I want to make an appeal to you. If you want to discover one of the best things you can do for yourself, it’s this: begin collecting great art books. Specifically, begin gathering books that can help you solve problems with paintings you’re working on.
They can teach you technique and they can teach you how a more experienced artist resolves an issue that you haven’t been able to find a solution to. Fundamentally, art books can be instrumental in taking us back to the basics: the principles of drawing, the principals of value, and the basics of color.
My interest in art books goes all the way back to an illustrator I worked with 20 years ago, by the name of John Wilson. He’s an exceptionally talented illustrator/artist in Austin, TX. He’s done everything from large ad campaigns to small spot drawings. I’d say he’s run the gamut as an illustrator.
When I made my first forays into the advertising/marketing world, I worked on a couple of projects with him on a freelance basis. What I found was that he had a huge collection of art books and he knew where to go at any one time to solve a problem. He probably had over 300 art books----from Old Masters to those academic “how to” art technique books that show you how to use masking film and other obscure skills.
It was such an extensive library of art books! It’s almost what you would see if you walked into the Art section at Borders or Barnes & Noble. He has books by great artists such as Sorolla, Zorn and Sargent. And then there were vague titles, such How to Draw or How To Become A Beginner Oil Painter.
When I asked him, “Why would you have this particular book?” he might have only one specific thing in that book that he could use to solve a specific problem. So this is the frame of reference from which I’m writing today’s blog. I learned it from an experienced and talented illustrator and it carried over into my Fine Art career.
In that regard, your art book collection becomes a wealth of information you can draw from at any time, and it becomes an investment for you.
If you’re working on a painting that you’re going to be paid $2,000, $3,000 or $10,000 for, and you hit a roadblock, and a particular art book can help you past the problem, then it becomes an asset. It is a valuable return on your investment.
If I had to give you a “must have” list of books to start your collection, I’d begin with some good basic drawing books, such as the Bargue book (see post for June 29th). Anthony Ryder’s book on Figure Drawing is another excellent choice for your collection, and Juliette Aristides has an atelier drawing book that I think is outstanding.
Go to Amazon or your local bookstore and shop for books that pertain to what you’re doing. Even though you may not be drawing the figure, you’ll always need a good foundational drawing book.
Shop with the intention of answering this question: “How can I use this book to help me interpret what I’m trying to express in my art?”
If you’re a watercolor artist, have a pretty wide array of generic watercolor books. If you’re primarily a vignette artist, and you get a commissioned painting that requires a background, it’s nice to be able to research how another artist handled painting a grassy area in the background; how they approached that particular element in the painting with technique, washes or brush work.
I think a really good watercolor book for painting landscapes or atmosphere is Joseph Zbukvic’s Painting Atmosphere and Mood. He resolves problems handily and he’s a very direct painter. He just jumps on the paper and attacks it. Sometimes that’s the best approach and you can learn a lot from him.
Another good book is Thomas Aquinas Daly’s first book, Painting Nature’s Quiet Places. He shares really good drawing and painting advice ---- how uses his palette, and how he simplifies things in his paintings. It’s an excellent watercolor book.
My last piece of advice is to purchase a couple of books on the subject of being an artist: Harley Brown’s Eternal Truths For Every Artist and Richard Schmid’s Alla Prima. You don’t have to be an oil painter to glean important information from either of these books. They both give you so much good advice on being a professional art, on problem solving, on drawing, on getting “unstuck” and getting out of ruts. These two books will be a priceless investment for any artist.
All content © J. Mark Kohler Studio.