How To Draw & Paint, Backyard Building with the Stiles, Quilt Color & Patterns, & More | Crafts & DIY Reviews

Art Instruction

HEATHER HALLIDAY, American Jewish Historical Soc., New York

redstarPiyasena, Sam & Beverly Philp. Just Paint It! The World’s Most Enjoyable Painting Course. Ever. Barron’s. 2014. 160p. illus. index. ISBN 9780764166549. $18.99. ART INSTRUCTION

Just Paint ItWith this informal guide, Piyasena and Philp, who previously collaborated on Just Draw It!, aim to return fun and freedom to painting. The authors encourage readers to engage actively with creativity. Chapters cover common painting concerns, such as materials, color, and pattern, but the many short step-by-step exercises included often blend the element of surprise with unusual materials or activities or both. One lesson incorporates invisible ink; another involves baking a cake. For context, each exercise is accompanied by a discussion of a particular artist or movement and a list of famous related paintings for readers to reference. ­VERDICT Artists of all abilities can benefit from this entertaining book.

Stawicki, Matt & Finlay Cowan. How To Draw and Paint Fantasy Combat: A Step-by-Step Guide to Epic Combat Scenes. Barron’s. 2014. 128p. illus. index. ISBN 9781438003467. pap. $21.99. ART INSTRUCTION

HBO’s hugely popular epic Game of Thrones has recently stimulated interest in the fantasy genre, and this guide by fantasy artist Stawicki with text from graphic designer Cowan (Drawing and Painting Fantasy Figures) is aligned with that trend. Lively narrative instruction throughout explains the finer points of drawing and painting tools, techniques, the basics of the figure, staging realistic combat scenes, and various fantasy subgenres. Traditional and digital media are also discussed, which include specific software recommendations. The final chapter profiles four professional fantasy artists, including Stawicki, and shows ­step-­­by­-step labeled explanations for how each created a work of fantasy combat. ­VERDICT An excellent starting point for comic book fans and fantasy enthusiasts of all ages who want to attempt some fantasy art of their own.



Kemp, Beth. Twist, Turn, & Tie: 50 Japanese Kumihimo Braids. Barron’s. 2014. 128p. illus. index. ISBN 9780764166433. $21.99. CRAFTS

japanesekumihimo062714Kumihimo is a Japanese braiding technique that traditionally uses a wooden stand called a marudai to create intricate braids using silk threads. In this beginner’s overview, Kemp (Braid & Bead Studio) introduces the art of kumihimo using a cardboard disk (included with the book) in place of the customary marudai. Getting started with kumihimo is easy—the selected threads are knotted together and placed in numbered slots on the disk. The disk is turned and the threads are moved according to a diagram, producing a braided cord. After a short series of braids intended to introduce and reinforce the proper use of the braiding disk, Kemp moves into a variety of more complex braids, each assigned a skill level. Many of the braids are finished into necklaces or bracelets and the result is similar to the friendship bracelets many crafters made as children—only more intricate. Though a variety of threads can be applied, thread specifically designed for ­kumihimo is the best choice, but that’s the only specialized supply most crafters will need to get started. ­VERDICT Kemp’s thorough guide gives solid information and background about this traditional craft, yet the designs are contemporary and accessible. Jewelry makers will be drawn to this collection of pretty projects.

McNeill, Suzanne. Friendship Bracelets: All Grown Up Hemp, Floss, and Other Boho Chic Designs To Make. Fox Chapel. 2014. 64p. illus. ISBN 9781574218664. pap. $9.99. CRAFTS

Friendship bracelets, those timeless 1980s accessories made from embroidery floss or perle cotton, are still popular with tweens and teens. The basics are simple enough—a combination of braiding, weaving, and knotting that lives in the muscle memory of any woman who has attended summer camp since the late 1970s—but there are a lot of possibilities here, from slim, bead-embellished designs to wider, multicolored arrangements with chevron or wave patterns. For crafters who prefer the hippie look, there’s also a section on creating hemp bracelets using the same knotting, braiding, and weaving techniques. Each design includes diagrams and instructions; a brief introduction serves as a reminder of the basics. VERDICT Kids are still making friendship bracelets, and this nostalgic collection will pique the interest of crafters young and old.

Riley, Lesley. Creative Image Transfer—Any Artist, Any Style, Any Surface: 16 New Mixed-Media Projects Using TAP Transfer Artist Paper. C&T. Jul. 2014. 72p. illus. ISBN 9781607058311. pap. $19.95. CRAFTS

Creative Image TransferTransfer Artist Paper (TAP) is a polymer-coated paper that allows artists to print, draw, or paint a design and transfer it to a different surface via the heat from a household iron. Though it was originally intended for use on fabric, TAP can be applied to a variety of surfaces, including paper, metal, wood, and glass, making it a versatile tool for mixed-media crafters and scrapbookers. Riley, who invented TAP for her own work, curated this collection of 16 projects using the paper in a variety of ways—­including art quilts, a handmade journal, printed boxes, and a flour-sack towel impressed with a family recipe. Each of the contributing crafters has a different approach to TAP, demonstrating the wide variety of applications, from simple image transfers to layered pieces of art. Though a basic overview of working with TAP is included, ­Riley’s first book, Create with Transfer Artist Paper, presents more extensive instructions. VERDICT The diversity of these projects will appeal to mixed-media crafters, and the directions are simple and beginner friendly.



Peterson, Chris & Philip Schmidt. Practical Projects for Self-Sufficiency: DIY Projects To Get Your Self-Reliant Lifestyle Started. Cool Springs: Quarto. Jun. 2014. 160p. illus. index. ISBN 9781591865957. pap. $19.99. DIY

If you are one of the many backyard farmers, this book has 30 projects to help you enjoy the fruits of your labors. Peterson (Building with Secondhand Stuff) and Schmidt (The Complete Guide to Greenhouses & Garden Projects) lend their considerable expertise to these plans. Clear, step-by-step instructions are paired with large photos. The projects are very doable, even for beginners. Sections cover food prep and storage, outdoor building projects, and small animal enclosures. However, this collection has odd choices. Some projects really stand out, such as the cider press, manual laundry washer, solar still, loom, and strawberry planter with mesh cover, but others appear less related—doggy-door installation, kit shed, fire pit, etc. The designs related to raising bees or chickens are better covered by specialized books, such as Kim Flottum’s Backyard Beekeeper or Storey Publishing’s The Backyard Homestead Guide to Raising Farm Animals. VERDICT This is a well-organized book with great instructions, but unless one is hunting actively for these particular projects, it falls a little flat. Recommended where variety is desired.

Stiles, Jeanie & David Stiles. Backyard Building: Treehouses, Sheds, Arbors, Gates, and Other Garden Projects. Countryman. (Know How). Jun. 2014. 264p. illus. index. ISBN 9781581572384. pap. $19.95; ebk. ISBN 9781581576573. DIY

Backyard BuildingThe Stiles’s (Treehouses You Can Actually Build) have over 20 books to their credit, and this one does not disappoint. Included here are 24 stylish and well-done building projects, starting with familiar garden structures such decks, gates, and trellises. These progress to projects such as an outdoor shower and stylish garden sheds. The work concludes with a selection of tree or play houses and some larger creations that involve an assortment of lovely designs. Attention to details, such as the use of tree branches in a gate or the skylight in a summer house, raises this title a notch from other outdoor-building books. Finely detailed drawings illustrate points of construction. Organization is solid, as well—a supplies and cutting list is included for each project. However, there isn’t much hand-holding in the instructions and knowledge of tool use and availability is assumed. ­VERDICT This is a great addition for building-project collections. A novice woodworker may be too challenged by the material but those who are more experienced will have no issues. The plans cover a broad range of structures, so this is an excellent resource where more diversity is preferred.

Fiber Crafts


Bernard, Wendy. Up, Down, All-Around Stitch Dictionary: More than 150 Stitch Patterns To Knit Top Down, Bottom Up, Back and Forth, and in the Round. Melanie Falick: STC Craft. 2014. 288p. illus. ISBN 9781617690990. $29.95. FIBER CRAFTS

Stitch dictionaries are the bread and butter of the knitter’s library, demonstrating the wide variety of patterns that can come from a few simple stitches. Bernard (Custom Knits Accessories) puts an uncommon spin on the genre with this collection of more than 150 stitch patterns, which include written directions for knitting each pattern flat as well as in the round—the technique used for tubular projects such as socks (the swatches in the photos are knitted flat, however). As with any solid stitch dictionary, the swatches show multiple repeats of the pattern, and the color photos are clear and large enough to display detail. Charts are present as needed. Examples incorporating the stitch patterns in the book are sprinkled throughout, for a variety of small accessories such as hats, socks, scarves, and mittens, as well as some larger garments such as sweaters and vests. VERDICT The four volumes of Barbara G. Walker’s Treasury of Knitting Patterns remain the gold standard of stitch dictionaries, but Bernard’s collection, with its attractive color photographs, could be the heir apparent.

Davis, Jodie & Jayne Davis. Mini Quilts: Fresh, Fun Patterns To Quilt in a Snap. Taunton. 2014. 171p. illus. index. ISBN 9781621137962. pap. $22.95. FIBER CRAFTS

Mini quilts are all the rage in the quilting blogosphere—but if you’re not using them as a decorative wall hanging or a doll blanket what do you do with them? Jodie Davis, along with her stepmother Jayne, became interested in mini quilts as a means of learning new techniques. Their seventh book together showcases a wide variety of techniques, including precision piecing, decorative machine stitching, fabric painting, faux trapunto, and foundation paper piecing. Each mini showcases a different learning objective (cleverly highlighted in a “what you’ll learn” section of the pattern) and includes straightforward, illustrated instructions that teach the method. The final chapter solves the problem of what to do with mini quilts: pillows are the most logical choice but there are also patterns for a tote bag and two table runners, as well as for a larger-scale version of one of the quilts. VERDICT Quilters seeking a low-risk way to try something new will appreciate the variety in this collection.

Denny, Katy. The Quilter’s Palette: A Workbook of Color & Pattern, Ideas & Effects. Creative Publishing Int’l: Quarto. 2014. 224p. illus. index. ISBN 9781589237995. pap. $24.99. FIBER CRAFTS

Quilter's PaletteThe choice of fabric—in terms of both color and pattern—can make or break a sewing project. In this workbook, quilter Denny illustrates the principles of design and color theory using quilt blocks as examples. Rather than simply explaining what complementary colors are and showing them on a color wheel, Denny demonstrates how these colors work together via a fiery orange and royal blue friendship star block. She lists the designer, color, and print on each of the fabrics used in the blocks, allowing quilters to duplicate them (or help them to find a fabric that they really love). Full directions for each of the sample blocks are included, and they could easily be sewn into a Farmer’s Wife–style sampler. Nine full-size projects reinforce the techniques in the book. VERDICT Color and pattern are hot topics on modern quilting blogs, but what elevates Denny’s book above the chatter is the combination of useful lessons and real-world sewing.

Interior Design

GAYLE A. WILLIAMSON, Fashion Inst. of Design & Merchandising, Los Angeles

Conran, Terence. Plain Simple Useful: The Essence of Conran Style. Conran Octopus. Jun. 2014. 224p. photos. index. ISBN 9781840916553. $34.99; ebk. ISBN 9781840916690. INTERIOR DESIGN

Noted and knighted British designer ­Conran here distills his design philosophy to the essentials. He discusses every room of the home—including offices and children’s rooms—explaining lighting, surface, storage, furniture, and decorative accessory options. Interspersed throughout are detailed facts about items the designer recommends, such as the Moka espresso pot and the Anglepoise light. In more than 150 color photographs the author shows the light-filled interiors of his own London mews house and his country home, as well as those of other residences that exemplify his style. Given that Conran reviews the whole house, the information is more condensed than that found in his “Essential” series. ­VERDICT As Conran continues to make inroads into the U.S. market, in particular with his furnishings and decorative accessories for ­JCPenney, this volume will be useful for those interested in his design sensibility.

Watson, Ted Kennedy. Style & Simplicity: An A to Z Guide to Living a More Beautiful Life. Signature: Sterling. 2014. 160p. photos. index. ISBN 9781454907244. $17.95. INTERIOR DESIGN

Celebrated for his interior design and visual merchandising skills, Watson, founder of the Watson Kennedy shops, shares some of his favorite things in hopes of inspiring readers to create their own personal style rather than steadfastly following his. Filled with close to 300 color photographs that he has taken of his homes and stores, Watson presents his ideas for entertaining (including recipes), decorating with vintage items and flea market finds, and overall making one’s home more “comfortable, visually rich, and personal.” Tips are sprinkled throughout, along with resources for many of the suggested items. VERDICT This casual, personal style of decor continues to be popular and Watson’s book provides more enlightenment for amateur decorators.

This article was published in Library Journal's June 15, 2014 issue. Subscribe today and save up to 35% off the regular subscription rate.