Front cover The Watercolourist's Nature Journal
by Jill Bays
pub. David & Charles, 2001
128 pages, 17.99
ISBN 0 7153 1147 6

With several titles on painting already to her name Jill Bays sets out to show readers how to keep a 'sketchbook journal of the changing seasons'. in this, her latest book.

Bays' writing style doesn't contain the gentle humour of Richard Taylor for example (see our review of 'Natural Watercolours: Painting from Nature Made Easy'), but is chatty if a little dry. On the other hand the overall impression that one gets of her painting style is one of bold strokes of colour and less of delicate subtleties, although there are examples of these demonstrated in the book's content.

One of the advantages of keeping a nature journal is that an artist can record the changes in nature as a year progresses and which provides an excellent way to understand the natural world. At the same time Bays suggests that by following the seasons in paint you have a perfect means of progressing both your painting and observational skills.

Like many other painting books the opening part deals with materials, stretching paper, brushstrokes (demonstrated with examples), transparent and opaque colours, and how some colours will granulate. Learning by experience is very much part of the Bays' formula. For example she comments: 'Grey is a colour worth spending time on', and recommends mixing your own in preference to buying prepared tubes of grey. The basic watercolour techniques are very briefly outlined with examples of wet into wet, ovelaying, leaving whites, scratching out, drybrush, and spattering.

Elsewhere in the main book content the reader will find examples of work done with watersoluble coloured pencils, notes on painting trees, and more besides. Throughout the book Bays has 'Painting Features' in which she talks the reader through a finished picture, pointing out some of the techniques, colours and aesthetic influences.

The heart of the book are the four sections which match the year's Seasons, and in each section there are plenty of examples of watercolour renditions of plants, animals and outdoor scenes. Dotted around the book are small, un-retouched thumbnail sketches of animals and compositions, which give an insight into how Bays has ended up with a final image. Swans, spring lambs, ducks and foxes are some of the animal sketches which come to mind. As the author says: 'The art of sketching successfully comes only with practice. Gradually, you will get to know what you can do in the time available'.

The author makes it a rule not to pick wild flowers - a position with which this reviewer would heartily agree. In any case there are rules about the removal and destruction of wild flowers and it's best to leave them in-situ for others to enjoy.

The bottom line? Well 'The Watercolourist's Nature Journal' may sound a little costly at around eighteen pounds [roughly A4 sized pages in landscape format], but in fact there is an awful lot of imagery and information crammed within its pages. It will particularly suit those watercolourists with an interest in the natural world, and perhaps be of more use to novice and recent converts to watercolours rather then experienced practitioners.

Copyright © 2001