I love reading art books. Reading the words on the page written by a master has something magical about it. I can almost hear him talking to me, guiding me, correcting my mistakes. Sometimes I even feel like I enjoy reading art books more than making art — yeh, I know, sad but unfortunately true —. That is obviously the other end of the spectrum, and not a terribly productive passion, but reading art books is a great habit for every artist to have. Most of the books teach you something new, and also paying attention to the master’s sketches and studies is a powerful way to learn. Now, I know there are artists who are committed to making art instead of reading about it, there is nothing wrong with that. But in case you do want to give reading a chance, one of the books below is your best option to start.
Richard Schmidt — Alla Prima: Everything I Know About Painting
Richard Schmidt is amazing. His style is fresh and captivating, he’s one of my favorite painters. In this book he talks about the basics of wet-on-wet oil painting. Even if you use a different medium, this book will probably teach you something valuable in every chapter.
Andrew Loomis — Creative Illustration
This is probably the largest and most comprehensive book by Andrew Loomis. It describes multiple techniques, mediums and just about everything you need to know in order to start a career in the domain of illustration.
Marcos Mateu-Mestre — Framed Ink
This is the best book on composition and storytelling I’ve found. Reading this book was probably the most shocking experience I’ve had with art books. It made me realize how little I know about art. It was something similar to the astronaut’s experience, when he sees Earth from outer space for the first time.
James Gurney — Color and Light
Everything you need to know about color and light. If there is only one book you will read from this list and you’re into painting, this should be the one.
James Gurney — Imaginative realism
This book is great for fantasy or sci-fi illustrators. James Gurney shows awesome techniques and shares great insights on smart reference usage. If you paint a lot of imaginary scenery you really shouldn’t skip this book.
Andrew Loomis — Figure drawing for all it’s worth
This is my favorite book by Loomis, and it’s also the first book of his I read. His craftsmanship is breathtaking, and it is perfectly written for the beginner. It is just what you need to start out in figure drawing.
Burne Hogarth — Dynamic Wrinkles and Drapery
Amazing book, Burne Hogarth explains really well the secret of creating dynamic drapery. If you are doing mostly nude figure studies and when it comes to the clothed figure you start to freak out, this book is for you, check it out.
Jack Hamm — Drawing Scenery: Landscapes and Seascapes
This book is pure gold, I’ve learned so much from Jack Hamm on landscapes it’s unbelievable. Every time I’m painting a landscape this book comes to mind. I would recommend this for anyone starting out in landscapes and environments.
George Bridgman — Bridgman’s Complete Guide to Drawing from Life
I would recommend first starting with the figure drawing book from Loomis, and then continuing with this one. I really like Bridgman’s drawing style, they say he liked to drink but he was a beast when it comes to figure drawing. It also contains lots of valuable tips and tricks on drawing the figure from memory.
Scott Robertson — How to Draw
Scott Robertson is a living master, and not only an exceptional craftsman but a great teacher as well. This is the perfect book for anyone who wants to learn the technical aspect of drawing.
These are some of my favorite art books, but basically anything you read from these artists is equally valuable. I’ll do a list with my favorite books on design too in the future, but if you’re more interested in reading about that topic check out “Universal Principles of Design” and “Bruno Munari: Design as Art”, these two are an awesome start.