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MITRA Forum Question Details

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  • Ralph Mayer's book...ApproveRejectUn-ApproveSubscribeUn-Unsubscribe
    Question asked 2016-11-07 22:12:01 ... Most recent comment 2018-09-21 04:36:31
    Technical Art History Art Conservation Topics
    I am wondering about the reliability of the information in Ralph Mayer's book the Painters Handbook? If not reliable and even if it is I would appreciate any and all recommendations.
Answers and Comments
  • EditDeleteModerator AnswerI am slightly confused by your question. The most common Ralph Mayer book is The Artist's Handbook of Materials and Techniques. The Painter's Handbook is the title of another seminal work on the subject by Mark David Gottsegen who was also the head of AMIEN and the spiritual forefather of this forum. I will quickly describe and critique both. Mayers's book is more encyclopedic, so much so that it is sometimes difficult to find the precise section that is most germane to the question one needs answering. It is full of really detailed information about the history, chemical components, working properties, interactions, and stability of a wealth of art materials. It does, however, contain materials and recommendations that today are considered less than optimal. There are sections on restoration that are inappropriate, archaic, and potentially dangerous. The 3rd edition in front of me has a recipe for using lead white oil paint to marouflage (glue a canvas mural to a wall). This is something that makes contemporary conservators cringe. Conserving these murals when they fail is very difficult (as the adhesive is both irreversible and prone to eventual failure) and hazardous. Conservators need to do these treatments in sequestered rooms with HEPA vac extraction, in hazmat suits, and with substantial safety equipment. He also has recipes for making restoration fill materials from whiting and linseed oil which were ill advised even when he wrote the manual. The book also contains other inappropriate restoration practices that have likely contributed to a good deal of DIY damage to paintings . Mayer also suggests materials that are no longer approved for permanent artwork. His glazing mediums and retouch varnish recipes contain a high proportion of soft resin, which are now known to create paint films which are sensitive to the solvents required in future conservation treatments. The book also contains a good deal of Mayer's own biases that are stated as scientific fact. On the other hand, The Artist's Handbook is a seminal work that contains much of interest and is filled will important information that is not available anywhere else. It is, however, outdated in some of the particulars. Gottsegen's book is shorter but works far better as a concise handbook that is easy to reference. The materials is mostly up to date, although neither bookcmention the dangers of zinc white in oil paint as this discovery is relatively recent. I have found few errors in The Painters handbook and recommend it to my students. It contains less detailed information than Mayer's but is a far more useful manual. Really a painter interested in materials and techniques should own both books but realize that conservation science and technical art history continue to unearth discoveries that will make all manuals outdated eventually. Feel free to restate your question if I misunderstood your main point.
    Baade, Brian
    2016-11-08 12:13:43
  • ApproveRejectUn-ApproveUser CommentThank you Brian that helped. I will buy the painters handbook.
    2016-11-10 09:22:58
  • ApproveRejectUn-ApproveUser Comment

    A lot of useful information in this book if you are interested in the technical aspects of painting but the author is certainly no teacher. When I tried to find out how to prepare a plywood panel for archival oil painting I nearly lost the will to live and in the end decided to revert to stretcher bars and canvas. No doubt the information is all in there, but the author seems incapable of describing anything in simple terms or structures his explanations properly. His other book The Painter’s craft is more useful in practical terms. I was reluctant to buy this because it doesn't seem to be available on kindle and it seemed a little pricey. But a course that I was doing listed it as required reading. So I bought it. It is a hefty volume and having read nearly 200 pages so far, I can see why it would be required reading for artists. It is full of comprehensive and essential information that I wouldn't expect to find elsewhere. It has been referred to as 'The Bible for artists'. I think rightly so.

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    2018-09-21 04:36:31
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