Friday, September 02, 2016

Favorite Art Books Part 5

For many beginning painters in any medium the subject of materials and how they are best used is bewildering. There is more information more widely available now than ever before in the history of art. There are quite a few books about the artist's materials, not to mention numerous online sites that answer questions or present overviews. Yet the information available doesn't always agree from one source to the next, and the information some sources contain is outdated or simply inaccurate. In the quest for good, usable information, a beginner can be lost, even in the Information Age.

Some decades ago, there was really only one book that served as a magisterial and near-encyclopedia resource for artists of all kinds. Beginning in 1940 and continuing through five editions and several decades, "The Artist's Handbook of Materials and Techniques," by Ralph Mayer was the Bible of art materials. It contained not only solid information about oil painting, but included discussions of printmaking, sculpture, and other media such as gouache, watercolor and pastel. Mayer gave extensive space to materials basics including grounds, supports, pigments, solvents, and so on. For those who liked to delve into the technical, there is an entire chapter about the chemistry of paint and materials. For a beginner in the mid-20th century, Mayer was the book. Mayer's "Artist's Handbook" is still widely available in various editions. A third edition (1970) still sits on my studio shelf and I still refer to it once in a while.

Another materials text that has been around for quite a while now is Mark Gottsegen's book called "The Painter's Handbook."  First published in the 1990s but updated the Gottsegen book presents solid information about everything to do with painting, beginning with basic tools and supports, covering sizes and grounds, binders, solvents and thinners, and so on. Gottsegen was a long-time art professor and painter who passed away in 2013, but the book is likely to remain in print for a long while. He bases his text on current paint and conservation science rather than tradition, and consulted many of the well-knowns of the paint world. Nonetheless, he also details how certain kinds of traditional methods were employed. One particularly useful section deals with all aspects of paint and paint-making. The section includes not only how to make your own paint but also chapters on paint in all of its forms--oil, water-thinned, pastel and more. This book remains very popular and in print. Recommended as a resource in the studio.

Another materials book deserves mention. Also named "The Artist's Handbook," it is in not a new edition or rewriting of Mayer's book but a completely original text. This book was originally published in the late 1980s but has been updated continually by the author, Ray Smith. For me, the beauty of this book is that it is richly illustrated with many of the images printed in color. This book not only includes all aspects of painting and paint science, but also covers drawing and printmaking quite thoroughly. While not so comprehensive as Mayer this book has a great deal of information for the beginner or the professional. Topics addressed in regard to materials include pigments, oils, resins, solvents, supports, and grounds. The section on drawing media, from graphite to chalk, charcoal, ink, and my own favorite, silverpoint, is quite complete. In the realm of painting, Smith covers the entire waterfront from equipment (brushes, palettes, knives, etc.) to all kinds of paint, including even a bit about encaustic. Although this book is less comprehensive than Mayer's, it also has discussion of framing, studio setup, conservation, and even computers.  I have begun to find it useful as well. Recommended.



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