Color and Light
James Gurney is a well known artist and illustrator. He has done illustrations for National Geographic, Scientific American, the US Post office, and many other high profile clients. He is also an avid plein air painter.
His book, Color and Light covers many of the technical elements related to working with color. This book covers color wheels, pigments, limited palettes, values and many of the other concepts you will encounter in your work.
He also discusses the various lighting conditions and how they affect the look of the painting; overcast days, electric lighting, candlelight, and so on. He’s not afraid to delve into the scientific explanations regarding color and lighting to help give the reader a solid understanding of both subjects.
The section on limited palettes includes suggestions for which pigments to use and how to come up with your own limited palettes.
60 Minutes to Better Painting
Craig Nelson has taught painting at art schools for many years. He’s noticed that the best way to improve is to paint small studies in a short amount of time. He also talks about “brush mileage,” which is to say that you need to paint a lot in order to improve.
The premise of 60 Mintues to Better Painting is that your painting will improve more by painting numerous one hour studies instead of spending the same amount time on one large painting.
The book contains 10 step by step demonstrations. He offers three different lengths of time for his quick studies; 25 minutes, 45 minutes, and the hour long study. That may not seem like a lot of time to complete a painting, but the example paintings are impressive even if you didn’t know they were painted in under an hour.
Nelson offers tips on how to simplify the subject and how to decide what’s important. This is something that would benefit any artist.
The Painters Keys
Robert Genn was Canadian artist who was know for his landscape paintings. He also wrote a popular email newsletter that had a tremendous following.
The Painters Keys is a transcript of a workshop that he gave years ago. In it he discusses marketing, art techniques, the business aspects of art, technical questions, and more. It’s arranged mostly in a question and answer format.
Regardless of your chosen style or medium, this book will give you plenty to think about.
Landscape Painting Inside and Out
Landscape Painting Inside & Out is focused on oil painting but I found it has helped me with my acrylic painting.
One of the experiments in this book is to take the color scheme from one painting and apply it to a different subject. He took the color scheme from a western landscape and applied it to a city scene. The end result is more interesting than if he had painted the street scene in the original color scheme. The book contains other exercises like this that will help your painting to become more creative.
One of the exercises that benefits beginners is “Turn a Photo into a mosaic” where you simplify a photograph into flat areas of color. If you paint these shapes in the right color and location, the image will form itself. This is a concept that every painter interested in realism should master.
This book should help landscape painters to progress, and I think these ideas could be applied to other genres. The color scheme experiment could apply to a still life painting or even an abstract painting. It’s a good idea to look outside of your chosen genre for new ideas.
The Simple Secret to Better Painting
Never make any two intervals the same. That’s the premise of The Simple Secret to Better Painting. At first it may seem simplistic, but once you explore it you’ll realize that it’s a potent idea.
The beginner likes to center everything and space all of the objects evenly. That’s boring. Albert provides plenty of examples and thumbnail sketches that demonstrate that variety is more interesting and appealing to the eye than regularly spaced intervals.
Albert discusses how to apply the secret to other aspects of painting. He says that the values of a painting can be varied too. For example, a painting can consist of mostly darks, with a little bit of middle tones, and a tiny amount of highlights. This is more interesting than a painting that has an equal amount of highlights, shadows, and midtones.
This is probably one of the best books I’ve found on composition. It covers the fundamental principles that you can apply to any visual field; graphic design, photography, painting, video, etc.
Keys to Drawing
I stumbled upon Keys to Drawing many years ago and I still find myself referring to it on occasion and flipping through it to find inspiration.
There are fifty five keys to drawing and 45 exercises contained in the book. The example drawings are by Dodson and his students which provides a variety of styles, although most of them have a loose and sketchy style that I enjoy.
Many of the exercises will help you to draw more accurately. Dodson explains different sighting techniques for measuring proportions and the size of objects.
This book is the closest thing to taking a drawing class in person. He presents a concept and then it’s up to you to explore it. You can read about drawing concepts all day long but your drawing skills will only improve when the pencil hits the paper.