Art,  Book Reviews,  DIY,  Non-Fiction,  Self-Help

Book Review(s): Three Painting Books from Leaping Hare Press

My thanks to The Quarto Group and Leaping Hare Press for their over-the-top generosity. When I won a Goodreads Giveaway copy of Painting Cats, I didn’t expect to receive a total of three painting books (Painting Cats, Painting Calm, Painting Happiness) AND a Farber-Castell box of twelve tubes of watercolors! What a generous way of encouraging me to try my hand at painting.

Painting Cats: Curious, Mindful & Free-Spirited WatercolorsPainting Cats: Curious, Mindful & Free-Spirited Watercolors by Terry Runyan
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

If you’re a cat person, you know what it’s like to be wearing cat hair. So when I noticed a painting of a woman with literal cat hair, I knew I was in the right place! And, as the author says in her introduction, “Cats are the perfect example of how to live fully in the moment without caring how things will turn out.” Being a pre-novice (fancy talk for total noob) artist, that was reassuring. A few pages later, I was advised to ’embrace unpredictability’. I’ve been doing that my entire adult life, so this was also reassuring. Maybe I could paint cats after all!

As I paged through the book, I noticed that Terry Runyan’s cats are very simple in shape, with expressions that seemed like something I could master. She’d bent and curved those simple shapes into poses every cat lover will instantly recognize. You know the one where they lift their back leg up in the air, and then forget it’s up there? She painted that. The way they roll over on their backs and let all four paws dangle limply over their bellies? She’s nailed it. And it’s all expressed in just a couple of strokes of a paintbrush.

As the book progresses, we not only learn about color, techniques, how to work with watercolors, and what supplies we should have, we’re reminded to stay in the moment, take risks, be playful, make blob cats! Chives, my own Russian Blue, just so happens to be a blob cat. I’ll be creating lots of little paintings of him as my journey progresses.

If you’ve ever thought about learning to paint but have felt intimidated and confused about where to begin, you would be doing yourself a favor by starting with Painting Cats.

Painting Calm: Connect to nature through the art of watercolourPainting Calm: Connect to nature through the art of watercolour by Inga Buividavice
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Now, I’m a writer, not a painter, though I did take a stab at oil painting years ago, in grade school. I loved the feel of smoothing paint onto a canvas. It settled me. But, I had no training in what I was doing – just a supportive dad who cheered me on and bought me whatever supplies I needed. My time as an artist lasted a summer, and then I set the supplies aside in favor of homework, and never picked them up again.

As I read Painting Calm, I not only enjoyed the friendly, folksy tone of the written advice and instructions, I liked the way the book felt in my hands. The cover is lightly textured, the pages are smooth and of a substantial weight. Both the front and back covers have a full-sized flap that can fold out and tuck into any page you want to bookmark. Inside those flaps are color charts featuring 31 shades, and their names.

As you read and learn, you’ll be delighted by the endless watercolor illustrations. Every page is a burst of vivid color and elegant design. I recognized many of the flowers we grow in our own gardens in the illustrations, which I’m finding to be very inspiring. Winter is nearly here though, so I’ll spend the cold season practicing indoors and daydreaming of warm spring days to come. When they arrive I’ll take my paints outside and enjoy our gardens from a new perspective.

Painting Happiness: Creativity with WatercolorsPainting Happiness: Creativity with Watercolors by Terry Runyan
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

It’s interesting that the author of Painting Happiness, Terry Runyan, spent her 30-year career as an in-house illustrator for Hallmark, which sounds to me like a dream job. But she struggled with her ‘inner critic’ right up to her retirement. She focused on finding a healthier way to approach her art, and over time, her inner critic was replaced by her ‘creative encourager’. This is who leads us through this book.

As I read, I’m finding it hard to feel discouraged or sad about my perception of my talents when every page is an explosion of color, and unexpected shapes and subjects. To my surprise, I was drawn to (pardon the art pun) the section covering characters and faces. But with lots of examples of basic shapes to build on, the process started to become less mysterious and more attainable. Because I’m a fiction writer, I’m going to try to paint some studies of my characters. At the very least, it will be fun, and at the most… well, who knows? I just need to dive in and start painting. And thank you, Terry Runyan, for the encouragement.

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Lori Alden Holuta lives between the cornfields of Mid-Michigan, where she grows vegetables and herbs when she’s not writing, editing, or playing games with a cat named Chives.

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