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Review: "Bloom" by Valerie Chua

With all the buzz about the meditative benefits of grown-up coloring books, we have seen our bookshops get washed over by a deluge of them in varying sizes and subject matter, some better than others. There's a couple of them gathering dust on my bookshelf for various reasons: mainly, they're usually printed on regular book paper, and that this usually means you can only effectively use dry media on them; which leads to the next biggest reason being that good quality colored pencils are so expensive I really don't want to 'waste' them this way. See, even pigmented pencils don't go as far as a tiny dab of artist watercolor would. But most coloring books won't even take markers well, let alone watercolor washes. I could use cheap pencils, but they stress me out, and that's the exact opposite of what these coloring books are supposed to do!


Now, you might wonder why any self-respecting artist would bother with a coloring book. (At least, I once wondered this, what a snob!) Since art is not my main thing, I can only carve out a couple of hours, or less, for art every day. Some plant drawings can take anywhere from one to three hours, so doing the line art has been one thing that has kept me from painting more. I've always had a queasy feeling about tracing, it's like there's a voice inside my head calling me, "phony, phony!", haha! With time, I've learned to let that go and I occasionally trace when I'm studying color mixing or trying to learn a technique which requires me to do a piece over and over. I'm never proud of the pieces started this way, but I tell myself it's better than not having picked up a brush at all!


My dear husband is aware of these creative struggles, and last Christmas, he gave me a watercolor art pad published by the RHS. It's a beautiful book, with gorgeous botanical subjects, the line art printed lightly on watercolor paper. I was happy - I could just sit and paint when I had a few minutes, practice some painting techniques without having to draw - the practice book of my dreams! At least I thought so. I did one painting and now the book is gathering dust, too. I might pick it up again, but what has kept me from enjoying it are detailed in another review, which hopefully offers some context for comparison.


Now on to "Bloom" Watercolor Pad, which I started seeing on social media after its release just last month. It is a collaboration between Manila-based artist Valerie Chua and iFex, the local distributor of art brands such as Canson, Arches and Winsor&Newton. A friend asked me if I've got a hold of it yet, but I said it kind of doesn't call out to me, knowing that Valerie Chua's style is this level of fine art that intimidates me! But last week, I passed by the Fully Booked near me and got lured in by the big SALE sign on the glass. I saw one copy of "Bloom" on the stand, and checked out the price tag - PHP 499.75! Not bad at all, and the cover art are gorgeous, and I thought I could at least see how much she draws in. So I bought my copy.

The pages are 300 gsm cold-pressed Canson Montval, a 100% cellulose paper comparable to Bockingford CP. I've used this paper in the past, it can take layers but not so many, I've experienced pilling and I can't glaze over washes of granulating paints without disturbing the layers underneath, even when they're bone dry. BUT it's great for light washes, gouache and dry media. It dries a bit too quickly for me but had they used cotton rag for this pad, it would have cost so much more. In my opinion, this pad is better value per square inch than a blank pad of Canson Montval!


Inside the front cover is a pocket containing a 4-page leaflet. It is a tutorial on basic color theory, a step-by-step guide to coloring one of the drawings, a quick guide to using watercolor markers as applied to 3 drawings on the garden illustration page, and a couple of helpful tips.


I've done two pages so far, and I've really enjoyed it. It's nice to sometimes paint like this - to just sit with no other goal but to have fun! The pieces will never be my originals, so perfection is a pointless goal; and the reasonable price point doesn't make you feel like you're squandering money if you 'mess up'.

For the pages below, I used a limited palette of Daniel Smith Extra Fine Watercolors from DE's Artroom, the Primary and Secondary Essentials Sets, plus some Serpentine Genuine and Cobalt Teal Blue.

My only wish is for an additional page of even thumbnail images of the references or of Valerie's finished work. While we don't necessarily aim to copy how she does it, it is useful to know the form and light falling on the objects. I'm kind of struggling with some of the edges, especially on the more complex compositions, because I can't tell from the drawing whether an edge belongs to one object or its neighboring one. Also, it would have been nice to be able to have a go at the cover art, it kind of sets your expectations for them, but the drawings of those are not included.


Apart from those points, this pad is a great product. It is a well-executed concept, and you can tell that a good deal of thought and effort went into making it. While most of the watercolor coloring books out there look like clip art mashed together on Illustrator, "Bloom" contains 10 original line art. It has a varied combination of subjects, some more complex than others to satisfy the more experienced artist, and all 10 of them were clearly done and selected with care. A leaf-through can be viewed here>> Overall, I highly recommend "Bloom", and that's saying a lot considering my initial thoughts upon first hearing about it!


You can buy "Bloom" from select branches of Fully Booked and National Bookstore, and from SM Stationery branches in Makati, North EDSA, Megamall, Baguio, Mall of Asia, Iloilo, Davao, Bacolod, and Seaside Cebu. For international customers, you can get your copy from Valerie Chua's website.

Disclaimer: This is my honest review and NOT a sponsored post.

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