Ratindra Das: Beyond Obvious Reality

Ratindra Das: Beyond Obvious Reality


I’ve been an admirer of Ratindra Das’ work for quite some years. He’s been a great inspiration and along with Frank Webb a great influence on the development of my own work. I have seen his DVD Painting a personal reality in watercolor countless times and always felt refreshed and inspired afterwards. I understand that he teaches workshops every year but being in Europe these are not accessible to me. Except the DVD, very little insight had been available to the general public as to his thinking, methods, principles and convictions on painting. So imagine my surprise and excitement when I found out that he published a book! I jumped at it without thinking and in a few weeks’ time I had it in my hands.

At first I was surprised to find that the book is not available on Amazon or any of the usual online bookstores. The only way that I know of is to purchase it directly from Mr. Das on his website ratindradas.net. After inspecting the book I found that it’s been self-published and that this is probably the reason why the distribution network was not involved. This surprises me a little as I imagine that any publisher would be more than happy to work with Ratindra Das on an instructional book. But that is only my assumption, I speculate here. Whatever the case and reasons, I’m glad the book is out.

The book came out in 2013. It is quite expensive at 45 USD plus shipping. It set me back over 75 USD with postage to Europe. Is that a little too much for an instructional book? Perhaps. But the more important question now is: was it worth it?

The best way to assess that is to go through the book, chapter by chapter. The contents are divided into 4 of them. Chapter 1: Shapes, Chapter 2: Lights and Darks, Chapter 3: Color and Chapter 4: Developing Design.

The first chapter provides basic information on shapes, the difference between boring and interesting ones and touches on negative and positive shapes. All good info and essential for understanding creative watercolor such as that of Ratindra Das.

The chapter on lights and darks deals mainly with value, with the focus on developing good value pattern as preparation for a painting. It shows how photographs don’t tell the truth and how to work around it. It touches on conceptual vs. perceptual light, a topic so seldom mentioned yet so very important. The principles are demonstrated at the end of the chapter.

Chapter 3 on color explains the terms and basic properties of color, harmonizing colors and limited palette. Ratindra Das’ personal palette is shown here as well, listing his most commonly used paints. There are three demonstrations at the end of this chapter: painting on dry, wet and damp paper respectively.

The final chapter deals with design. This one was of more interest to me than the previous three. Here are discussed topics such as picture format, some of the design principles, movement in a composition, vignette, how to design for flatness, for depth and how to work out a good design from photographs. These are only some of the topics, there’s a lot more info on designing a good painting.

The book as a whole holds up pretty well. It touches on good amount of very important aspects of creative watercolor, information that is quite difficult to come by in today’s world of pretty pictures and photo-realistic painting. Especially when we consider and compare the quality of information contained in majority of instructional books published on watercolor nowadays. For this, without a doubt, the artist deserves our highest praise. The only issue I have with the book is that I think that for some of the topics discussed in the book more in-depth analysis would be beneficial. What I mean by that is that many of the topics are covered somewhat briefly. For example in the section on working out a design from photograph by organizing the subject into a set of more interesting shapes the process is described a little insufficiently in my opinion. For a less advanced artist it may be difficult to grasp why the artist proceeded the way he did. Though this is not easy to put into words as it is more felt than anything else, I think the analysis could be still more detailed.

As far as the quality of the paper and binding go this is a top notch work. The dimensions are little over 11,2 by 11,2 inches or 28,5 by 28,5 cm so it’s a sizable book. It’s a hard back with proper case binding and comes with a dust jacket. The book being so large offers a lot of page space. The layout is not utilized too effectively in my opinion though. It is elegant and spacious I must say and it looks attractive but it doesn’t make the best use of the available space I think. Also some images are not of the best quality and are fairly small. To be fair, the small images in most cases demonstrate an idea previously explained and are sufficient enough to complement the explanation. The full page reproductions of finished paintings throughout the book are of good image quality and are nice to look at and study. As I said, these are all minor complaints. The book is well made and contains great amount of valuable information and there is really little to complain about. The only reason for my talking about the shortcomings is that I call this a review after all.

That being said I would definitely recommend getting the book if you’re interested in improving your own watercolors or if you’re only interested in the process behind Ratindra Das’ work, or both. I strongly believe it is a valuable resource for any painter, whatever his or her level may be, a source of information and inspiration and a worthwhile read. This is one of the books that definitely belongs to any painter’s library.


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  1. Orlin
    1. That’s awesome, thanks for linking it here. Do you plan on attending?

  2. Ken Roy

    I like your work and much appreciation for the valuable content on your site. Here’s some quick anecdotes about Ratindra Das. Sometime in the 1990s I was doing a docent shift at an art league in Wheaton, IL, USA. I had earlier admired an original work of Das’s that was for sale in the gallery. Das comes into the gallery. While I didn’t know him personally I recognized him. He stood at his painting and made a comment about it and laughed at the price (cheap) that the gallery had posted. He left, and I immediately bought the work: a dock scene with a boat in the background. I’ve always displayed it wherever l’ve lived, and it is displayed above the fireplace now. I still marvel at the composition, the glazing and the contrasting values. A few years later I saw him at a festival where he’s manning his booth to sell his art, and I introduce myself and tell him the story. Last one: I go to a business meeting at a construction and engineering firm somewhere in a western suburb of Chicago, and there is a mural (or a large painting, I don’t remember) in the room where we meet. I think I recognize the style and sure enough I see his name on the work.

    1. Hello Ken,

      It’s fascinating to read about your encounters. Thanks for sharing. There are certain artworks that accompany us throughout life and, in a sense, become our friends.

      Ratindra Das has my absolute respect and one day I really hope to own his work. Hopefully, I’ll have a little anecdote of my own to tell.

  3. gerry

    hi Daniel,
    Thanks for this great post (as always!)
    If I had to choose between the Ratindra Das book and video, at least for the time being, which would you suggest I purchase?
    have a great day,

    1. Hi Gerry,
      that’s a tough choice. But if needs to be done I would go with the book as it contains greater amount of information and provides higher value than the DVD. The video is on the other hand more inspiring than informative, since you can see him paint. Both are great, but if you need to choose I would recommend the book.
      Hope this helps you.

  4. Katarina

    Hi Daniel,
    I have put together a program for myself, and wonder if it’s any good or what you think of it. Mr. Das clearly states that drawing is not an option but a MUST. I can also see from your drawings that you have done a lot in that direction. Can you give any advice? Anyway, I’ve decided to practice the folllowing three things: 1. draw, 2. do watercolors, 3. practice (jap.) Kanji or Chinese signs using black ink and water color brushes. (I hope that ink won’t harm my brushes? Cause I want to practice these three things all seperately for the moment.)
    To some extent, I want to separate the problems that I have now, so that they can flow togehter again.
    Do I make sense? Sorry for the beginner questions…
    Best wishes, Katarina

    1. Hi Katarina,
      I understand your question. There are different opinions on the question of drawing vs. painting. For example, Charles Hawthorne in his classes really didn’t stress the need to practice drawing, simply because his approach/way of teaching painting did not require masterful drawing skills. On the other hand, many instructors consider good drawing skills absolute necessity.
      That being said, what I’ve found throughout the years is that painting watercolor is undoubtedly one of the most demanding techniques as far as sureness and confidence of your handling goes. Working on my own drawing skills brought a lot of that into my work.
      In the end it’s about the balance, your balance. You need to explore everything in the beginning and invest your time and curiosity – unprejudiced. You don’t have to reach mastery but it’s beneficial to have at least basic knowledge. Then you can decide whether you want to take if further still. But without drawing little is possible, I think. Because it’s not really about drawing itself but about grasping of the basic concepts where drawing is the medium that’s best suited for teaching and explaining them. And so I incline towards those stressing the importance of drawing, especially if you’re not a natural draftsman. It brings things into perspective (no pun intended!) and will help you move about the picture plane with more freedom.
      As for the Japanese or Chinese calligraphy I don’t see how it can hurt. Explore everything! Usually though there comes a time when you will do best to decide for only one. But for now every knowledge, every skill, every discovery will make you a better artist, and your work more rich. I think.
      Good luck!

      1. Katarina

        Thanks for your opinions, I am sure that you are right. The idea about calligraphy came to me thinking on how to improve my brush strokes and also learn more about the “temperament” of the brushes I have… am in testing mode
        Speaking of perspective. The other day I was reading about what got van Gogh to paint (apparently a book / quoting a letter to his brother):
        “I remember quite well, now that you write about it, that at
        the time when you spoke of my becoming a painter, I thought it
        very impractical and would not hear of it. What made me stop
        doubting was reading a clear book on perspective, Cassange’s
        Guide to the ABC of Drawing; and a week later I drew the
        interior of a kitchen with stove, chair, table and window – in
        their places and on their legs – whereas before it had seemed
        to me that getting depth and the right perspective into a
        drawing was witchcraft or pure chance. If only you drew one
        thing right, you would feel an irresistible longing to draw a
        thousand other things. But one sheep has to cross the bridge to get the others to follow.”
        Sadly enogh (and it’s not that I’m his biggest admirer) this book does not only not exist in English, I cannot find it even in French (Some of Cassange’s books are availabe in French, and will tackle the stuff, when I have the impression that I have gotten rid of my most pressing problems, inlc. drawing, brush strokes etc.)
        BUT – so much for the publishing industry. And this is an industry that has no love of knowledge, passing on learning or having (or understanding) the desire to learn anything at all.
        And as an explantion why this Mr Das book was self-published, let me quote this one American poet again:
        “Nothing written for pay is worth printing. Only what has been written against the market.” (Pound)
        Many thanks for all your efforts! Good luck to you, too
        P.s. I was reading today Browning’s poem about Andrea del Sarto. If you like either
        one or both, you will probably really like the poem

        1. Sorry it took me a while to get to your comment Katarina.
          “Nothing written for pay is worth printing” – I wouldn’t go as far as that, although there is a lot of truth in that, as the really valuable stuff is very, very rare and hard to find. If I can recommend something to you, I would suggest you to look at Frank Webb’s books (I’m working on reviewing them but the reviews won’t be out so soon), any one of them is pure gold, I would suggest Expressive drawing book, which is an excellent one and perhaps Key’s to drawing as one teaching the basic “draw what you see” approach – which is necessary to master too of course.
          If scientific perspective is what you are looking for there is quite a bit of modern books on the topic and I am sure there will be some worth reading. Mastering perspective is again one of the first steps – which admittedly needs to be understood before going deeper – but I wouldn’t be too upset about the unavailability of Cassange’s books. Van Gogh – as much as I love his work – never moved that far beyond the basic space manipulation and so I don’t think there is that great an incentive for you to look for his exact sources of information/education. I hope you know what I mean.
          Just my opinion, but hope this will help you.

          1. Katarina

            It’s great to see that there are so many interesting resources out there I just bought the Ratindra Das Video as a download and will look at it now. Thanks for the insights!

  5. Carl Ashcroft

    Whoa this looks amazing. I didn’t know he had published a book either. I will have to save up my pesos :0) thanks for sharing

    1. Hi Carl, I thought you may be interested. Glad to be of help.

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