Monday, May 19, 2014

Favourite art instruction books about subjects you draw and paint

Today I propose we all think about the best and/or most helpful art instruction books about the different kinds of subject matter that people draw and paint e.g.
  • portraiture and people
  • animals and wildlife
  • landscape - including urban and marine contexts
  • still life and floral art
  • genre art - everyday scenes

Interestingly when I first asked the question about "which is your favourite art book?" in 2009, most of the answers revolved around the craft and techniques of drawing and painting and how to make a picture rather than about the special issues and aspects of different types of subject matter.

So with this review I'm going to start at the end as it were with a view to filling the gap.

Which is the best and/or most helpful book about....

The questions are:
  • Do you have a favourite art book? (What is it and why?)
  • Is there one book which had a huge impact on you and your work?

Other questions which tend to make you realise which books are valued most are:
  • Which book(s) do you perennially recommend to others?
  • Which book(s) will you never ever lend out?

In addition, here are some more detailed questions about subject matter to activate the brain cells. (I sometimes find I can't generate answers to very generic questions until somebody asks me something more precise!). These focus on different aspects of the subject matter - because some books are very good at one particular aspect.

Some of my books about drawing people and painting portraits and self-portraits

People and portraiture

Which is the best and/or most helpful book for learning about:
  • how the body works?
  • the structure of the head and face?
  • lighting a person/people for 
  • how to group people in an artwork?
  • how to paint a portrait?
  • how to paint a self-portrait?
  • how to handle a portrait commission

Animals and wildlife

Which is the best and/or most helpful book about for learning about:
  • animal anatomy for artists?
  • drawing and/or painting cats?
  • drawing and/or painting dogs?
  • drawing and/or painting birds
  • how to handle a pet portrait commission
  • how to approach wildlife paintings?
  • how to draw and paint animals from life?
  • how to use reference photographs in an intelligent way?


Which is the best and/or most helpful book for learning about:
  • the basics of landscape painting?
  • more advanced approaches to landscape painting?
  • painting plein air?
  • drawing and painting trees?
  • drawing and/or painting skies, weather and atmosphere?
  • drawing and/or painting water?
  • drawing and/or painting in an urban context?

Some of my books about landscape painting and urban sketching
(with more in the sketching and painting sections!)

Still life and floral art

Which is the best and/or most helpful book for learning about:
  • setting up and lighting a still life
  • drawing/painting a still life
  • floral art
  • food art
  • botanical art
  • strict botanical illustration

Genre scenes (everyday life)

This term is usually used to relate to people engaged in everyday activity - although this is not a topic which seems to generate a lot of art books!

Which is the best and/or most helpful book for learning about:
  • choosing and selecting everyday scenes when drawing/painting from life
  • recreating everyday scenes
  • using reference material for drawing/painting scenes from everyday life

My Best Books about.... websites

These are the websites I've created over the years which aim to pull together listings of the best books on an art topic.


  1. I'm very pleased with "The modern flower painter" by Anna Mason

  2. When it comes to the landscape category and drawing and painting trees the one that always comes to mind first is "Painting Trees & Landscapes in Watercolor "by Ted Kautsky.
    Don't be fooled by its title though. The information in the book goes beyond a mere 'How to" watercolor book and can be applied to any medium.
    It's not a book of watercolor technique, which is why it is valuable, and sits on the one shelf of my bookshelf that has all my go-to books, the ones I find myself always going back to over the years.
    Worth its wait in gold.

    The other reason. The drawings shown, as preliminary drawings for the watercolors, are beautiful in their own right.
    So to me the best books always contain valuable info and inspirational art.
    I have seen many books short on one or the other.


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