Book Review: The Artist’s Handbook of Materials and Techniques by Ralph Mayer (required reading for Drawing 1)

When I started Drawing 1 and saw the reading list my first action was to check my local library catalogue to see what I could borrow and not buy.  The only book on the reading list that was in my local library collection was this one.  At over 700 pages long it isn’t a book to sit and read cover to cover but more of a encyclopedia for artists to dip into when needed.

My concern is with so much up to date information available in digital form these days, how much extra value does this book actually give.  To be honest if I have a query about a particular technique or material I am probably going to look on the internet and compare sources rather than use this book.  The book does contain a lot of detail such an incredibly intricate chapter on the different pigments available, how they are made, what properties they have, the chemistry of the materials etc etc.  However my learning style is very much one of doing and experimenting with colours so I’m not sure how likely I am to read about the particular pigments and then choose them, I am more likely to experiment with colours until I find a combination I like.

It will be interesting to hear if any other students further along the course have used this book much and what in particular they have found the most useful about this book.

What is Drawing?

I asked my 8 year old daughter what drawing was.  She looked at me slightly aghast as if I were stupid to begin with but then replied ‘well it’s using a pencil and a paper’.  I think many of us regardless of age if we played word association with ourselves and thought about drawing, the first words to come into our heads would include paper and pencil.  Even the online dictionary defines drawing as:

noun: A picture or diagram made with a pencil, pen, or crayon rather than paint:‘a series of charcoal drawings on white paper’

mass noun: The art or activity of making drawings: ‘she took lessons in drawing’

Is this really all drawing is?

Well, the very first warm up activity in this course blew that definition away as we were encouraged to experiment with making temporary marks with a variety of different materials.  So it is clear from the start that this course views drawing as much more than making marks on paper with a pencil.

I have started collecting books from the required reading list for Drawing 1 and this week the first arrived in the post.  ‘Drawing Now – Between the Lines of Contemporary Art’ Edited by Downs et al.  It was interesting to read in the preface that TRACEY the online peer reviewed journal who share editors with this book was set up with the aim to challenge what drawing can be.  How drawing can be thought of in the familiar way as landscapes, figure drawings etc but how this can also encompass abstract and conceptual themes.  They also state their main concern is with the subjective nature of drawing that might sometime challenge the signs of a ‘good drawing’.

In the introduction on page ix another interesting point is raised about how they selected drawings  that had an emphasis on how the process of making the drawing contributes to its content too.  Again this is something we have been asked to focus on from the very start with the mood drawings.  As someone from a science background I have always found the process interesting, both the process behind mark making but also the process of making the materials used.  I genuinely like to research the materials used and I have a natural urge to experiment with them in different ways to see how they can influence the outcome.  This is something I hope to do more of as the course progresses and as I read more.


Sources of Information: 

‘Drawing Now – Between the Lines of Contemporary Art’ Edited by Downs et al.  IB Tauris 2007.