From the website of Lisa Le Quelenec

Monday, 31 January 2011

Realistic Abstracts by Kees van Aalst…. a review

© Search Press

When I buy an art book it’s not always the written content that’s the clincher for me to part with my pennies. Sometimes it’s the amount and quality of the illustrations that it contains. The title and cover of this book were enough for me to know that I needed it. I had it on order from Search Press before it was released and it hasn’t disappointed. I confess I hadn’t heard of this artist/author/teacher before who is from the Netherlands, after reading this book I would love to attend one of his workshops. To me his paintings portray a sincere love of painting, there is a lot of joy and enthusiastic excitement in the brushstrokes and fluidity of the paint that shines through.

As the book is aimed at more experienced painters to challenge and stretch their working methods, rather than beginners, there is a very short discussion at the beginning about colours and materials that might be needed and some examples of techniques.  It’s almost as a reminder rather than one of those long and laborious explanations that take up vast portions of other books, which personally I find frustrating. The book is aimed at those using water based media although in many ways I think it is useful for all mediums.

Rather the majority of the book is used to explain the concepts of seven principles, (unity, contrast, dominance, repetition, variety, balance, and harmony) and seven elements, (line, tone, colour, texture, form, proportion and direction). Each is eloquently explained with lots of illustrations. As a list I would say it is a very useful guideline for analysing and improving your work. The onus of the book is to transform, ‘…reality by means of elimination and simplification’ with reference to these elements and principles.

© Kees van Aalst

The illustration on the right is from page 111 and is the culmination of a step-by-step demonstration showing how using a limited palette and building up the tones leads to a unified painting whilst also re enforcing the other principles and elements.

You are encouraged to, ‘Paint what you feel, not what you see.’ which is a far cry from the ‘paint what you see not what you think you see’ often chanted at art school.  It’s not a how to paint book as such but more a how to express what you feel, encouraging you to develop you own self expression in a fluid, gestural and impressionistic way. I see this book as an encouraging bridge between the realms of competent amateur and the first steps to becoming an artist.

As well as many examples by van Aalst to illustrate the points made he has also included works by other artists; Xavier Swolfs (one of my favourite watercolourists) Heleen Vriesendorp, Viktoria Prischedko and Cao Bei-An amongst others. I think this makes for an interesting mix of people who use this kind of approach in their painting. The collection of illustrations alone make this book stand out for me and I know it is one I will dip in and out of for inspiration for some time to come.

I’d like to end this post with a big thank you to Search Press especially Mary and Vanessa for allowing me to reproduce the images and a huge thank you to the author Kees Van Aalst for writing such an interesting, inspiring and exciting book.

From the website from Peter Ward

Realistic Abstracts by Kees van Aalst

9″ x 9″ (23cm x 23cm) Paperback 160 pages
Published in 2010 by Search Press, with a reprint in 2011, this is a translation of a book originally published in Holland.  The concept is aptly described by the title `Realistic Abstracts’. I take this to mean an abstract painting with small areas of realism. Some months ago I saw something about this book and read the reviews on Amazon. They were generally positive and may have been the first time I heard about Viktoria Prischedko, who is described as one of the contributing artists. The painting on the cover is by Viktoria.
I find this an interesting book and am intrigued by this concept of realism allied to abstraction. Charles Reid talks about small areas of detail coupled with large areas of generality which isn’t that different, although the resulting execution by the artists highlighted in the book is. Including the author twelve artists are listed as contributors, although all the text seems to be by Kees van Aalst. This method of painting seems to be very much in vogue on the Continent, indeed they appear to be pioneering it with many exciting artists painting in  a variety of styles roughly linked with the overall concept.
This isn’t a book for beginners but something to encourage more experienced painters to `develop your own way of painting in this exciting style’. It is certainly making me think how I can incorporate some of the ideas and concepts into my current way of painting. The book is mainly illustrative although there is fair amount of text. One of the complaints on Amazon reviews was the lack of text but I don’t agree with that.
Of the contributing artists the ones that I liked most are Viktoria and Slawa Prischedko , Cao Bei-An , Piet Lap, Xavier Swolfs  and Heleen Vriesendorp . Kees van Aalst’s website is
The retail price is £12.99 Uk and US $25.95. I bought mine on Amazon, from one of their partners, for just under £11 including carriage. The SAA are selling it (`a best seller’) for £9.99 and are currently out of stock. If you are interested in loose and impressionistic painting then it is certainly well worth obtaining.