Artists’ Favourite Art Books

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What's Your Favourite Art Book?

This is a list of favourite art books - compiled from the responses of 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.

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

Read my blog posts (below) to find out more about 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.
* Art Instruction Books #1: different ways of learning
* Art Books #2 - the economics of publishing
* Your favourite art books - what you like

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 (315 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

HIGHLY RECOMMENDED - see my book review
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 tome 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 memorized, but realized. 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: An Innovative, Practical Approach to Drawing the World Around You

by Sarah Simblet

HIGHLY RECOMMENDED Read more in my extended book review on my blog.

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

Making a Mark reviews......

Recommended and NEW Drawing Books

These resources between them provide a comprehensive overview of drawing books for aspiring fine artists - and those just wanting to learn how to draw.


Favourite Books about COLOUR

Color and Light by James Gurney

A Guide for the Realist Painter

Ranked #1 in the Top 100 Painting Books - BEFORE it is published on the strength of pre-publication sales.

Published in November 2010, this has become a best selling and constantly top rated book on Amazon.

Rated 4.8 out of 5 stars by 196 customer reviews on It is one of the top rated art books for sale today.

James Gurney's art instruction book is excellent. I followed the development of the material for this book on his blog and knew that this book was going to become a very important book about colour

I was then sent a review copy - and it is indeed a very informative and helpful book - here's my book review Book Review: Color and Light by James Gurney

Making Color Sing, 25th Anniversary Edition by Jeanne Dobie

Practical Lessons in Color and Design

Rated an average of 4.7 out of 5 stars based on 33 customer reviews
Ranked #2 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.

It also includes an updated listing of paint colours - revised for present day knowledge about lightfastness (see also

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

The Best Art Books about Colour

recommended by makingamark


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.

Not everybody likes the handwritten approach.

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?

Making A Mark - looks at art instruction books

These are links to the reviews of the state of the art book market and the publishing industry in 2009

Making a Mark: Art Instruction Books #1: different ways of learning
my post today looks at art books and the curse of the 'five easy steps' mentality. What follows today and tomorrow are some thoughts on:
* the way people learn
* the way people learn about art
* the nature of instruction available in art books and
* the economy of publishing.
Making a Mark: Art Books #2 - the economics of publishing
Following on from Art Instruction Books #1: different ways of learning in this post I'm aiming to ponder and reflect on the economic of publishing and its influence on content.
Making a Mark: 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
Making a Mark: What sort of art book is missing from our bookshelves?
I've been asking what sort of art book is missing from our bookshelves. You've been volunteering your comments and views about which are the published books you like and what sort of book you would like to see on your shelves - if it were available.
Making a Mark: Favourite Art Books - Resources for Artists
In January, this blog looked at art instruction books and you were invited to nominate your favourite art book - which lots of you did and then some!

The Best Books about Botanical Art


Favourite Books about WATERCOLOUR PAINTING

recommended by practising artists

Favourite Books about WATERCOLOUR PAINTING

recommended by practising artists

The Best Books about Watercolour Painting


Favourite Books about OIL PAINTING

recommended by practising artists

The Best Books about Oil Painting


ALLA PRIMA II: Everything I Know About Painting - and More EXPANDED EDITION

by Richard Schmid with Katie Swatland

This is the second edition of Richard Schmid's famous book - now revised and expanded - but still based on the original book which was enormously popular and went through 13 printings

Average Customer Review: 4.9 out of 5 stars based on 22 customer reviews)

Fill Your Oil Paintings with Light & Color Paperback

by Kevin MacPherson

Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars based on 70 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

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

Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars based on 45 customer reviews
Goodreads: 3.79 average rating, 24 ratings, 4 reviews, added by 58 people

This 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

Gruppé on Painting: Direct Techniques in Oil

by Emile A. Gruppé (Author), Charles Movalli (Editor), John Lavin (Editor)

Capturing the Moment in Oils

by David Curtis (Author), Robin Capon (Author)

RECOMMENDED - Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars See all reviews (9 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

In praise of older books and other people's habits when buying books

I use sites and bookshops which sell second books to buy art books which are out of print. Some of the best art books I've got are ones you can only buy second hand - and often they're in very good condition

Greywaren Art: Thoughts on Book-Buying
Maggie Stiefvater on buying art books
MAKING A MARK: In praise of older art books - free and digital
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.
MAKING A MARK: In praise of older art books - used and low cost
Why buy second hand art books? Here's a few reasons:
* you can buy books you'd NEVER see on the art bookshelves of a book shop
* you can buy classic art books which are no longer in print.
MAKING A MARK: What types of art book do you like best? (MAM Poll Results)
The headline results (below) completely contradict the direction art instruction publishers have been taking of late - towards 'dumbing down' and ever simpler books for beginners with lots of pictures and very little text.

The Best Books about Painting


Then there's the useful art books!


How to find a good art bookshop


Favourite Art Books

I now monitor the trends in favourite books and new publications of art books on a monthly basis

Makingamark's Top 10 Fine Art Books tracks the best-selling and the top rated art books each month across different categories of art books


Making a Mark reviews......

a consumer's guide to quality and value in art books, art supplies and services to artists

Read reviews about art books, art supplies and other products and services used by artists.

This blog highlights:
- book reviews (art instruction and art history)
- reviews of art media, art materials and art equipment
- reviews of places where you buy (art shops, online art suppliers and art bookshops)
- reviews of other products or services used by artists
- summaries of good quality and relevant reviews by other practising artists


Making A Mark

Artist and author Katherine Tyrrell draws and writes about art for artists and art lovers.

Topics include: artists, art exhibitions, art blogs; art history; art techniques and tips; art business and marketing; art economy and making a mark with pastels, coloured pencils and pen and ink.


Comments and Feedback

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  • Bookworm25 Jun 23, 2013 @ 12:24 pm
    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.
  • makingamark Jun 23, 2013 @ 2:00 pm
    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!
  • artshock Nov 25, 2012 @ 3:55 am
    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!
  • makingamark Jun 23, 2013 @ 1:57 pm
    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.
  • John_Michael Nov 28, 2011 @ 12:37 pm
    A fine presentation of some great information
  • Feb 19, 2009 @ 2:34 pm
    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.
  • makingamark Feb 16, 2009 @ 7:51 pm
    Thanks Shirley. I think I'll probably do an annual review of favourite art books each January in future.
  • Shirley Feb 13, 2009 @ 6:54 am
    ... some more information

    Experimental 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 dont have information)
    Ann Blockley - Watercolour Textures - Pub: Collins
    she has also written a paperback (poss Collins) on painting wild flowers.

    Frank Webb - The Artist's Guide to Composition - Pub:David & Charles

    Hope these help!

    Wstow E17
  • Shirley Feb 13, 2009 @ 5:25 am
    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 Collins
    Doreen 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 them

    A 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!

    Walthamstow, E17
  • Treasures-By-Brenda Feb 12, 2009 @ 3:21 pm
    If I were an artist, I am sure that this list of great art books would be very helpful!


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