I Give It A Year – Helen Whitaker

 Give It A Year - Helen WhitakerDescription: It’s New Year’s Eve, and Iris has just found out that her husband, Adam, is cheating on her. Furious, she kicks him out, and enlists her Dad to move in and help with the children whilst she tries to mend her broken heart.

But her Dad soon starts to display signs of Alzheimer’s, and Iris realises that if she loses her partner, she’ll be managing an awful lot on her own. Soon, she realises that Adam wasn’t the only one taking their marriage for granted, and for the sake of the children she decides to give him one more chance.

But is it braver to stay than to run? And can anyone fall in love with the same person twice?



I Give It A Year is one of the first books we’ve read in 2021, full of emotion, and realistically charting the situations and dilemmas that many people face in their lives; Helen Whitaker has created a powerful, thought-provoking book to start the year.

Cleverly written, this page-turning novel has so many twists and turns that it ensures that the reader will not know the outcome until the very last page. An engrossing weekend read!

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Conscious Creativity: The Workbook experiment, explore, create – Philippa Stanton

Conscious Creativity: The Workbook experiment, explore, create - Philippa StantonDescription: Drawing on the success of her breakout book Conscious Creativity, artist Philippa Stanton dares you to throw away technique and open the door to free creative movement with this hands-on workbook.

Acknowledging the power of chance and experimentation, this is a safe space in which to scribble, sketch, tear, scratch, fold, weave – anything that Philippa’s playful prompts inspire you to do. There are no rules here: choose an activity at the back of the book or start at the beginning; pick an exercise on light and shadow, paint your own colour chart or build a collage of found items, whatever makes your creative juices flow.

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Expressive Sketchbooks – Developing Creative Skills, Courage, and Confidence – Helen Wells

Expressive Sketchbooks - Developing Creative Skills, Courage, and Confidence - Helen WellsDescription: Expressive Sketchbooks shares a host of creative ideas and prompts, tools and techniques, methods for working around obstacles and barriers, and tons of visual inspiration to help you grow in your sketchbooking practice.

An expressive sketchbook is a place for you to explore, express, and enjoy your own innate creativity on your own terms. It is a safe playground for the imagination—a place to mess about, play, and experiment—and to gain confidence in your abilities as you develop your skills.

Expressive Sketchbooks offers techniques and creative exercises that incorporate mark making, watercolor, mixed media, collage, words and text, and more. It unpacks some of the obstacles and barriers that you may face along the way and offers wisdom and encouragement to help you decide why and how to start your sketchbook and how to develop and expand your artistic practice.

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The Kew Book of Painting Roses in Watercolour – Trevor Waugh

The Kew Book of Painting Roses in Watercolour - Trevor WaughSynopsis: Learn how to create stunning paintings of roses in watercolour that capture the essential beauty of this much-loved flower.

Roses have a special place in both art and culture across the world. Published in Association with Kew Gardens, this stunning book teaches you how to capture their character, colour and form in watercolour, and showcases both historical images from the Kew archives and the author’s own extensive collection of inspiring paintings.

Guided by watercolour artist and rose enthusiast Trevor Waugh, this book begins with clear explanations of essential watercolour techniques followed by a short project that allows the reader to explore the nature of watercolour in a practical way. Particular emphasis is placed on mixing colours cleanly in order to reproduce the purity and variety of this much-loved family of flowers. This is followed by sections on how to gather reference material; how to compose your own paintings; and how to inject your paintings with colour and light. All are accompanied by three further step-by-step projects, each culminating in a stunning painting of your own.


Why I like it:
It will come as no surprise to anyone that we love roses! This is a beautiful book full of the most gorgeous examples of how to paint roses using watercolour.

The content includes:

Foreword from Kew, Introduction, History of Painting Roses, Materials, Techniques, Exploring The Nature of Watercolour step-by-step project, Finding Inspiration, Creating form, Portrait of a Rose step-by-step project, Colour, Rose Blush step-by-step project, Light, Still Life Roses step-by-step project, Capturing the Essence.

We love the botanical paintings of Pierre-Joseph Redouté (1759-1840) who is referenced in this book and an original copy of his wonderful book Les Roses which is held in the Kew Library. Trevor Waugh showcases images from Kew Gardens and its archives alongside his own collection of luminous, inspirational artworks.

What we love about this book is that as well as detailed help to create the projects included, it also encourages you to develop your own painting style, to create your own beautiful paintings of roses.

At a time when many of us are struggling to understand how much our world around us is changing, this beautiful book allows us an opportunity to escape to a more beautiful and tranquil place.

Highly Recommended!

Special Note:

Trevor has produced a number of free videos that demonstrate his fluid style and offer a very useful guide on how to paint particular subjects. All of these are available on his website and YouTube channel – all content is original and copyright to Trevor: www.trevorwaugh.com and https://youtu.be/yKLO-G8T_lk

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Watercolour Plant Art – 20 prints to paint and frame – Nikki Strange

Watercolour Plant Art - 20 prints to paint and frame - Nikki StrangeSynopsis: Learn to paint your favourite botanicals in watercolour through 20 visual step-by-step projects, plus a handy 25-sheet sketchpad with outlines of all the designs

A modern twist on watercolour flower painting – learn to paint your houseplants in the comfort of your own home.

London-based designer Nikki Strange takes you through 20 highly visual step-by-step projects. New and budding artists can learn to paint beautiful leafy balms, exotic flowers, succulents and more, so you can create a modern artwork that you’ll love to display in your home, use as stationery or proudly give to your friends and family. 

The process of studying and recreating each plant is described in clear step-by-step instructions, accompanied by stunning photography and a clean, contemporary design. In addition, a 25-sheet sketchpad with outlines of all the projects faintly printed on the pages is attached to the book for you to draw and paint on, so you can get started right away.


Why I Like It
This is an absolutely delightful book, in effect two books in one, a visual step-by-step guide plus a 25 sheet sketchpad with outlines of the projects. 

The content includes: 

Getting Started – which is a very helpful section including;
Being a better artist

Watercolour pans & inks
Colour, including creating a colour wheel
How to mix greens which is really helpful for the projects in the book
Ways of working
Botanical Projects –  which includes detailing the materials, the watercolour inks and colour mixes, plus step-by-step instructions and photographic illustrations of how to create each plant with the option of either creating it yourself or using the pre-drawn sketch.
Included are the following examples:
 Palm Leaves
– Monstera
– Banana Leaves
– Barrel Cactus
– Mini Orange Tree
– Eucalyptus
– Spotted Begonia
– Inch Plant
– Snake Plant
– Purple Shamrock
– Succulent
– Chinese Money Plant
– Rubber Plant
– Dried Flowers
– Fern Frond
– Calathea
– Anthurium
– English Ivy
– Palm Leaf & Abstract Background
– Decorative Wreath

 Watercolour Plant Art is not only a delightful way to relax, but also a wonderful way to start creating your own watercolour prints of your favourite plants. Highly Recommended!
Watercolour Plant Art – 20 prints to paint and frame – Nikki Strange – published by Search Press
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Urban Sketching – Step by Step – Klaus Meier-Pauken

Urban Sketching - Step by Step - Klaus Meier-PaukenTechniques for creating quick & lively urban scenes

Synopsis: Join the growing movement of reactionary artists and learn how to capture our fast-paced world in this inspiring book by popular artist and author, Klaus Meier-Pauken.

With useful advice on the basic materials needed, Urban Sketching Step by Step then moves on to honing essential drawing techniques from tone and colour to perspective and composition.

The huge collection of creative exercises will help you build your skills, see your surroundings with a new artistic eye and draw lively sketches of your city or town that reflect its character.

Whether you are looking to discover your own sketching style, or to build on your existing knowledge, this book is packed with material to get you creating your own dynamic works of art.


Why I liked this
There is so much to love in this inspiring book, it’s like a conversation with the author Klaus, as he shares his knowledge and advice in such a helpful way.

As you will see from the list below, the content is very comprehensive, including:

Urban Sketching- Sketching in the city
– Equipment – everything you need to know about the best equipment to use, and it is really is just a few materials.
– Quick sketches as essential training
– Lines and surfaces in your drawing
– Pencil, ink or colour?

Spatial perception in the city
– Selecting a scene in public places
– Perspective: horizons, position lines and vanishing points

Composing a harmonious sketch
– Arranging people and objects in space
– Foreground, middle ground and background
– The illusion of spatial depth
– Bringing your picture to life
– Shading and textures
– Light and shadow
– Getting your message across
– Tension and dynamism
– Using colour

Bringing individual elements to life
– Buildings and architecture
– Trees and vegetation
– People
– Cars, buses and trains
– Surfaces and materials

Capturing typical locations in sketches
– Streets, alleyways, courtyards and squares
– Landscapes, parks and gardens
– Details
– Canals, rivers and the sea

Afterword The magic of particular places

But it’s not just the really helpful advice in this book that makes it so special, throughout the book there are delightful and exquisite sketches created by Klaus himself, featuring cities such as London, New York, Paris and Venice.

On every page there is encouragement and advice on how to create perspective accurately, introduce texture and shading, how to bring people into the picture, draw water and so much more, as well as the 18 step by step exercises.

I particularly loved the sentiment in the Afterword, when Klaus describes his own favourite places,

‘Despite the wealth of fabulous buildings in Paris…. I always find my attention is drawn to the less spectacular rows of townhouses found in certain quarters of the city. Time and time again, I find myself enchanted by towering walls, narrow windows, fitted with ornate grilles and shutters and firewalls capped by multiple chimneys resembling the pipes of an organ……. In Venice it is the façades and interiors that catch my eye in all their diversity, beauty and perfection, as well as the carefully proportioned walls that surround the city’s squares and connect them to all those narrow alleyways to produce a wonderful spatial sequence’

If you are inspired to try urban sketching yourself, this book is a wonderful companion. Highly Recommended!

Urban Sketching – Step by Step – Klaus Meier-Pauken published by Search Press https://www.searchpress.com/book/9781782216834/urban-sketching-step-by-step

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Photography: History. Art. Technique – Tom Ang

Photography: History. Art. Technique - Tom AngSynopsis: Fully updated and presented in a striking slipcase, this fascinating all-in-one guide introduces you to the art, history, and culture of photography, and shows you how to get the very best from your photographs.
A comprehensive guide to all things photographic, Photography opens with a gallery of more than 30 of the key figures in photography, from 19th-century pioneers to famous photographers working today. The gallery provides fascinating contrasts between such diverse genres as art photography, reportage, portrait, and wildlife photography. The book then tells the story of photography, from its “garden shed” beginnings to the rise of the “selfie” today.

The second half of the book introduces cameras, accessories, and software, explaining what they can do and how to use them, then shows how to take better photographs by mastering the technical aspects of your camera; experimenting with composition, colour and light; and digitally enhancing your photos. Inspirational masterclasses covering all genres of photography – landscape, portraits, wildlife, architecture, art – also provide you with an opportunity to apply your newfound skills in a clear and practical way. The section also gives expert advice on showing your work and how to become a professional photographer yourself.


Why I Like This
First, as with all DK books, this is a beautifully presented book, even more so because the photography is absolutely stunning, and the book is beautifully presented inside a slipcase, with an illustration like a camera, making it even more special.

The content is comprehensive, including:

Gallery of Photographers – A-Z of some of the most influential photographers
The Story of Photography – From the dawn of photography to the digital revolution
Photographic Tools – The camera, Camera Accessories, Setting up a Darkroom, B/W processing and printing
Elements of Photography – Art of Composition, Using Colour, Working in Black/White, Using Lenses, Filters
Taking Successful Photographs
Working with Digital Images
Taking Photography Further

What this book gives is both information and inspiration, from the factual to how to create the most stunning photography. With a passion for photography, I particularly loved the section on the elements of photography – how to experiment with composition, colour and light, and the masterclasses covering all genres of photography – landscape, portraits, wildlife, architecture, art.

Photography as a discipline has evolved in so many different ways, and students in school and college will find this a very useful reference book. From a historical perspective this is also a useful source of tracing the development of photography.

Whether you are interested in photography yourself, or wish to gift someone with a delightful gift this is a wonderful addition to the collection of anyone interested in photography. Highly Recommended!

Photography: History. Art. Technique – Tom Ang – Published by DK https://www.dk.com/

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Find Your Flow – Sarah Gregg

Find Your FlowThe Simple and Life-Changing Practice for a Happier You

Synopsis: Flow is an optimal mental state that you can control, create, and experience every day. Once you learn how to master flow, your happiness will flow quickly and effortlessly as you use strategies to gain control over your life, focus on what matters most, and motivate action toward your goals and dreams.

In Find Your Flow, life coach and neurolinguistic programming practitioner Sarah Gregg reveals a powerful four-step journal system that can be applied to your everyday life. All it takes is a few minutes a day to help you find your flow through:

Morning grateful flow—wake up happy as you start your day, writing words of gratitude and creating a positive mood that lasts all day.

Forward focus—identify your priorities for the day to bring a sense of harmony and balance between what you must do and what you want to do.

Total flow—script your ideal day to spot opportunities, stay on course, and defend yourself against distraction.

Night time reflection—lean into the lessons that are showing up in life, spot opportunities to find more flow, and celebrate the powerful small steps you’re taking each day to create meaningful life changes.

Let Find Your Flow be your practical guide to awaken and strengthen your authentic voice so that you can make your signature impact on the world, inspire others, and reach your full potential.


Why I like it
One of the first reasons for liking it, is that this is a beautifully produced book! The cover and the inside illustrations encourage you to want to pick it up and discover the contents. I have always been interested in the work of Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi and Sarah says her journal system for flow integrates the three core conditions that Csikszentmihalyi found necessary for flow to occur:

Clear Goals (I know what I am doing and why)
Optimal level of challenge (I will complete my goal to the best of my current ability so that it stretches my skills)
Immediate Feedback (I understand what successful progress toward my goals look, feels and sounds like)

It is these three core conditions along with feeling positive and reflecting that she has discovered are important for finding and staying in everyday flow.

Using her own experiences Sarah shares how she has changed previous habits to embrace this new way of living her life. Each of the key stages she mentions starts a new section in the book which also uses different coloured paper. The key stages are:

Morning grateful flow
Forward focus
Total flow
Nighttime reflection

Throughout the book relevant research is referenced and presented in an easily assimilated way, from the works of other practitioners to the techniques used by elite athletes. The full detail of this research is available in the Notes section of the book.

At the back of the book there is a section where you can start your own journal focusing on the four steps mentioned above.

This is a beautiful and thought-provoking book, a perfect way of starting to do things differently in 2020. Highly Recommended!

Find Your Flow – The Simple and Life-Changing Practice for a Happier You – Sarah Gregg Published by Rock Point 


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Hashtag Authentic – Sara Tasker

Hashtag Authentic - Sara TaskerFinding creativity and building a community on Instagram and beyond

In Hashtag Authentic, social media guru Sara Tasker provides tips, advice and guidance on how to turn your personal Instagram account into a profitable creative outlet.

Since setting up her Instagram account (me_and_orla) while on maternity leave in 2013, Sara has become a celebrated influencer and iPhoneographer, and through her calm, atmospheric and authentic style has garnered legions of followers. Here, Sara presents the lessons she has learned along the way.

Sara’s nurturing voice and enchanting photography provide guidance on:

Storytelling, with tips on finding your own visual style and personal niche.
Making pictures, including composing for Instagram, finding the best light and getting the most out of your camera phone.
Archiving your life, with tips organized by themes like Craft & Making, Family & Pets and Food & Ingredients.
Sharing your world, detailing the keys to Instagram success and beyond.

Hashtag Authentic is both an inspiring manual and an interactive tool for finding an online voice, growing a tribe and becoming an influencer.


Hashtag Authentic by Sara Tasker, White Lion Publishing, rrp £16.99

Why I Like it
Although the book may initially be described as being about how to turn your personal Instagram account into a profitable creative outlet, there is so much more in this carefully constructed and delightful book. Sara’s voice can be heard throughout this book in a very honest and authentic way, sharing her personal experiences and giving valuable advice about visual storytelling and improving your photography skills and much more.

There are thought-provoking exercises including Identifying your favourite parts in a day, Naming Your Visual Style and Listening to Yourself, there is also essential advice about staying safe on line and the need to recognise that there is a life outside Instagram. In fact some of the most inspiring parts of the book are about Storytelling and Making Pictures which has a relevance to anyone interested in photography, or seeking to be more creative.

I particularly liked the chapters about The Simple Secrets of Composition and Chasing Light , which are packed full with really helpful practical advice and inspiration.

Whether you want to create more thoughtful Instagram posts, improve your photography, take time to journal, or inspire your creativity this is a wonderful gift to give to yourself, or another fellow creative. Highly Recommended!

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The Writer’s Creative Workbook: Finding Your Voice, Embracing the Page – Joy Kenward

The Writer's Creative Workbook: Finding Your Voice, Embracing the Page - Joy KenwardSynopsis: The Writer’s Creative Workbook is a practical and insightful guide into the joyful craft of mindful writing.

Focusing on the transformative process of writing and conscious creativity, this beautifully illustrated part-manual, part-journal explores the holistic value of writing for writing’s sake.

Author Joy Kenward invites story-tellers, poets, travel-writers, journalists and letter-writers – in fact anyone curious about the ancient wisdom of mindfulness and its relevance to the modern creative voice – to embrace affirmations, meditations and Buddhist wisdom.

With practical exercises and astute notes on dissolving creative block, planning, time, and caring for your words, this is a must-have companion to help any creative wordsmith flow, flourish, and be mindful.


Why I like it
Most days I am reviewing books, either fiction, or non-fiction and while I am reading I am often fascinated about the structure of the book, how it is written and how it will develop; but there is always joy when the skill of the writer is such that it transports me away from that observation into becoming completely absorbed in the characters, the location and the story as it unfolds.

If you want to develop your own writing style and are looking at 2020 as the year to finally make this happen, The Writer’s Creative Workbook could be an inspiring place to start.

Joy has created a workbook set out over ten chapters, that can be used as a ten session course. Throughout the book there many opportunities to stimulate your creativity. In a very supportive style her questions encourage reflection, discovery, and creative ambition as well as an opportunity to recognise the joy that writing can bring both to the writer and the reader.

One of my favourite parts of the book is the chapter when she considers Fiction – Another World. As she describes,

We don’t need a definition to enjoy reading fiction, and we don’t need any excuse to enjoy writing it. Fiction opens up all the imaginary worlds we could wish for.They may be worlds very like our own, or they may be visions of entire fantasy. In the best stories, the reader feels they have been taken by the hand and walked through the world of the story, seeing and hearing it in their mind just as clearly as their own day-to-day life.It can be great fun to create settings – wide landscapes, tiny rooms, oceans, forests – and to place fascinating characters there. Welcome to wonderland

Beautifully illustrated by Ruth Allen, and full of suggestions, prompts, and space for you to write, The Writer’s Creative Workbook is a delightful exploration of how to find your voice, and develop your own unique way of writing and above all enjoy it!

Highly Recommended!

If you enjoyed this, you might also like to look at our reviews of the following:

The Writer’s Eye – Amy E. Weldon Observation and Inspiration for Creative Writers

The Artist’s Way Morning Pages Journal – Julia Cameron

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