Through the years I have studied art I have come to collect quite a number of art books. This selection is but a few of what is in my library but I wanted to share with you some of the ones that I have found to be the most helpful in my career. Many of these books you can find at Amazon for less than $10, a select few run in the $20-$30 but they are all a worthy investment. For your convenience I have put together an Amazon link carousel with all of the books suggested, you will find it at the end of this post if you don’t have AdBlock on your browser.
The Practice and science of drawing by Harold Speed.
In this brilliant book Harold Speed shares his insights and advice on drawing. He also touches on philosophies behind it as well as historical backgrounds. The book is further packed with great advice on the more technical aspects and also offers specific exercises.
Quotes: “Arts are a means of giving expression to the emotional side of mental activity.”
“The artist is the agent through which art finds its expression.”
The Art Spirit by Robert Henri.
Perhaps the most important book for any artist to read. The Art Spirit is a collection of letters and notes Robert Henri wrote to his art students. He encourages a deeper connection to the artwork, he explains the deep value of art and why it is so important for students and artists alike to be true to their own work and be a master of what they have. This book is a treasure that no artist should be without.
“The artist must have the emotional side first, the primal cause of his being an artist, but he must also have an excellent mind, which he command and use as a tool for the expression of his emotions.”
“It is more the gesture of a feature than the feature itself which interests us.”
“Beauty is an intangible thing; it cannot be fixed on the surface, and the wear and tear of old age on the body cannot defeat it.”
Picture this – How pictures work by Molly Bang.
Molly Bang uses the classic fairy tale of Little Red Riding Hood to take us through the very elementary basis of composition: What makes an image work and what doesn’t. Molly answers questions such as why triangles make us feel stable, or why diagonal lines give a sense of tension, what the effects are of placing an object in the upper or lower corner of an image and so forth.
“Smooth, flat, horizontal shapes give us a sense of stability and calm.”
“Diagonal shapes are dynamic because they imply motion or tension.”
Art & Fear: Observations On the Perils (and Rewards) of Artmaking by Ted Orland and David Bayles
This book is a wonderful survival guide for artists. The 122 pages take you through the common fears that any artist go through, it explores the reason why we create art, but even more so the reason why we often do not make art when we could. Why we procrastinate because of self doubt, and how we may overcome this.
“What separates artists from ex-artists is that those who challenge their fears continue; those who don’t, quit.”
“The artist’s life is frustrating not because the passage is slow, but because he imagines it to be fast.”
Color and Light: A guide for the realist painter by James Gurney.
This book should be a part of any art schools curriculum. James Gurney, a true living master of fine art, shares his research on color and light. This book is packed with practical knowledge on the subjects and beautiful examples both by the author himself but also from art history. You won’t find any better book on color theory.
“Each pigment has three attributes of hue, value, and hroma. It also has other properties, including transparency, drying time, and compatibility with other pigments.”
“When you prepare a palette of colors, you have three big choices to make: the surface, the colors, and the arrangement (warm to cool or light to dark).
Figure drawing for all it’s worth by Andrew Loomis.
Perhaps one of the most celebrated figure drawing books of all time. Until recently it had gone out of print which sky rocketed the price of the book but thankfully it’s been reprinted so now you can pick it up for just $27 on Amazon. Illustrator Andrew Loomis is highly revered among artists for his mastery of the human figure. In this book he takes you through exercises and explanations that are guaranteed to improve your understanding of the human figure.
“Start at once to take interest in people. Look for typical character everywhere. Familiarize yourself with the characteristics and details that distinguish them. What is arrogance in terms of light and shadow?”
“The eye perceives form much more readily by contour or edge than by the modeling.”
Artistic Anatomy by Dr. Paul Richer.
No artist should be without a human anatomy books and while the market is flooded with them this is absolutely one of the best. Dr. Paul Richer takes you through muscle, bone and fatty tissue. The explanations aren’t just limited to excellent illustrations, there is a lot of reading to be had here as well so you truly gain a full understanding of the human anatomy.
“The term artistic anatomy implies a delicate dynamic balance between the aesthetics and the scientific.”
“Every work on the subject of anatomy that has appeared since this book was first published has been strongly influenced by Dr. Paul Richer’s approach. It is not only the most complete but the most accurate of contemporary works on artistic anatomy.”
Drawing Dynamic Hands by Burne Hogarth.
While we’re on the subject of anatomy here is a book on the most common struggle of artists: Drawing hands! It can be so frustrating, right? In this book Burne Hogarth takes you through the structure, proportions, anatomy, movement, foreshortening, functions, gesture and so on of hands. With enough pointers and practice you can become a master of hands and this book is a good start to help you down that path.
“When artists studies human anatomy, he is not usually pursuing the same goals as the medical doctor or scientist. He is searching for visual form which can be translated aesthetically and augmented imaginatively.”
Framed Ink: Drawing and Composition for Visual Storytellers by Marcos Mateu-Mestre
If you are into storytelling through comics, movies, story boarding or graphic novels this is absolutely a must but if you only do single illustrations it’s still going to help you improve immensely. Marcos Mateu-Mestre is a master of compositions and through strong illustrations and thumbnails he shares his knowledge and teaches you how to make your audience feel like they’re a part of your story. Another book that really should be in any art schools curriculum.
“Think, feel. What is the whole story. the specific sequence, the shot about?”
“By reading this book you are entering into a “Master’s course” of visual storytelling, and I think you couldn’t ask for a better teacher.” – Jeffrey Katzenberg
The Profitable Artist: A Handbook for All Artists in the Performing, Literary, and Visual Arts by Artspire
This is a practical book. It is full of knowledge on writing contracts, invoices, how to price your work, how to utilize social media, self promotion, how to find funding, how to apply for grants, etc. If you plan on making a career as an artist, this book is really an excellent help to understanding and handling the practical aspects.
“The New York Foundation for the Arts believes that an artist, no matter the discipline, needs three components to build a career in his or her field: access to funds, entrepreneurial skills, and an opportunity to showcase work.”
So here is your reading list, I hope you’ve enjoyed the recommendations also if you have any favorite art books that are not on the list I’d love to hear from you, please drop a comment!