Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Your favourite art books - what you like

This is for people who read art instruction books and those who write and publish them. Plus any would-be authors out there. It's grown out of the views expressed about art instruction books in the comments made on two posts last week, namely
This posts focuses on books you like and why you like them and the characteristics of a good art book for those wanting to develop both knowledge and skills.

It's not based on a scientific survey - in fact it didn't even set out to be a survey! However since the two posts generated such a lot of thoughtful feedback it seems a pity not to try and identify the common themes - which is what I've done below.

I've split views into:
  • your favourite art books - ones which you've found very helpful
  • why you buy and read art books
  • characteristics of a good art book
  • TOMORROW - what sort of books are missing from our art bookshelves
The quotations come from people who commented on my posts.

Do feel free to discuss any conclusions I've drawn.

Ecology Park Ponds Series #4 - 26th December 2008
The Willows across Moor Hen Pond
10" x 14", coloured pencils on Arches HP
copyright Katherine Tyrrell

Your favourite art books

I asked:
  • Do you have a favourite art book?
  • Is there one book which had a huge impact on you and your work?
What you said follows. The number after each book is the number of people who mentioned it.

The outright winner of "most popular art book" is Betty Edwards's Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain which most people seem to have read in the original edition.

Drawing and sketching

Betty Edwards Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain was the most exciting art instruction book I ever read--she had me do actual drawing, and learning how to see was intrinsic to her instruction, and I could transfer that to any drawing, not just an example one.

The best book on the planet packed with tricks, tips, and techniques to learn how to draw, or improve your drawing skills.

Betty Edward's book Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain did an excellent job of explaining to new artists how an artist sees.
I also love that (Keys to Drawing) book for his drawings. None of this "must be flawless" stuff in there - just excellent renderings with lots of feeling. Love them!
It absolutely convinced me to pick up a pen and start drawing, fearlessly. I keep reading it, over and over. It's like having my own personal art coach in a book. I can't say enough about it.





I think all of us benefit from the websites and blogs that are out there. They have inspired me to work at sketching and painting more than ever before.

Being an artist


  • Burton Silverman - books (1)

Why you buy and read art books

These are the common reasons why people buy art books
  • I live in a remote area and get knowledge, ideas and stimulation from art instruction books
  • I read art books to find out how an artist creates their work
  • I read art books to find out HOW a process works
  • I don't take instruction well and prefer art instruction books
  • I get stimulation from the images
  • I but art books (rather than e-books) because I can read them in bed
I was addicted to art instruction books for years, but have since found a much better, much more personalised and in-depth source of art instruction and inspiration right at my fingertips: art blogs.

Characteristics of a good art instruction book

You said what you liked to find in art instruction books. Obviously I'm summarising a number of perspectives here so not all views will be shared by everyone.

Comments in italics are asides by me.

In summary art instruction books should be:
  • by an artist whose work is an inspiration - if the art does not inspire then you probably won't want to look at the book - the eye must be delighted. (If I don't like the art then the book goes straight back on the shelf - I don't care how good they are as an instructor - I don't want to hurt my eyes)
  • stimulating / full of good quality images - really good images of excellent artwork are always a hook. No poor or yawnworthy work allowed. Images need to be excellent both in terms of the photography and the competence of the artist. (I cannot tell you how many art books I've looked at where I immediately replaced them on the shelves as the artist was not competent in the use of a particular medium. I call these the 'jobbing books' - an artist gets asked to provide images and instruction irrespective of their credibility in the use of that medium)
  • generous in sharing a wealth of good information
  • well-structured: the content is structured to create a series of topics which enable the information provided to flow in a logical way from chapter to chapter
  • well written text - precise in explaining all step by step processes for all the stages plus high resolution photographs (if you're going to do step by step do them in an informative way!) (It made me wonder whether authors are given instruction on how to write and nature and the quality of the input that people like to see in an art instruction book. )
  • articulate WHY artists paint as they do
    • what the artist's motivation is to paint that particular subject matter
    • how the artist see the subject - in perceptual terms and mind's eye
    • why the artist chooses to highlight certain aspects
    • why the artist paints in one way rather than another
    • what are the influences on the artist's work
  • inclusive of images of students' work
  • AVOID providing the same basic information about materials in all art instruction books except the most advanced (let's assume that we've found that in another book!)
Since almost every book seems to have a chapter on materials (and I get really sick of reading them) why not put that chapter at the end?
  • AVOID the 'one trick pony' approach and do NOT try to persuade the reader that there is only way of working

TOMORROW - check back to find out "What sort of art book is missing from our shelves?"

This will identify the characteristics of the book which people are asking for.


The following contain links to my
information sites dedicated art books.