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Jeff Walmsley "JW" (Wales)
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Charles Pfahl, Artist at Work - Advanced Techniques in Oil
Charles Pfahl, Artist at Work - Advanced Techniques in Oil
by Joe Singer
Edition: Hardcover

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars OVERVALUED, 7 Mar 2014
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This, some might say excessively, adulatory book was published in 1977, when the artist was a mere 31 years old (although he manages to make himself look older in his self-portraits). Publications of this era had nothing like the colour content we have today, and it may come as no surprise to find that a third of the 30 works shown in the "gallery" are illustrated in black and white - as with many other examples throughout the book. This reduces its value significantly.

The tenor of Pfahl's work as shown here tends to the gloomy, not just in style, but in subject. As the author remarks"Pfahl is obviously drawn to the darker side of life" - so we have works entitled "depression", portraits showing sitters under stress, dark, gloomy interiors and works characterised as "sombre" - the latter adjective being applicable to just about everything depicted here.

He is undoubtedly a talented artist, and I admire his immense skill, which, perhaps, is well-suited to the classical chiaroscuro style he favoured. I had never heard of him before I stumbled across this book on Amazon. He died last October, which perhaps may explain the - to my mind - ridiculous prices now being asked for both new and used copies of this book. If you are an ardent Pfahl devotee you may be happy to pay these prices for this, the only book to feature his work (although a chapter from it did appear in another Watson-Guptill compendium some years later); but if you're just another interested art-lover you may, like me, prefer a used copy at a sensible price - if you can find one.


Max Payne Mens Black Leather Coat Made in Italy
Max Payne Mens Black Leather Coat Made in Italy
Offered by Soul Revolver
Price: £360.00

5.0 out of 5 stars LEATHER LOVELINESS..., 27 Feb 2014
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I can't speak too highly of the care and attention I got from SR - two telephone calls from the Tampa Bay, Florida, office and one from the owner of the company personally at his London HQ, plus several e-mails - all solely to make sure I got exactly what I wanted in every respect from size to style.

And it was needed; for there is a big, big problem with Amazon's clothing store - for both buyers and sellers

Amazon employs a label system, each label representing only a range of chest measurement. I have a 41.5" chest. In theory, I would buy the XL size, 42-44. The problem is that one manufacturer's XL is another's S, which is why you often see reviewers suggesting that you buy a particular garment in a size larger, or smaller, and a lot of reviews complaining about wrongly-sized outer garments having to be returned.

Thus, in the past two years, I've bought two expensive outer garments through Amazon, both labelled XL; one was far too large, the other far too small. They were manufactured in two different countries, neither of which was the UK. Both were readily exchanged, of course, and I wound up with two garments of excellent fit, labelled L and XXL respectively !! Although in fact, the L is slightly larger than the XXL... So much for the Amazon labelling system...

What Amazon think standard size labels should reflect is utterly meaningless, because not only have they no control over factory practice around the world, but different countries have different traditions and ideas as to how roomy or close-fitting a garment bearing a specific size label should be. Not only that, some styles may be naturally snug, others naturally roomy; and the older person may well require rather more room than the youthful (or the younger person with the large waistline more room than the skinny old man) - whatever style he chooses.

However, if, knowing this, a seller were to ask you to provide personal measurements for the best fit, it would most likely mean that before the garment could be sent, Amazon's automatic order cancellation system would have kicked in - and your order would be cancelled unilaterallky because it's despatch hadn't been notified within their two-week time limit. Daft, or what ?

The new "How does this product fit" box is far too rough and ready - especially for QUALITY garments - and does nothing to solve the problem that reviews themselves don't already do. We need a box for purchasers to fill in essential measurements, perhaps based on an existing, well-fitting similar garment - as I did by direct contact with SR, after finding my Max Payne coat supplied according to Amazon's XL criteria to be far too small; and I now have a well-fitting and very stylish coat tailored to my exact dimensions in every respect, even down to the depth and location of pockets.

Soul Revolver, is a small British-based retailer with an office in the US, importing from a well-regarded Italian factory which supplies a variety of upmarket brand names, and come up against this problem regularly. Quite obviously, SR have no control over the Italian company's sizing practice, any more than the other supplier I dealt with had over his. And for this reason, if you go to the Soul Revolver website to buy, rather than buying through Amazon, they will insist that you provide a range of personal measurements, to ensure that you get an accurate fit - and, until Amazon see the error of their ways, that is what I recommend that you do.


Levington Multi Purpose Compost 70 Litres
Levington Multi Purpose Compost 70 Litres
Offered by deals-direct
Price: £13.10

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars A DISAPPOINTING DEVELOPMENT FOR GARDNERS, 23 Feb 2014
I started using Levington compost at least 40 years ago; but in recent years I've used the cheaper Sinclair compost bought from a reputable local nurseryman, who uses it in his glasshouses. But last year, Sinclair stopped using peat in favour of recycled material - and last year's batch not only produced inferior results, but contained ground-up particles of household waste, mostly plastic. This year, therefore, I returned to my old favourite, Levington, bought from a local farm shop - only to find that it, too, contained not just plastic, but also shards of broken glass.

It was only after this saddening experience that I started some research and found these reviews on Amazon, going back to 2011- since when it seems that nothing has changed. Like other reviewers, I find the end product far too coarse; and the proud claim that it holds 25 percent more water is in fact a significant drawback, for it simply means that, in these biblically-wet times, packs stored outdoors at garden centres rapidly absorb water through the ventilation holes, rendering the 70L sacks a serious heath hazard by virtue of their weight. It is impossible safely to lift such a sack from a car boot, even with two people. They may even be illegal to sell in that state.

Within 24 hours of opening a sack in my warm greenhouse, black flies emerged from it - they appear to be thrips, which are a menace - of which another reviewer has complained. This indicates inadequate sterilisation which, when household waste is involved, is obviously yet another serious failing.

Exploring the many online suppliers of composts it seems that most are now turning to recycled household waste as the basic medium. Commendable although this may be in terms of planetary conservation, it is clear that insofar as concerns the production of a garden-worthy product, safe for domestic use, the composting-cum-sterilisation process is still dangerously imperfect. I shall therefore avoid such products until we are given a satisfactory guarantee of adequate sterilisation and total freedom from household waste particles.

My future course is clear; I shall resume making my own potting compost from a combination of well-matured, composted plant material (NO household waste), rotted turves, perlite, and peat with added compound fertilisers and trace elements. Sterilisation is not an issue with these materials; gardeners can easily weed their pots (where a nurseryman would find it impossible) and Provado Vine Weevil killer - essential where I live if you want any pot plants at all - will see off the other pests, too. In larger pots, a top-dressing of cheap aquarium gravel will help suppress weeds as well as being decorative; but would be best omitted for calcifuges.


Morphy Richards Daily Loaf 48330 Breadmaker - White
Morphy Richards Daily Loaf 48330 Breadmaker - White
Price: £46.99

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars PERFECT FOR THE CULINARILY DISADVANTAGED, 18 Feb 2014
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I'm giving this machine 5 stars despite the fact that it died on me after only 5 months. The reason - my purchase was a reduced-price, Amazon "warehouse deal", described on the order as "used (although it clearly wasn't) very good", but obviously not "new - perfect". The A-Z guarantee kicked in and the full cost was refunded promptly. So the rating refects the experience it offered during its short life - and the initial comparison with its replacement.

When you start breadmaking for the first time at the age of 81 - and you're a widower - you need a very simple machine which produces small-sized, nice loaves consistently; which this did from day one. In pursuit of simplicity, I only use prepared, packeted bread mixes, only Wrights and Tesco's so far; this machine requires 250g (half a packet) to produce a loaf which lasts 2-3 days - and if given a quick burst in the microwave, the last slice is as good as the first. I haven't had bread as good since I was a child, and all that is needed is to add the water, chuck in the mix, close the lid, switch on, and collapse exhausted... I've been enjoying snacks of just plain bread and butter (goats) as much as any cake.

There are no bells and whistle, just a few simple programmes, and I thought I would have liked a timer. So, foolishly, instead of replacing it with the same, I bought the similarly priced Russell Hobbs 18036 - only to read in the excellent, highly detailed manual that comes with that machine that its use reduces the quality of the product. Not what I want. So in return for a facility I'm not going to use I have a machine of obviously inferior structural quality which doesn't make the small loaves I prefer, and which requires an inconvenient 350g of bread mix for its smallest loaf rather than an easy half a packet. The MR's pan is a more heavy duty affair, and its attachment to the drive mechanism far more easily accomplished, positive and robust. The MR also comes with a gadget for extracting the paddle from the loaf when needed, whilst the RH doesn't. And the MR manual covers its use with packeted mixes, whilst the otherwise detailed RH manual doesn't.

Choosing a breadmaker on Amazon is made more difficult by the fact that every machine with plenty of reviews also comes with plenty of angry one-star diatribes. What is one to think ? Is it so much of a gamble ? I'm inclined to think not. I've never made a bad loaf with this machine, but I've learned that even the tiniest variations in quantities and temperatures - especially water temperatures - can make disproportionately large differences to the nature of the product. You can't just use water straight from the tap, for example, especially in winter. Obviously every manufacturer has their occasional duds, and there are surely a few of these amongst the reported failures; but I'm pretty sure that the majority of disappointments arise from the failure to meticulously observe the VERY strict rules which govern this process - which would certainly be tiresome for me if I had to make up my own recipes.


Walk the Line: The Art of Drawing
Walk the Line: The Art of Drawing
by Marc Valli
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £16.97

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars MAYBE NOT TO EVERYONE'S TASTE, 12 Feb 2014
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I didn't like this work as much as Parka. Our views are obviously totally subjective, so how much you like it depends on whether your taste in art matches his or mine.

The skills on display vary from the mind-boggling to the average, and the subject matter from the sublime to the repellent, and from the enchanting to the pointless. For my taste, too many of the examples are creepy, ugly, gross, or depressing - none of these genre matching my view of the purpose of art (note: MY view; yours may be different, which is fine). A psychiatrist would have a field day with some of them.

Some examples are glorified doodles of the kind I used to make at long, boring meetings when it wasn't my turn to bore everyone else. Others are exercises in pure skill, and therefore appear to qualify more as craft than art - which certainly has its place in this context - whilst still others appear to qualify as sign-writing or graphic design, neither of which interest me greatly.

If I were rating the content en masse, I perhaps wouldn't give more than 3 stars; but despite the nature of much of the subject matter, I'm still glad to have it; it's good value for money in terms of PPP (pix per pound), I found it "interesting" (I would put that in italics if Amazon allowed) and I've quite enjoyed browsing it. However, if your taste is for the conventional in landscape portrait, and still-life drawing, you might find better use for your money.

I suspect that the cardboard covers will deteriorate pretty quickly with much handling, especially the unprotected corners. Can't see the point of this kind of bookbinding.


Mighty Bright Silver MiniFlex L.E.D. Book Light
Mighty Bright Silver MiniFlex L.E.D. Book Light
by Mighty Bright
Edition: Kitchen & Home
Price: £7.96

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars NOT SUITABLE FOR EVERY PURPOSE, 12 Feb 2014
I was daft enough to buy this from John Lewis, where it cost me £18, incl P&P; having noticed it there, I should then have looked for it here...

It doesn't suit my purposes as well as others. It is indeed tiny, and if you curl it up, it fits in the palm of your hand, and is correspondingly and pleasingly lightweight. I bought it to clip on a flimsy music stand, where its light weight is just the ticket, for supplementing the ambient lighting, which is some distance away. However, there are three drawbacks. First, it's coverage doesn't spread across both pages of an open music book, and secondly, far from being mighty bright, the illumination it offers is so dim that it doesn't significantly improve the room lighting. So at my viewing distance of 30", it doesn't help with reading symbols in small print - and thirdly, because it isn't noticeably bright, I forget to switch it off - so the AAA battery isn't going to last long.

In a darkened room, for illuminating a single page from a normal reading distance, it obviously does a respectable job.


Drawing and Sketching (Ron Ranson's painting school)
Drawing and Sketching (Ron Ranson's painting school)
by John Palmer
Edition: Hardcover

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars 20 YEARS OLD - BUT STILL EQUAL TO THE BEST, 19 Jan 2014
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This work, first published 20 years ago, remains one of the very best on sketching; it really ought to be reprinted. Of course, you have to like John Palmer's style - if precise, hair-by-hair animal portraits or brick-by-brick urban studies are your thing, you won't find it helpful. Impressionist with a small "i" perhaps best describes his depictions of the all-encompassing wide variety of subjects herein. In particular, if you are contemplating rapidly-drawn sketchbook compilations of the kind so popular with many publishers these days, there can't be a better guide.

Just about every relevant technique is covered - pen, pencil of every kind, pastels, pen and wash, felt-tip, gouache, watercolour, acrylic, white grounds, coloured grounds... Oil paint is not dealt with, but isn't appropriate for this kind of work anyway; nor, obviously, developments since the book was published, such as water brush pens.

The illustrations are inspirational, the advice given in the text is exemplary; buy an inexpensive good quality second-hand copy whilst you still can; I suppose there are people who will pay the £100-plus demanded by more than one seller for a new copy - which makes the cheapest new copy at under £30 a real bargain. You certainly wouldn't feel you'd been the victim of extortion at that price. I consider myself the equivalent of a lottery winner for having acquired what must surely be the very last 1p + PP copy, described as "Very Good", but in fact as new, from the very excellent World of Books.


Tacwise A11 (Type 140) Hammer Tacker
Tacwise A11 (Type 140) Hammer Tacker
Price: £18.29

5.0 out of 5 stars SATSIFYINGLY EFFICIENT, HEAVY-DUTY STAPLE WHACKER, 18 Jan 2014
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
I've had an Arrow heavy-duty staple gun for very many years, and use it for all kinds of little jobs; but increasingly arthritic hands mean that squeezing the handle with its powerful spring has become painful, and sometimes impossible. So this "whacker" stapler seemed the ideal supplement, at least for some jobs.

It loads in exactly the same way as the Arrow - push in the catch at the back to release it, slide out the spring-loaded thingy which keeps the staples where they should be, slide in the staples, replace spring-loaded thingy and push in the catch. It accepts the same staples, too.

It's reassuringly heavy - which it needs to be for maximum efficiency - and the suitably fat, square handle has both a softgrip cover and rounded edges -appreciated by my hands. It's for specialised applications, of course, and where extremely accurate placement of a staple or staples is needed, or where the target won't take a heavy blow - as in picture framing, for example - a conventional staplegun is the only option. But where such accuracy of placement or delicacy of touch is not needed, it offers me superior speed of working to the conventional staple gun, which often requires me to make at least two attempts to squeeze it hard enough to fire. It's also more powerful than my Arrow, and a hard whack will drive an 8mm staple below the surface of shuttering ply.

Under £23 seems to me a very reasonable price - about the same as the current version of my Arrow; but the seller asking £45 is being not just way too optimistic, but plain foolish.


The One-hour Watercolourist: Time-saving Tips and Exercises
The One-hour Watercolourist: Time-saving Tips and Exercises
by Patrick Seslar
Edition: Hardcover

5.0 out of 5 stars A UNIQUE APPROACH FOR THE PART-TIME PAINTER..., 9 Jan 2014
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Watercolour how-to-do-it literature is replete with volumes claiming to teach you the art in a week, a weekend, a day, an hour... all of them specious claims, for nothing worthwhile can be taught or learned in such a short time. I thought this book might fall into the same bad category, but that didn't stop me adding it to my vast collection, because like all painters, amateur or professional, I like to see how others do it. And I'm pleased to say I was wrong anyway.

This book is in a minority in that it's aimed squarely at the amateur - too many authors don't seem to know who their target audience is, combining basic advice about choosing brushes with recommendations for setting up what is obviously a professional's studio, for example. This author is aiming to help those amateurs who have only the occasional hour to spare to work out how to employ their limited time to the best advantage, whether it be for completing a small, simple, basic sketch - all you could ever expect to do in that time - or a full-imperial, highly detailed, finished work, over multiple hourly sessions. Which makes it pretty unique in my experience.

The demonstrations and gallery paintings are the work of a dozen different artists, including the author, being heavily weighted towards the hard-edged, super-realist style so popular in the US, but with a reasonable minority of the more splashy style traditionally typical of watercolour. Many how-to-do-it books contain amateurish demonstrations and examples; not this one. All the works are highly professional.

It isn't a new book of course - 12 years old now, which means that the advice about using photography is mostly obsolete, although it does at leat include some advice on using Photoshop to generate subject matter.

Its different approach gives it the edge over a vast number of run-of-the-mill watercolour how-to-do-it works and makes it worth including in any amateur's collection.


Painters on Painting (Dover Fine Art, History of Art)
Painters on Painting (Dover Fine Art, History of Art)
by Eric Protter
Edition: Paperback
Price: £10.80

1.0 out of 5 stars A BIT OF A FRAUD, 5 Jan 2014
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This book was first published 50 years ago, in 1963; I'm not clear why Dover felt it necessary to revive it.

The title promises more than it delivers; for a start, it's far from being exclusively painters on painting; it's often "Painters by other folk" and the quotations by the painters themselves aren't by any means all about painting, some of it being mundane, idle gossip from letters, or better categorised as "Painters moaning", including self-righteous defences against critics. The other problem is that brilliant painters don't always make brilliant writers, and you sometimes think they must merely be trying to say something - anything - because they've been asked; and the most verbose of them obviously get the most space, not always to best advantage. Don't think you'll learn anything useful about painting, of course; look carefully enough and you will find that every firm statement on the subject is equally firmly contradicted elsewhere - a situation mirrored in today's how-to-do-it books on painting. Plus ca change....

When we come to the 20th century modernists, one can only cringe in disbelief. In some cases, one fears for their sanity; in others we clearly see their cynical opportunism. There are a few gems amongst the dross; I did like the Roy Lichtenstein quote, for example; "It was hard to get a painting despicable enough for no-one to hang it" he moaned. That's modern art for you. At least he kept trying...


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