Skip to main content

Artists' Favourite Art Books

Katherine regularly reviews art books and has a very extensive art library (4 bookcases and lots of stacks waiting for the next one!)


What's Your Favourite Art Book?

This is a list of favourite art books - compiled from the responses of practising artists who read my popular art blog. I asked them two questions:

(1) Do you have a favourite art book? (What is is it and why?) and

(2) Is there one book which had a huge impact on you and your work?

These are their perennial favourite art books of as suggested on my blog. I've subsequently added in those books identified as top art books in later years.

My blog post Your favourite art books - what you like summarised what people have had to say about learning using art instruction books and which are their favourite art books - across drawing and sketching, colour and painting using acrylics, watercolour and oil.

Read the comments at the end to see how much this survey identified a need amongst both artists - and those their family and friends - to know which are the art books worth collecting.

If you want to share what is your favourite art book you can leave a comment at the end.

Favourite Books about DRAWING AND SKETCHING

Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain: The Definitive, 4th Edition - by Betty Edwards

HIGHLY RECOMMENDED: Currently Rated 4.7 out of 5 stars (363 customer reviews)

This is the latest and 4th edition of the classic drawing-instruction book by Dr. Betty Edwards that has sold more than 2,500,000 copies. It was published April 2012 and is once again topping the chart for drawing books

  • Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain was first published in 1979, it hit the New York Times bestseller list within two weeks and stayed there for more than a year.
  • In 1989, the 2nd edition went straight to the Times list again.
  • On the 20th anniversary the 3rd edition was published and sold steadily.

Keys to Drawing - by Bert Dodson


Currently rated 4.7 out of 5 stars (128 customer reviews)

PLUS This is the book most people buy having read this website!

Bert Dodson's successful method of "teaching anyone who can hold a pencil" how to draw has made this book one of the most popular, best-selling art books in history -- an essential reference for every artist's library!

Dodson offers a complete system for developing drawing skills, basing his approach on 55 "keys" to drawing - rules that don't need to be memorised, but realised.

Dodson helps artists learn to trust their eyes and sharpen their observation skills through 48 practice exercises, reviews, and self-evaluations. Topics include learning to control proportion, scale, movement, depth, pattern and more!

The Drawing Book - by Sarah Simblet

"An Innovative, Practical Approach to Drawing the World Around You"


If you feel you are most comfortable with traditional rendering/realism then this is probably not the book for you.

Scroll to Continue

However it emphatically earns in my view a five pencil rating for those keen to develop their drawing skills beyond technically correct rendering and/or are interested in drawing in art history and/or those who just want to develop their drawing generally.

This book is a 'must buy' - I guarantee you will be blown away by it.

Favourite Books about COLOUR

Color and Light by James Gurney - A Guide for the Realist Painter

HIGHLY RECOMMENDED: James Gurney's art instruction book about colour and light is excellent and has become a BEST SELLING and constantly TOP RATED art instruction book on Amazon.

It ranked #1 in the Top 100 Painting Books
BEFORE it was published on the strength of pre-publication sales.

Rated an average of 4.8 out of 5 stars by 222 customer reviews

I've always been a huge fan of the very helpful art instruction provided by artist, author and tutor James Gurney on his blog "Gurney Journey". It is no surprise he has so very many fans around the world who think the same way I do about his contribution to people learning more about the knowledge and skills involved in drawing and painting.

I followed the development of the material for this book on his blog and knew before it was published that this book was going to become a very important book about colour

Like other popular online writers and bloggers, I was then sent a review copy by James - and it is emphatically a very informative and helpful book.

Making Color Sing, 25th Anniversary Edition by Jeanne Dobie - Practical Lessons in Color and Design

HIGHLY RECOMMENDED: Rated an average of 4.7 out of 5 stars based on 33 customer reviews

Currently ranked #1 in Books > Textbooks > Humanities > Visual Arts > Painting

If you want the bang up to date version of Jeanne Dobie's highly recommended book this is it.

This book also includes an updated listing of paint colours. These have been revised for present day knowledge about lightfastness (see also Jeanne Dobie's Palette Update Chart on her website.

Published in paperback in January 2011 - and hence not available when my original survey was done

More Books about COLOUR - recommended by practising artists

Color Studies

HIGHLY RECOMMENDED: If you're seriously into colour then this is the book for you!

Edith Anderson Feisner's book about colour is now in its third edition and is one of my favourite books. It's one of the most comprehensive and technical books and yet at the same time it's very accessible - although this is a book for people who enjoy reading.

It covers: colour wheels; colour theory; pigments; historical colour palettes; the four dimensions of colour - hue, value intensity and temperature; colour in composition; colour symbolism and a thorough glossary of colour terms. Plus it has over 75 colour charts and a lot of technical details plus one of the best bibliographies about books on colour that I've ever come across.

Color by Betty Edwards

HIGHLY RECOMMENDED: Rated an average of 4.4 out of 5 stars by 112 customer reviews

This guide published in 2004 is by the best-selling author of Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain.

It distills the enormous existing knowledge about colour theory into a practical method of working with colour to produce harmonious combinations.This is a must-have primer for people wanting to learn more about colour by an author who focuses on making art theory and practice accessible.

Favourite Books about being a CREATIVE ARTIST

recommended by practising artists

The Creative License: Giving Yourself Permission to Be the Artist You Truly Are - by Danny Gregory

RECOMMENDED - Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars based on 112 customer reviews

A handwritten and fully-illustrated guide offers an approach to reconnecting with one's own creative energies--using drawing as an example--that ultimately leads to self-expression and creativeness without fear.

Caution - Not everybody likes the author's handwritten approach to text.

Questions about art instruction books

You're invited to leave your thoughts as a comment (see the end)

Art Instruction books are supposed to help people learn. So - here are some things to think about:

  • Is it possible to become an artist just by reading books?
  • Can you really learn all you need to know from books?
  • Do art instruction books help to make it easier to become an artist?
  • Can art instruction books - which show art as a simple step by step process - make it possible to speed up the process of learning how to make art?

Favourite Books about WATERCOLOUR PAINTING

recommended by practising artists

The Art of Watercolor

HIGHLY RECOMMENDED: Rated 5.0 out of 5 stars by 17 customer reviews

Charles LeClair's book is unique among watercolor instruction books. "The Art of Watercolor" presents a comprehensive course of study that combines studio lessons on the technical properties of the medium with art history and visual theory.

You're almost certainly going to have to resport to purchasing a second-hand copy to get hold of this - but you won't regret it

The Watercolor Book: Materials and Techniques for Today's Artists

Rated 4.5 out of 5 stars by 22 customer reviews

Like other Watson Guptill Books, David Dewar's book provides a much more comprehensive look at the more technical side of watercolour in terms of paint, paper, brushes and other art materials needed for painting in watercolour.

It also covers techniques for painting in watercolour

It's particularly suitable for anybody wanting to get a more in-depth understanding of watercolour than is offfered by some of the more popular books which have rudimentary sections about art materials

Rated an average of 4.7 out of 5 stars by 46 customer reviews

Shirley Trevena is an every popular artist and author with those who prefer their watercolour with a more creative edge and flair.

In this book she provides instruction in and demonstration of her prize-winning techniques.

Favourite Books about OIL PAINTING

recommended by practising artists

ALLA PRIMA II: Everything I Know About Painting - and More EXPANDED EDITION - by Richard Schmid with Katie Swatland

Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars based on 38 customer reviews)

This is the second edition of Richard Schmid's famous book - now revised and expanded - but still based on the original book.

His first book was so enormously popular it went through thirteen printings - each of which sold out - before Richard Schmid brought out this revised version

Even more surprising because this is NOT a cheap book!

Fill Your Oil Paintings with Light & Color - by Kevin MacPherson

Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars based on 85 customer reviews

A book which is very popular with a number of oil painters. Considered to be full of good tips and advice

The Oil Painting Book: Materials and Techniques for Today's Artist

Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars based on 48 customer reviews

Bill Creevy's book is probably the most useful book when it comes to looking at oil painting materials. It also has excellent sections on on oil painting techniques.

A book for those wanting to ground themselves thoroughly in the knowledge needed to become an oil painter

Grupp on Painting

Emile Grupp's book about Direct Techniques in Oil Painting is regarded as one of the best books for all those wanting to learn about "alla prima" painting

Capturing the Moment in Oils - by David Curtis (Author), Robin Capon (Author)

RECOMMENDED - Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars (12 customer reviews)

David Curtis is an enormously popular English painter of landscapes and marine scenes who works in both oils and watercolour.

This book will appeal more to the artist looking to improve the quality of their work rather than those who need step by step instruction

Comments and Feedback - comments are welcome - but please do not spam

Katherine Tyrrell (author) from London on June 23, 2013:

@natashaely: Many thanks - you've pinpointed one of the main reasons I've made the lens. So many times artists don't get presents of the sort of books they'd value because their friends and relatives don't know what they are!

Katherine Tyrrell (author) from London on June 23, 2013:

@artshock: I can only endorse everything you say. It was quite a revelation to me too. It's quite unlike any other book by an art tutor.

natashaely on June 23, 2013:

Fantastic lens, so much to choose from and good for me as I am buying a gift and rather than staring endlessly at hundreds of books on the shelf, I now have some idea about what to choose. Have added your lens to my online library lens as I know there will be many others needing the help.

artshock on November 25, 2012:

Harley Brown's Eternal Truths For Every Artist changed my life. He really breaks down theory into real digestible bites. It's very hard to find and it's usually not cheap. I was very lucky to find a copy on my friends bookshelf and made a trade for it. I highly recommend!

JohnMichael2 on November 28, 2011:

A fine presentation of some great information

anonymous on February 19, 2009:

this is just a great resource, there are so many books out there it does get hard to pick the right one, this is a great guide.

Katherine Tyrrell (author) from London on February 16, 2009:

Thanks Shirley. I think I'll probably do an annual review of favourite art books each January in future.

anonymous on February 13, 2009:

... some more informationExperimental and mixed media ideas.Karlyn Holman - Watercolour Fun & Free - Pub: Bayfield Street Publishing Inc. (Difficult to get in UK - Karlyn has a website. I rang her in the US & bought a copy direct - signed! Well worth it!)Karlyn Holman - Searching for the Artist within - Pub: North Light?Books by the late John Blockley are now difficult to get but worth seeking out. His daughter, Ann Blockley runs courses and has published (mostly) flower painting books, but has some wonderful information about watercolour effects and a loose style - like father, like daughter!Ann Blockley - Flower Painting through the Seasons - Pub: Collins(may have been renamed, but don't have information)Ann Blockley - Watercolour Textures - Pub: Collinsshe has also written a paperback (poss Collins) on painting wild flowers.Also:Frank Webb - The Artist's Guide to Composition - Pub:David & CharlesHope these help!ShirleyWstow E17

anonymous on February 13, 2009:

Kathryn - Somehow I missed your post requesting book ideas, but hope these are not too late... Please get in touch if you need more information on any of these books.I was taught (Art Course as part of Teacher Training) by the artist and illustrator of (in particular childrens') books, Doreen Roberts. Recently I discovered she wrote two instructional books which I bought and in whichI recognise much of the material we were taught at college in them: Doreen Roberts - Drawing Workshop - Pub: Harper CollinsDoreen Roberts - Painting Workshop - Pub: Harper Collins(not sure if they are still in print but both come up for sale on eBay, which is where I bought themA brilliant book about colour with a fantastic colour wheel - if you buy one secondhand do make sure the colour wheel is still there!Stephen Quiller - Color Choices - Pub: Watson Guptill... more information follows as I have run out of permitted space!ShirleyWalthamstow, E17

Treasures By Brenda from Canada on February 12, 2009:

If I were an artist, I am sure that this list of great art books would be very helpful!Brenda

Related Articles