money teaching adults. What a negative attitude! As an educator, I happen to prefer text-rich art instruction books that make me think about making art, books in which the artist-teacher assumes the learner is interested in whys and wherefores as well as hows of art-making.

For a positive and generous attitude towards adult learners, see Clare Walker Leslie's books, or the website of Canadian painter Robert Genn.

Cate

Nita said...

I'm with Cate on this one. I often hear that artists learn by pictures instead of words, but I find in my workshops (and books) that many are grateful for logical explanations of processes, as well as principles of design and color that help them with problem solving in their artwork. I use the work of many different artists in various media in my books. Also, I decide what my books are going to cover, and while I'm open to suggestions from my editors, if push comes to shove, I usually prevail. Yes, there are a lot of books that seem entirely market-driven, but that may be the lack of artists willing to do the work to produce a quality book than publishers dumbing down the books that are brought to them.

Katherine Tyrrell said...

Can I just come back on the criticism of Julie's comment.

Cate - You may have missed what Julie said when commenting on yesterday's post. If you look back at this you'll see she says the following

"The disappointing thing as a tutor is that I know MOST adult learners are a bit quick-fix (I'm sure people will disagree on this, but I've taught hundreds of students, my comments are based on experience!)," She also commented that they were also the ones who tended to fail to get to the end of the Betty Edwards Book!

So she certainly is NOT saying that everybody wants the "lots of images and very little text" sort of book but also that she is speaking from experience when she say there are a lot of people who do. Which I guess is what guides the art publishers too to an extent.

The whole point of these posts has been to say that there is more than one sort of audience for art books.

There are people who really do want better quality text and better quality explanations. Therefore there needs to be more than one sort of art book.

The issue in a recession is how to get them published and sold without losing money!

Katherine Tyrrell said...

Nita - very relevant and valid point! Of course books are also determined by the amount of effort authors are prepared to put into to them. Obvious really when one pauses to think! :)

It's evident to anybody who picks up your books Nita that you are very persuasive when making your case for the way you want a book to work, read, and look!

On the other hand, I've talked to a lot of authors and well remember a story I was told by one author who said that having devoted endless hours to the first book, the remuneration level was a big disappointment. So much so that he vowed never again to do more than what was required to fulfil the brief. Maybe shortsighted - but this was a book which had done well in sales.

Although there's clearly an issue about who provides and drives the quality, I guess there's also an issue about who funds the quality and how the rewards get shared around. It seems to me that's it's more than likely that the two are linked.

Sounds to me like existing authors may have a new topic for a workshop - 'advice to budding authors'!

larry said...

My computer monitor broke down a year ago. As I rely on my monitor not just to read text but to create art, I sought to purchase the monitor with the most accurate color and value corner to corner no matter the cost. Unfortunately the monitor industry abandoned the trinitron tube in favor of a monitor which has a smaller footprint, is cheeper and less hazardous to produce, less expensive to ship and can be sold at a greater profit. As far as the manufacturers of monitors were concerned, It had everything over the trinitron.... except for one thing, the trinitron had a better picture quality! Never mind that the one thing was it's very reason for being, producers from automobiles to agriculture regularly put other factors over the quality of their product. Fortunately I can grow an eatable tomato in my back yard without regards to shipping and the internet enables you to publish this informative blog without regards to how it might sell, I only wish I could build my own trinitron.

Terry Krysak said...

I think for sure you have covered everything with regard to books.
I can't afford them, and rely on what I can find on the internet for free.
I follow David Darrow on Ustream Tv
http://www.ustream.tv/channel/dave-the-painting-guy
The beauty of watching live online (or recorded videos) is seeing the whole process from start to finish with every action in between. This just can't be done in a book.
I have learned an enormous amount just by watching him paint live. And you can also ask questions at the same time.
I believe this is where art instruction is truly going to be honest, "the vritual studio" and I love it.

Katherine Tyrrell said...

There you go Larry! I had the identical problem a couple of years ago. I could NOT believe that the best technology had been ditched in favour of something that looked good! I think that was when I started to look at how goods are supplied to us and how little choice we have these days.

Speaking personally I'm very much in favour of those individuals/companies that supply quality products to niche markets - right across the board. I want to be able to buy as an individual not as part of some globalised consumer group.

An aside - at present we have a steady stream of companies going bankrupt in the UK - many of which are major highstreet 'names'. (check out 'who has won and lost'). There are companies which are still very much in trouble. I started to speculate on what would happen if certain stores went under - and some will. We'd then be left without any easy to find suppliers for certain goods because those big chains have choked off and knocked out all the local shops which used to provide goods before national chains and globalised markets took off.

By way of contrast, I went into a delicatessen near my mother's home just before Christmas and could not believe the choice I had of niche oriented quality goods - it was fabulous. I was walking around the store squealing!

Etsy has done a phenomenal job at enabling people who are very small in production terms - producing hand-made art and crafts - to market their goods to interested consumers.

So I guess what I'd really like to see is the equivalent of an Etsy for art books!

Felicity said...

But are artists themselves not also guilty of ignoring quality in favour of looks and brand names? I could name two extremely popular products (particularly with US artists) that are at best mediocre and in one case shoddy. I wonder what some manufactures make of all their research, product development, production and marketing on genuinely good products being wasted on artists who haven't a clue or a care what quality means.

Nita said...

I'll admit I was disappointed at first by the royalties. Then I thought about the cost of editorial services, manufacturing and distribution for a quality art instruction book and realized that there was no way I could afford to self publish books of that quality, let alone get worldwide distribution for them. Then the requests for workshops started to come in. Eventually, I put up a Web site, where I sell my books and link to Amazon.com so they can sell them. Some authors complain about the discounts on Amazon, but they have the volume and exposure, so I'm okay with that. Even if you are with a major publisher, you can't just sit and twiddle your thumbs waiting for someone to buy your book. To look at it from another angle, teaching is my life's purpose and writing books is, for me, a means of reaching out and teaching people who can't come to me.

Katherine Tyrrell said...

Nita - I would agree with you - up until the digital revolution in printing and publising.

A publisher can provide expertise in publishing, an editorial service and a distribution mechanism - and somebody else doing all the bits which transform a book from a double spaced manuscript and a folder of images into a 'ready to print' digital file.

However, it's now entirely possible for authors to:
- self publish in hardback, paperback and/or online and to produce a quality publication
- get an ISDN number and place a book with Amazon without involving a publisher (although again, people would probably be astounded how much Amazon gets from the deal)

So it basically depends on where the volume of sales come from. If a lot of sales come online from places like Amazon and other online distributors then publishing essentially reduces to being about expertise and access to an editor and somebody to pull it altogether. That's the point where to my mind their 'take' starts to look high.

However it's also possible for an artist/author to commission an agent to do editing and produce a really good looking book.

It's also perfectly feasible for an artist to set up a website and a blog and to do a lot of marketing online - which is also where a lot of the buying public are these days.

Bear in mind I'm reasonably computer savvy, have commissioned and produced publications for corporations in the past and am reasonably familiar with the process. I KNOW you can have an excellent editors who can really make a huge difference and you can also have people who really need to pull their socks up.

Which means for me that the bottom line is that a publisher has to be able offer an artist/author an awful lot of expertise, top notch editors and a first class marketing and distribution system compatible with how people buy books.

From my perspective book publishing for niche products really looks like an industry which will increasingly go the same way as the music industry.

The artist will become more active in creating the concept, more skilled in accessing and executing the necessary processes and will then start to question the percentage take by the publisher for acting as an intermediary.

The key factor in precipitating overall change is when the distribution system changes. The whole industry can start to experience a seismic shift very fast - as has happened within the music industry.

Where we're at right now is a point where the means of production are definitely within the grasp of artist/authors who want to go in that direction

Plus large scale distribution systems are also available and easily accessible.

The critical question is whether they're enough to start that earthquake - and are we beginning to experience some of the rumblings.........?

Katherine Tyrrell said...

One more thing.

I don't know if the publishing industry has thought of this but a cute way forward for publishers would be if they set themselves up to compete for the books being produced by artist/authors through offering a menu-driven package of services which gets a book off a computer and into a place of sale.

It switches the whole process round. Publishers would not commission artist/authors. The latter would commission the publishers.

Artists could pick and choose what sorts of service support they require for what sort of price. It would makes the whole process much more transparent in cost terms and puts the artist/author in the driving seat.

In other words the artists and authors get to choose who offers the best package of services at the best price.

However, as a model of service delivery, I think it might well have to be an awful lot better than what's already available to make it attractive and therefore viable.

mongoose1 said...

I think artist can fill some of the gaps between what the publisher's limits are and what the artist may want to communicate (additionally) using their websites and/or blogs.

Artist David Darrow comes to mind. I stumbled upon him through facebook (he is a friend of a friend). I don’t believe he’s published. He has a website and a blog, both with a great deal of information on them. But I found most of what I've learned from him in his online demos (Dave that painting guy).

I've watched a portion of two of his online painting sessions and I am amazed at how many gaps those sessions fill between what he posts at his site/blog and what he shares about painting during his demos. Although I like his work but I am not in love with it/nor do I collect it; however, those two sessions have explained to me where he is coming from with what he creates and shown me a portrait with a significant depth.

I would imagine that if he published it would be condensed even more~~some of it would be lost simply because of size constraints.

I prefer Art books by living artists to explain to me their technique and philosophy (with as many pics as possible). For folks that have passed, I am interested in how they created the works and the philosophy (if known) but I am more interested in high quality photos of the works.

I also love gallery publications associated with a show for an artist. They provide high quality images of work by a particular living artist (Jacob Collins, Juliette Aristede, Robert Liberace etc) and are either free during the show or can be purchased for a small fee.

Cindy

mongoose1 said...

I think artist can fill some of the gaps between what the publisher's limits are and what the artist may want to communicate (additionally) using their websites and/or blogs.

Artist David Darrow comes to mind. I stumbled upon him through facebook (he is a friend of a friend). I don’t believe he’s published. He has a website and a blog, both with a great deal of information on them. But I found most of what I've learned from him in his online demos (Dave that painting guy).

I've watched a portion of two of his online painting sessions and I am amazed at how many gaps those sessions fill between what he posts at his site/blog and what he shares about painting during his demos. Although I like his work but I am not in love with it/nor do I collect it; however, those two sessions have explained to me where he is coming from with what he creates and shown me a portrait with a significant depth.

I would imagine that if he published it would be condensed even more~~some of it would be lost simply because of size constraints.

I prefer Art books by living artists to explain to me their technique and philosophy (with as many pics as possible). For folks that have passed, I am interested in how they created the works and the philosophy (if known) but I am more interested in high quality photos of the works.

I also love gallery publications associated with a show for an artist. They provide high quality images of work by a particular living artist (Jacob Collins, Juliette Aristede, Robert Liberace etc) and are either free during the show or can be purchased for a small fee.

Cindy

Nita said...

Katherine--I can't disagree with anything you've said about the possibilities of the digital revolution. Nevertheless, the amount of work involved in self publishing, marketing and distributing can be almost overwhelming. I've done it, with my Exploring Color Coloring Book. It's hard work, expensive, and it's very hard to prep a book alone. I don't have "people," nor do I have the money to put up front again, as I did for that one book. I've profited some financially from it, but not enough to make me consider doing another. All this talk of agents, freelance editors and such sounds good, but it all costs money. If you have it, go for it. Maybe the answer is starting small with online demos that can be printed out as ebooks. Your experience in the field is awesome, but I think realistically that most artists would find it all daunting to go it alone.

Katherine Tyrrell said...

Believe me Nita - I really do appreciate how much is involved in getting a publication together - and I also very much appreciate the value of having somebody who is good at their job alongside you while that process is underway.

I guess where I come from is four basic notions
- First, that the artist/author ought to be able to accrue more income for their efforts they make to the production process.
- Second, that a lot of artists/authors are all in the same boat - which is what I call a "community of interest" and co-operative processes can often help those who have common interests. There's certainly scope to share information and expertise if people were interested in pursuing options other than a conventional publisher - particularly now so much of the set-up process is digitalised and online
- Third, publishing doesn't have to follow the conventional model. It's time to think about innovation.
- Fourth - we can learn from the past as well. If publishing in installments was good enough for Charles Dickens I'm sure it's a model which probably still has some mileage in the modern world. It would certainly spread the effort!

Plus guess what? We could all miss out the chapter/instalment on media and materials!!! :)

Katherine Tyrrell said...

Cindy - your comments echo exactly my thoughts about how we should be looking much more closely at ways in which information can be packaged for people.

For example, what exactly is the rationale of going halfway across the country to sit next to somebody who is doing a demonstration - or to sit in the artist's studio or classroom watching what he or she is doing on a projector. Wouldn't that money be better spent in interactive sessions with an artist where you sit at home and periodically get to ask questions - just like you would in a workshop?

If that happened, then more time could be given over in workshops to more one on one sessions between students and tutors - and looking at a painting and what is being painted. Tailoring instruction and advice to the needs of the individual student.

Win/win?

mongoose1 said...

I think I explained it a little backwards, should have started with example of artist and book first, then blog/website, then demos. But you get the idea.

I agree that the more interactive things are the more you can (or at least I can) learn. So book +blog/website are better than book alone and demo (via streaming video or in the flesh) is even better yet.

I do love workshops but I am inherently lazy and rather lucky since I can take Rob's workshops right here in town. I think in the flesh workshops (or classes) are the best way if there is a capable teacher and you're willing to work hard and learn.

Also, there are a lot of variations involved with how a computer screen (or even TV screen) displays colors. I think something can get lost in translation. At least if you see it in the flesh you know what colors the artist used. And you are able to ask the artist questions.

Remember with Duane Keiser's studio cam videos they were sped up with no voice. That is one reason why I found Dave Darrow's live streaming video so interesting-he talked the entire time he broadcasted and there was a displayed chatroom set up where those watching could either chat amongst themselves or as Dave questions.

Recommend you check http://davethepaintingguy.com/ broadcast times are listed. Mind you I am not promoting the artist, rather how he is #1 putting his work out there, #2 communicating with either his student base (for classes/workshops) and his collector base and enticing possible future collectors.

I found him through facebook and I am surprised at how many and how few artists have pages there.

Ok that's my two cents-it's pretty late here and I just got back from an amazing show in DC (just 4 days long for the inauguration).
Ciao
Cindy

Parka said...

I think good art books should not just teach technical drawing skills. They should also explain the thought process in creating the art. People learn faster when they understand the concept behind, and why certain things are drawn that way.

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