Tuesday, February 23, 2010

In praise of older art books - free and digital

As anybody who reads this blog or any of my other blogs will know I like books! After all who needs to make choices about colour schemes or wallpapers when you can have book shelves and art lining your walls instead!

Seriously, I've come very late in the day to the notion of buying used books on the internet. I've also only just started to investigate the digital books which are available to read for free (or download as a file) on the Internet.

However I'd like to announce that I'm now convinced that there is huge value to be gained from investigating the books which you won't find in your local book store or on the current directory of publications of your favourite art book publisher.
  • Today I'm going to write about digital art books on the internet
  • Tomorrow I'm going to highlight some tips about buying used books online
Digital books

Go To Project Gutenberg

Older Books - recent posts

I've posted this week and last about two old books which are out of print but which are availabke to read for free on the Internet or which can be downloaded in various file formats
What I'm finding characterises these books is that they are NOT dumbed down for beginners.

Instead they assume they are going to be read by people who want to learn all they can about how to draw and paint. They're long on text and have fewer images than many modern art instruction books which is not to say they don't have any at all. They're just NOT advocating or following a spoon-feeding step by step approach to art instruction.

More to the point, some of these books explain aspects of technique which often get skipped over in modern art instruction books.

If you're interested in approaches to art instruction used in the past you'll find these books absorbing. If you want to know more about the media approaches used in the past you won't mind digging around in these to find the 'gold nuggets' which they contain

Contemporary art e-books

As an aside, although not older books, it's worth highlighting that more and more artists are publishing their contributions to art instruction as e-books.

Deborah Secor is also pioneering a new way of publishing a book online via a blog called Landscape Painting in Pastels - which was featured on my art of the landscape blog yesterday in Art Instruction: Landscape Painting in Pastels

How to find and access the older art book - free digital and online

Obviously you need to be online. You also need to be predisposed to reading online whether on a computer or a bit of kit which reads e-books as there is no point in printing these books out! You also need to like searching through directories and files because there's not a out there as yet.

Books I'm searching for are essentially in the public domain and their copyright has expired or a contemporary auuthor has chosen to exercise a form of copyright which permits free distribution for educaitonal use.

I'm still working my way through which sites provide a digital directory of books which exist - and how to buy them online (which is irrelvant to the free digital book for downloading) and those sites which genuinely provide access to digital books. There's also a bunch of sites which are about providing directories for digital libraries of ebooks which are not very accessible. Then there's the ones which look like they're going to be about books but which turn out to be trying to be like mini specialised search engines !

Places which definitely contain art books which have been digitalised are as follows:
  • Google Books. This contains information about virtually all current books in publication and a lot of books which are out of print. Some of the books in its database are very old. You can view books which have been digitalised in one of three ways Limited preview and full view; full view only; and Public domain only. You can often read bits. Lerss often you can read the full book. They also have a section on Classics (with free EPUB downloads) but this isn't easy to search. I recommend using the advanced seach facility to find books which may be interesting. Bear in mind this works pretty much like a library or book store where something sounds about right and then is really boring when you begin to look in more detail. Plus it's always worth investigating some tenuous links to your interests as these can sometimes throw up really good results. So basically a bookworm predisposition to seaching in libraries will help a great deal. I've gone down a number of blind allies trying to get my search terms right!
  • Project Gutenberg is the first and largest single collection of free electronic books, or eBooks. Its structure is not great for searching so again you have to get your detective hat out to track down good books.
Wikibooks is supposed to be creating open content textbooks. It has a visual arts section and an Art History section - but neither are well developed as yet. This project gives the impression of being a bit confused at the moment and doesn't sdeem have much to offer in terms of digital books for download.

Future posts

I'm going to continue to search the internet and try and find digital art books which can be read in their entirety online. I'd be very interested to know your perspective on them.

Tomorrow I'm going to write some more about the value of older books - bought second hand!

The Art of the Landscape


  1. I downloaded the one by Speed, after seeing your reference the other day, and then I turned it into a pdf file. Then, I found the feature that reads the book aloud - eat your heart out, Kindle.

  2. I was introduced to the Speed book by tutors at LARA last year. It is really excellent - but does need to be actually read (there are few illustrations - in marked contrast to contemporary "coffee-table" art instruction books). I got it from Amazon (together with his book on oil painting techniques) and refer to it often.

    I have also found all the Andrew Loomis books as pdf files. I understand that they are now out of copyright. They, too, are very good. Loomis was an American illustrator who wrote his books in the 1940s/50s. They have loads of illustrative, worked examples and are available online. If appropriate I can post the URL. I've printed a couple of them in their entirety and had them comb-bound as I can't easily refer to them on screen. I subsequently found one of them in hard copy at a second hand book sale and will be looking out for the others! He is very good on drawing from the figure.

  3. Archive.org also has a number of public domain e-books.

    Here's a list of them, collected on the conceptart.org forums. Good stuff. B)


COMMENTS HAVE BEEN CLOSED AGAIN because of the amount of spam and copying of my blog posts which is taking place. Removing them is taking too much time.
Please feel free to comment about the blog on my Facebook Page as my blog posts are always posted there but please note
1) anonymous comments are NEVER published
2) automated / spam / scam comments are never ever published on this blog
3) I ALWAYS block and report spammers to Google and/or on Facebook

Note: only a member of this blog may post a comment.