Book review: The Artist’s handbook 3rd Ed- Ray Smith

Yet another book I picked up in the library is ‘The Artist’s Handbook’ by Ray Smith.  First off I’ll say that I am definitely going to buy my own copy of this book for future reference.  It covers a lot of the same ideas and techniques as ‘The Artist’s Handbook of Materials and Techniques by Ralph Mayer’  but in my opinion is a much more easily accessible version of it.  It has details on materials and techniques but is accompanied by coloured photos and diagrams and projects on how to put into use the techniques you are reading about.

As I have been drawing with pencil and charcoal a lot as part of this course I decided to focus this review on five useful tips I have learned from this book.

  1.  On Page 64 it gives advice on how to shade with a pencil and how to practice using it without rolling the pencil for an even shading tone.
  2. On Page 65 is a suggestion for using matt polyester film as an under drawing for pencil work.  As my attempt with acrylic didn’t work this is something I am going to try.
  3. On Page 66 are ideas for trying different paper textures.  This is something I am going to try in my own work to see how rough and smooth papers affect the overall effect.
  4. Page 70 states to not shade too heavy to begin with, work up the tones gradually.  This is something I am definitely guilty of doing in my own work and so will try to improve this.
  5. Page 92 is an interesting technique for making oil charcoal and is something I want to try as I am getting really into using charcoal for making my drawings.


Smith, R (2009). The Artist’s Handbook 3rd Edition.  Dorling Kindersley, London.


Reflections on Project 2.

Project 2 was all about shapes and fundamental form.  In it I have practised drawing various 2D and 3D shapes, put groups of objects together to look at the shapes they make, the spaces between them and how they impact on each other with shadows, I have also experimented with tone and used various media to depict these tones and shadows.

I feel like this project has been a mix of success and failure.  I feel more confident in sketching the different shapes now and have practised ellipses in particular and my cylinders have improved as a result.  I experimented with backgrounds for the group of objects which didn’t go that well, the acrylic paint was too smooth to get good sketch on top and the paint was too dark at the top of the paper.  I feel like my charcoal sketches have gone well, I can produce much looser emotive marks with that than with the pencil which seems to hold me to perfectionism too much.

I have learned a great deal.  I now appreciate the importance of ellipses and drawing realistic cylinders.  I have learned to be looser and more free in my marks and I have learned to look at negative space between objects as well as the shape of the actual object.

If I were to repeat this I would spend more time with different backgrounds, try different papers.  I am also not happy with my hatch marks and feel like they need to be more fluid in the future.  I need to experiment more with these marks and try different types of pencil to do this particularly with length of mark and pressure applied.

I have achieved confidence with working on a larger scale and with media like charcoal that I don’t normally use.  Using charcoal is something I am going to take forwards in the future.  I have also learned to look closer at the tones, shadows and reflections objects make.  This awareness of tone has helped me to make more natural looking drawings.

I have used the tips in the course handbook to half close my eyes to look at tone and to not concentrate on details but look at the object overall to get the tones and shadows.  I have also taken note of the tip about not outlining shadows as this is something I have done in the past.  I feel like these have helped me to become a better drawer and will reflect in my paintings too.

In the future I plan to experiment more with these marks, use the techniques in my painting too.  I also plan on sketching more everyday objects as highlighted in the still life documentary I watched: sometimes regular overlooked objects produce the best ideas.

Overall I feel like my work is improving, this has made me focus on tones and shadows but I feel like I still have a long way to go.

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.