The books listed here are all part of my own library and are recommended because of their practical content.

  • Books on landscape painting
  • Books on color, composition and drawing
  • Book about the heart and soul of artmaking


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
Watson-Guptill Publications
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!

Art in the Making: Impressionism by Bumford, Kirby, Leighton, and Roy
The National Gallery, London. ISBN 0-300-05035-6
For the serious student of Impressionism, this is perhaps the most carefully examined review of their painting techniques.


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 really 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.

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.

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.).


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.

About the Author

Mitchell Albala is the author of Landscape Painting: Essential Concepts and Techniques for Plein Air and Studio Practice (Watson-Guptill, 2009). A best-seller, the book has sold over 30,000 copies and is regarded as the "new classic of landscape." A respected teaching artist for more than 25 years, Mitchell currently teaches at Gage Academy of Art, Pacific Northwest Art School, artEast, and in 2015 Arte Umbria in Italy. He has also lectured at the Seattle Art Museum and written for International Artist and Artists & Illustrators magazines. He is represented by Lisa Harris Gallery. See his paintings at