The books listed here are all part of my own library and are recommended because of their practical content. I’ve organized them into four categories. Click on any category to jump to the full list below.
- Landscape painting
- Technique: color, composition and drawing
- The heart and soul of artmaking
Landscape Painting: Essential Concepts And Techniques For Plein Air And Studio Practice
by Mitchell Albala
Watson/Guptill. ISBN 978-0-8230-3220-4 (0-8230-3220-5)
Now considered a contemporary classic, it offers the most comprehensive introduction to essential concepts like simplification and massing, site selection, composition, and color as it specifically applies to landscape painters. Plus, the most in depth explanation of the underpainting method anywhere, several step-by-step demonstrations, and examples from 40 classic and contemporary painters.
Carlson’s Guide to Landscape Painting by John F. Carlson
Dover Publications. ISBN 0-486-22927-0
One of the few ‘how-to’ books that addresses the real issues of landscape painting. Written in the 20’s, its reads quite old-fashioned, but it’s worth siphoning through all the verbiage for the juice.
Watercolor Painting: A Comprehensive Approach to Mastering the Medium by Tom Hoffmann
Hoffmann is a true shape-master, so this beautifully illustrated book isn’t only for watercolorists. It offers valuable lessons in the art of simplification and massing.
Powerful Watercolor Landscapes by Catherine Gill with Beth Means
North Light Books, ISBN 978-1-60061-949-6
This gem of a book is a visual delight and goes far beyond technique. Nearly three-quarters of the book is devoted to core essentials like simplification, dominance, shapes, composition and Gill’s “What,” “Why” and “Where” of landscape painting. Not just for watercolor painters!
Color, composition and drawing
The Simple Secret to Better Painting by Greg Albert
North Light Books. ISBN: 978-1-58180-256-6
“How to immediately improve your compositions with this one rule of composition.” Don’t be fooled by this book’s simplistic appearance. It offers a comprehensive review of one of the most important aspects of composition — variation — with many clear, practical examples.
Mastering Compostion by Ian Roberts
North Light Book. ISBN 978-1-58180-924-4
An extremely lucid guide to composition with many landscape examples. Covers many important topics including color, designing with value masses, and guiding the eye through the picture plane. Includes instructional DVD.
Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain by Betty Edwards
Simply the best, easiest-to-understand “how to” drawing book ever written. It’s a classic for a reason.
Drawing from Observation by Brian Curtis
McGraw Hill. ISBN 0-07-241024-8
Like Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain, Curtis’ book is exceedingly practical. It has the most comprehensive set of diagrams and drawings to explain how to use the keys to drawing (angles, measuring, proportion, etc.).
Color In Contemporary Landscape Painting by Charles Le Clair
Watson-Guptill Publications, ISBN 0-8230-0741-3
A refreshing look at various approaches to color, demonstrated through the works of many artists for a “full spectrum” overview.
Color Choices: Making Sense Out of Color Theory by Stephen QuillerWatson Guptill: 0-8230-0696-4
A highly practical guide that explores both structured and unstructured color stragegies, plus various techniques and a look at various colorists.
Alla Prima: Everything I know About Painting by Richard Schmid
Stove Prarie Press Press. ISBN 0-9662117-1-5
Now available in a much more affordable paperback edition ($50), this book successfully explains many of the fundamental and important principles related to artmaking.
Changing Images of Pictorial Space: A History of Spatial Illusion in Painting by William V. Dunning
Syracuse University Press. ISBN-13: 978-0815625087
Unlike many “history” books, Dunning’s authoritative work talks about spatial illusion in the formal, visual terms artists actually use. The book is largely un-illustrated, but he explains challenging painting styles like Impressionism, Cezanne, and abstract impressionism. I recommend this book to all my serious painting students.
What are You Looking At? The Surprising, Shocking, and Sometimes Strange Story of 150 Years of Modern Art by Will Gompertz
A Plume Book. ISBN: 978-0-14-218029-7
“An insightful love letter to modern art and an irreverent rejection of the notion that its pleasures are reserved for a chosen few.” – NPR
The heart and soul of artmaking
Art and Fear by David Bayles and Ted Orland
Capra Press. ISBN 0-88496-379-9
Observations on the Perils (and Rewards) of Artmaking. Few books speak so aptly to the artist’s struggles and fears. What is your art really about? Where is it going? What stands in the way of getting there? A must-read for anyone on the artistic path.
The Awakening Artist: Madness and Spiritual Awakening in Art by Patrick Howe
O Books, ISBN 978 1 78099 645 5
An original take on the history of art through the lens of spiritual awakening and “madness.”
Read the review on this blog.