Paint Schoodic

Register today for upcoming classes!

Wednesday, November 25, 2020

Books for the art lovers on your Christmas list

A student asked for book recommendations for Christmas. I’ve gone over my own bookshelves in my mind’s eye. If the binding is worn from overuse, or it’s a new acquisition I’m excited over, I’m recommending it.

I frequently recommend Art & Fear: Observations On the Perils (and Rewards) of Artmaking, by David Bayles and Ted Orland. It lays out the fundamental rule of artmaking: if you want to be an artist, you have to make art, lots of it, over and over again.

Drawing is a skill, not a talent. Not being able to do it holds you back as a painter. Sketching from Square One to Trafalgar Square, by Richard Scott, is a series of exercises that will take you from simple measurement to complex architecture.

Art of Sketching will help you expand your drawing to be more intuitive and spontaneous. The Practice and Science of Drawing is a classic Harold Speed text from Dover Art Instruction. It’s dated (especially in its opinions of ‘modern’ art) but contains much useful information on drawing technique.
If you’re looking for similar exercises in figure drawing, I recommend Drawing the Human Form, by William A. Berry. It’s based on anatomy, not style.

Every art studio should have one anatomy textbook. I love Atlas of Human Anatomy, by Frank H. Netter. Netter was both a doctor and an artist, and he did his own beautiful illustrations. There are other, art-targeted, anatomy books, but this provides all the information I need. Since you’re not practicing medicine, you can buy an outdated copy.

Landscape Painting Inside and Out, by Kevin Macpherson, is a clear, concise guide to getting paint from the tube to the canvas.

I have a shelf full of watercolor books, but my primary pigment reference is a website, Handprint, by Bruce MacEvoy. This has replaced the classic Blue and Yellow Don’t Make Green, by David Wilcox. There are many different ways to get watercolor on paper. If you want to buy only one book on the subject, try The Complete Watercolorist's Essential Notebook, by Gordon MacKenzie.

There are two color books I love. The first is Josef Albers’ Interaction of Color, which is filled with exercises to understand how color works. It’s fifty years old. The writing is dense to our modern sensibilities, but stick with it.

Bright Earth: Art and the Invention of Color, by Philip Ball, is a brilliant, readable treatise on how chemistry and technology have combined to influence art. (It’s far better than Victoria Finlay’s Color, which is merely a travelogue.) When you’re done reading it, you should have a firm handle on the differences between earth, organic and twentieth-century pigments.

I have shelves full of catalogues raisonné, museum guides, and other illustrated histories of art, but following are a few of my favorites:

The Group of Seven and Tom Thomson, by David Silcox, deals with the painters who’ve most influenced me as a landscape painter. Growing up in the shadow of the Albright-Knox Art Gallery, I had no concept of twentieth-century realism, but there it was, being made right across border from me.

John Constable: The Making of a Master, by Mark Evans, illustrates a simple truth of landscape painting: it all starts outdoors. I also have Constable’s Skies by the same author. It’s a beautiful picture book.

America after the Fall: Painting in the 1930s, by Judith Barter, et al, is a catalog of Depression-era paintings by some of America’s most important painters. If you’re a fan of Regionalism, you’ll like it.

William Blake's Watercolors to the Divine Comedy, 2000, by David Bindman is only available on the used-book market now, but it’s one of my favorite books. Of course, I’m energized by Blake and Dante; if you’re not, you won’t care.

I keep returning to Dover Publications’ Albrecht Dürer woodcut and engraving books. They should be subtitled, “so you think you can draw?”

F.C.B. Cadell by Alice Strang, is a book I refer to for composition inspiration. He’s my favorite of the Scottish Colourists.

Frederic Remington: The Color of Night, by Nancy Anderson, et al. One could argue that Remington invented the nocturne. Certainly, nobody did it better.

Vital Passage: The Newfoundland Epic of Rockwell Kent with a Catalogue Raisonne of Kent's Newfoundland Works, by Jake Milgrem Wien, is a book I just purchased and love. My buddy Stephan Giannini tells me I should also read Kent’s own travel memoirs, which are extensive. I just haven’t gotten around to it yet.

N. C. Wyeth: New Perspectives by Jessica May, et al, is a catalog for a show originating at Portland Museum of Art and Brandywine Museum. Wyeth was, of course, much more than an illustrator.

(As ever, I am not getting a spiff for these recommendations. I used Amazon links for convenience, but by all means order these from your local bookseller instead.)


Beth Carr said...

Wow!!!, thank you!

Bruce McMillan said...

Carol, it's a fabulous list, full of advice. I have two of them in my library, The Group of Seven and Tom Thomson and The Complete Watercolorist's Essential Notebook.

A few more ideas from my art library, and in addition to amazon ordering, try before you order, price compare.

A purely amusing book sure to make any artist smile, Tidying up Art by Ursus Wehrli.


Abe Books:

We've all read the McCloskey classic children's' books, and this one feature his work as an artist beyond illustrating children's books, McCloskey: Art and Illustrations of Robert McCloskey by Jane McCloskey (daughter Jane of Jane and Sal). It has more than paintings, whole chapters on his approach to art.


Abe Books:

Two that feature Women artists:

A biography with art and illustrations of a French Impressionist artist,
Mistress of Montmartre: A life of Suzanne Valadon by June Rose. A great artist, model, and mother and achieving artist of her time. You not only see her in noted impressionist art, like a Renoir at the MFA in Boston, you get to see her fine art (she used her modeling to learn to paint and go beyond to become an accomplished artist).


Abe Books:

A major book of the major female artist of Iceland. Louisa Matthiasdottir, edited by Jed Perl. Want to see Icelandic Picnic on page 102 in person? It's hanging in the Portland (Maine) Museum of Art.

Amazon:, whoa, way to expensive.

Abe Books: That's better.

Two masters who painted Maine:
Edward Hopper's Maine by Kevin Salatina, whoa, fabulous front endpapers (7 pages), amazing. It's all Maine. And on pages 39, 40, and 41 his views from the now Ogunquit Museum of American Art.


Abe Books:

John Marin: Modernism at Midcentury by Debra Bricker Balken published by Addison Gallery, Phillips Academy, PMA, and Yale University Press. A watercolor and oil painter paints Maine unlike any other.


Abe Books:

And lastly, an amazing massive book that surprises with the art of noted writers, accomplished art that we only think of as writers. It'll keep you turning the page to see the art of the next of hundreds of writers. The Writer's Brush: Paintings, Drawings, and Sculptures by Writers by Donald Friedman.


Abe Books:

Carol Douglas said...

Wow, Bruce--excellent list! I have the McCloskey book myself and definitely should have included it. I'll be looking at these others as well. Thanks so much!