Simon Fletcher is a painter who works in oils, acrylics and pastels, though he is probably best known for his vibrant watercolours. Readers who are interested in Fletcher’s art might like to read our interview with him from a few year’s back; in this post, I will be taking a look inside his manual ‘The Painter’s Studio Handbook: Tools and Techniques‘.
Review of ‘The Painter’s Studio Handbook: Tools and Techniques’ book by Simon Fletcher.
Though Simon Fletcher is primarily known as a painter of extravagantly colourful watercolours, he has also written several books and has worked for many years as a tutor. His knowledge of art materials has therefore been built up through many years of practice and experiment. ‘The Painter’s Studio Handbook’ is his attempt to share his love for art materials and to provide a comprehensive introduction to each painting medium. It covers a wide range of information which will be useful to painters in oils, acrylics, watercolours and pastels (Fletcher follows the sometimes-controversial definition of pastels as a painting medium, rather than a drawing medium, because artists who work in pastels are applying areas of colour rather than lines to their surface.)
For beginners, one of the most helpful features of ‘The Painter’s Studio Handbook’ will be the table of colours and pigments on page 20, which includes advice on a range of pigment groups (such as the Quinacridones and the Cadmiums) as well as individual pigments such as Indanthrene Blue, Naples Yellow or Viridian. Fletcher doesn’t provide an comprehensive list of artist pigments, but it would be easy to assemble a perfectly serviceable watercolour palette from the colours he covers, and many painters will never need to use the pigments which are omitted from this list (whites are covered later in the chapter). This section will be a great help to anyone who is overwhelmed with the range of paints on offer. It tells you what to look for; which pigments to avoid; where savings could, or shouldn’t, be made; what the difference is between cheap and expensive paints and so on. There’s a similar, smaller chart which contains useful information about the various types of hair used in artist brushes, from Hog and Squirrel to Sable and Synthetic hair.
For those who are planning to make their own oil or tempera paints, this book is a good place to start, but not an exhaustive source of guidance. Fletcher offers a brief description of the paint-making process, but I would imagine that most painters will want more guidance than he gives before they begin to buy dry pigments and binders. The short section on making your own pastels, however, contains both a series of photographs and an ingredients list.
Fletcher seems to get a real thrill out of testing his materials and sharing useful techniques. His enthusiasm is infectious, though it can sometimes lead to the inclusion of anecdotal evidence which is not very useful: ‘A painter I used to know would work over the surface of his paintings, which were on canvas mounted on a panel, with beeswax into which he would work paint. This gave a high degree of protection as well as a unique effect.’ All very well if you already know what Fletcher’s talking about, but hardly enough information to try it for yourself. The same is true for Fletcher’s section on fine art paper producers; all we are told about Somerset, for example, is that they produce ‘Very good drawing and printing papers, available in England’. Perhaps this is the price of having a small book which you can easily carry with you when shopping for art supplies. Overall, this is an extremely helpful book which will primarily be useful for beginners, or for those who are looking to branch out from their area of expertise.
The 160-page paperback book ‘The Painter’s Studio Handbook’ by Simon Fletcher is available from Jackson’s, always discounted off the cover price. Readers who are interested in Simon Fletcher’s art might like to read our interview with him from 2014.