Hi everyone and welcome back.
I’ve been an admirer of Ratindra Das’ work for quite some years. He’s been a great inspiration and along with Frank Webb a great influence on the development of my own work. I have seen his DVD Painting a personal reality in watercolor countless times and always felt refreshed and inspired afterwards. I understand that he teaches workshops every year but being in Europe these are not accessible to me. Except the DVD, very little insight had been available to the general public as to his thinking, methods, principles and convictions on painting. So imagine my surprise and excitement when I found out that he published a book! I jumped at it without thinking and in a few weeks’ time I had it in my hands.
At first I was surprised to find that the book is not available on Amazon or any of the usual online bookstores. The only way that I know of is to purchase it directly from Mr. Das on his website ratindradas.net. After inspecting the book I found that it’s been self-published and that this is probably the reason why the distribution network was not involved. This surprises me a little as I imagine that any publisher would be more than happy to work with Ratindra Das on an instructional book. But that is only my assumption, I speculate here. Whatever the case and reasons, I’m glad the book is out.
The book came out in 2013. It is quite expensive at 45 USD plus shipping. It set me back over 75 USD with postage to Europe. Is that a little too much for an instructional book? Perhaps. But the more important question now is: was it worth it?
The best way to assess that is to go through the book, chapter by chapter. The contents are divided into 4 of them. Chapter 1: Shapes, Chapter 2: Lights and Darks, Chapter 3: Color and Chapter 4: Developing Design.
The first chapter provides basic information on shapes, the difference between boring and interesting ones and touches on negative and positive shapes. All good info and essential for understanding creative watercolor such as that of Ratindra Das.
The chapter on lights and darks deals mainly with value, with the focus on developing good value pattern as preparation for a painting. It shows how photographs don’t tell the truth and how to work around it. It touches on conceptual vs. perceptual light, a topic so seldom mentioned yet so very important. The principles are demonstrated at the end of the chapter.
Chapter 3 on color explains the terms and basic properties of color, harmonizing colors and limited palette. Ratindra Das’ personal palette is shown here as well, listing his most commonly used paints. There are three demonstrations at the end of this chapter: painting on dry, wet and damp paper respectively.
The final chapter deals with design. This one was of more interest to me than the previous three. Here are discussed topics such as picture format, some of the design principles, movement in a composition, vignette, how to design for flatness, for depth and how to work out a good design from photographs. These are only some of the topics, there’s a lot more info on designing a good painting.
The book as a whole holds up pretty well. It touches on good amount of very important aspects of creative watercolor, information that is quite difficult to come by in today’s world of pretty pictures and photo-realistic painting. Especially when we consider and compare the quality of information contained in majority of instructional books published on watercolor nowadays. For this, without a doubt, the artist deserves our highest praise. The only issue I have with the book is that I think that for some of the topics discussed in the book more in-depth analysis would be beneficial. What I mean by that is that many of the topics are covered somewhat briefly. For example in the section on working out a design from photograph by organizing the subject into a set of more interesting shapes the process is described a little insufficiently in my opinion. For a less advanced artist it may be difficult to grasp why the artist proceeded the way he did. Though this is not easy to put into words as it is more felt than anything else, I think the analysis could be still more detailed.
As far as the quality of the paper and binding go this is a top notch work. The dimensions are little over 11,2 by 11,2 inches or 28,5 by 28,5 cm so it’s a sizable book. It’s a hard back with proper case binding and comes with a dust jacket. The book being so large offers a lot of page space. The layout is not utilized too effectively in my opinion though. It is elegant and spacious I must say and it looks attractive but it doesn’t make the best use of the available space I think. Also some images are not of the best quality and are fairly small. To be fair, the small images in most cases demonstrate an idea previously explained and are sufficient enough to complement the explanation. The full page reproductions of finished paintings throughout the book are of good image quality and are nice to look at and study. As I said, these are all minor complaints. The book is well made and contains great amount of valuable information and there is really little to complain about. The only reason for my talking about the shortcomings is that I call this a review after all.
That being said I would definitely recommend getting the book if you’re interested in improving your own watercolors or if you’re only interested in the process behind Ratindra Das’ work, or both. I strongly believe it is a valuable resource for any painter, whatever his or her level may be, a source of information and inspiration and a worthwhile read. This is one of the books that definitely belongs to any painter’s library.