Home > Book Recommendations, Painting, Uncategorized > Book Recommendation: The Watercolorist’s Essential Notebook

Book Recommendation: The Watercolorist’s Essential Notebook

December 1, 2010

This book is an A – Z on how to handle watercolors and text on the cover indicates the book is “A treasury of watercolor tricks and techniques discovered through years of painting and experimentation”.  Published through North Light Books in 1999, The Watercolorist’s Essential Notebook by Gordon MacKenzie is so thorough, you can get by with this book for years.  I’ve lent it out to people dozens of times.  The author covers many subjects including:

  • Reliable chemical pigments, paint brands, decoding the information on tubes of paints and different qualities of various paints.
  • Supplies including brushes, papers, an easy pattern to make a professional paint mixing palette of your own and other tools, like a household cleaning sponge, that are useful.
  • Exercises on handling the paint to practice and techniques you can use.
  • Traditional artist color wheel concepts and color palette selections are demystified and illustrated.
  • Basic information on traditional drawing skills involving creating the illusion of light, perspective and composition.
  • The author’s advice on troubleshooting problems, improving your work, growing over time and advice on sustaining creativity.

The artist has a lot of his personal work in this book, which is a very lovely style based in realism with a lot of landscape, still life and nature inspired genre painting.  You do not have to aspire to his particular style of art to get a lot of use out of this book.  If you are trying to paint abstractly, Manga, multi-media or anything using watercolors, you will get something out of this book.

Gordon MacKenzie has paint-stakingly illustrated everything he describes in this book; so this is an excellent resource if you are a very visual learner and need to see illustrations to learn effectively.   This book is old, so you can probably dig it out of a used book shop or from an online seller for cheap; I’ve seen it sell for as low as $4.00 USD.  He had other follow-up books and there was a compilation of this book with a later book.  This is a good book for artists, the Art Curious or your retired Aunt Tess who wants to try and paint but does not want to have to approach something as scary as oil paints or their cousin, acrylics.

Watercolors, to me, are the magnet of the hobbyist [i.e. gateway drug] and have an image of approachability; they no not speak to a huge investment of time or income to the average person.  We trust small children with them.  You do not have to worry about the voodoo of what to mix with what and how the results will turn out, we all pretty much feel we have a relationship to water.  In truth, the many rich complexities of handling watercolor are laid out in 141 densely illustrated pages of this book.  You can keep your work simple, like abstract watercolor paintings I have seen by Georgia O’Keefe in bold simplicity like the one below or go as complex as a Super-realist inspired painting I saw in a gallery.

                                         “Evening Star IV” by Georgia O’Keefe from 1917

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