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I don't use any particular text in my classes, but sometimes students ask if I can recommend anything, so I've started compiling this list. You'll find some of the classics here, but I've also been making an attempt to identify at least a few contemporary texts. I confess I've been frustrated by the paucity of really competent art instruction books, particularly in the "general" category -- so this list is a little shorter than I would like. Still, it is growing, if slowly.

I learn chiefly by looking at and doing art, not so much by reading about it -- so my criteria for liking an art book is simple: lots of pictures, few words, sound advice.

Many art books feature nudes. If that bothers you -- well, you've been warned.

Click on a topic or simply scroll down:

General/Misc. l Basic Drawing l Drawing in Color l Watercolors l Acrylics

What I'm really looking for but can't find is a well-presented, thorough book about the elements of composition and how to put them together. Most texts are technique oriented. So far I've only found the two below, both of which I consider more appropriate for artists who have already acquired the basic skills.
  • Perspective and Composition, Barron's Art Handbooks. One of the few books I've found that specifically addresses either subject. Too brief (95 5x8" pages) for true instruction, but a good reference if you just need to refresh yourself on something. Nice overview of historic trends in composition.
  • The Artist's Problem Solver, edited by Sally Bulgin. Dopey title, but good tips and illustrations in a variety of media, styles and subject matter.
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Basic Drawing
Two of the great classics are here. By definition these texts are most appropriate for beginning artists.
  • The Natural Way to Draw, Kimon Nicolaides. This was the text I used all through college and I can't imagine needing any other for good, solid drawing instruction. Gesture, contour, cross-contour; all the basics. Mostly figure drawing.
  • Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain, Betty Edwards. I like to call this the yuppie version of Nicolaides; same drawing exercises, but with doses of modern psychology. Sound principles, but too wordy for my taste. (I note that a new "workbook" version has been published; sounds promising.)
  • Drawing with Pen & Ink, Carl Glassford. 64 pages of excellent pen & ink drawings demonstrating a wealth of techniques.
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Drawing in Color
The first two are so good, I haven't bothered to look for any others. Good for all levels.
  • Creative Colored Pencil, Vera Curnow. Pages and pages of colored pencil drawings, from the most traditional techniques to the newest experimental art. Several pages of step-by-step instruction too.
  • Encyclopedia of Pastel Techniques, Judy Martin. I've probably referred to this book more than any other I own. Part of a series (Encyclopedia of Oil/Watercolor/etc.) but unfortunately none of the others are as good as this one. Half the book is illustrated listings of pastel techniques; the rest is examples, organized by subject matter, with "demos" interspersed throughout.
  • The 5 Essentials in Every Powerful Painting, Ramon Kelley. In spite of the title I've placed it here because I'm more impressed with the quality of his pastel paintings than I am with his presentation of the "five essentials" (composition, value, color, texture and focal point). His technique is so in your face you can't help but learn from it.
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The last time I checked my local art store, the watercolor books outnumbered the rest about 4 to 1.
  • Watercolor Class, Michael Crespo. My favorite art instruction book, because it presents very clear, specific problems to be solved, and uses student, not professional art, to illustrate the solutions. I borrow from this all the time.

    Beyond basics:

  • Anything by Ray Campbell Smith because I love his work, but esp Watercolor Work-Out, because he lists the pigments he uses for each painting, and complements the finished pieces with his thumbnails and color studies. Simple landscapes rendered with a very limited palette.
  • Watercolor Bold and Free, Lawrence Goldsmith. It's been years since I've looked at this so I don't remember anything about it, except that I thought it was a good text for watercolorists.
  • Best of Watercolor. There's a whole series of these (and in media other than watercolor). No instruction, but they're all excellent resources if you just like to study contemporary art.

    Just for wonks:

  • The Wilcox Guide to the Best Watercolor Paints, Michael Wilcox. My bible for at least ten years now. It's updated every few years. Lists every pigment by every manufacturer, rates each by lightfastness, consistency, etc. In spite of that, it's actually very funny in places too, in that dry, British way.
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Haven't found any yet, but I, er, haven't actually looked yet either. Get back to you on this one.

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