Reference book for visual artists

I have been teaching myself to paint and draw and one of the most useful learning tools I have is the book Collins complete artist’s manual (published 2011, by HarperCollins).


Collins complete artist’s manual is a hardcover, 400 page book that guides you through the materials and techniques for drawing and painting. The book includes detailed information on supports, drawing media, painting media and how to lay out a studio. It also covers colour and compositions, and techniques for drawing and painting. A comprehensive index makes it possible to get quickly to specific information like “Should I varnish my acrylic pictures?” Most helpful are detailed explanations of how a range of pictures were executed. This gives the novice (like me) lots of things to try and because the book covers a range of styles, it is possible to find one that you can relate to.


Art, visual arts, painting, drawing, sketching, art media, art techniques, reference book, art supports, painting media, drawing media, colour, composition, studio


The book was published in London. I could not find the book on the publisher’s web site and I could only find a later edition (2014) on Amazon.

Appropriate for

I used this book as a novice, but I find that I refer to it all the time, even having gained a fair amount of experience in art. It is beautifully illustrated (I am a visual learner) and well writtten, so it’s easy to follow. And the indexing and contents pages make it easy to find what you need to know. There are sections that you can work through sequentially that give you exercises to try, or you can just use it to learn more about a particular medium when you need to know it.


The book is fairly large and heavy, so I find it helpful to have a bit of free table space when I use it. It’s not good for reading in bed and can’t be held with one hand. The layout is good, with lots of white space and clear headings. The text uses some jargon, but the terms are explained, so its generally easy to follow. Some of the side panels use small fonts and are a bit more difficult to read (if you are over 50, like me).


This book is beautiful with wonderful illustrations of art work, and delightful pictures of the clutter that artists collect. The layout is clear and aids understanding and the index, glossary and table of contents make navigation easy. The text is relatively simple, clear and easy to follow. The book has an impressive list of editorial consultants, contributing artists and art and technical consultants. The editor, Simon Jennings, has a track record in producing art publications.


Is this book an effective learning tool? Well, I am not yet selling my paintings for millions, but that probably has nothing to do with the tool. I have learned a lot from this book and have been able to find answers to all the questions I have had so far. So I think that it is effective in that it has enabled me to finish projects, avoid common mistakes and gain inspiration. Reviewers on Amazon mostly give it 5 stars, so others have also found it helpful, but there is no definitive research into its effectiveness as a learning tool.