14 Exceptionally Helpful Art Books Every Artist Should Buy

By Adriana Guidi in Art Business Advice > General Art Advice

The Human Figure1. The Human Figure by John H. Vanderpoel

Years ago when we’d visit my uncle Victor Amadio, who himself was an artist and studied under Fechin, Chamberlin and others, he would rave about the Vanderpoel book, and how I must get it! Well, I bought it and I still refer to it often.

First published in 1907, The Human Figure is a classic art instruction book written by a master artist and teacher John Henry Vanderpoel. The book presents in detail, with over 430 beautifully illustrated pencil and charcoal sketches and drawings, how to render various features of the human anatomy.

Each chapter’s topic focuses on a feature—eyes, nose, mouth, trunk, legs, arms—and how they relate to each other, with information on proportions, angles, planes and shading.

Hawthorne on Painting2. Hawthorne on Painting collected by Mrs. Charles W. Hawthorne

This book is a collection of notes taken by students of the Cape Cod School of Art through thirty-one years. Each chapter is dedicated to a subject-outdoor model, indoor model, still life, landscape and watercolor.

Throughout the book, Mr. Hawthorne often tells his students not to go out and find beautiful things to paint, but to find old objects, even things that are considered ugly and bring them to life; making them beautiful by painting them. I just love that part of the book!

Reading his notes to his students makes you feel like you’re right there listening to him, having him there while you paint.

Drawing Female Figures3. Drawing: Female Figures by Russell Iredell

I think all of the Walter Foster art instruction books are great, and this book in particular has beautiful charcoal drawings and very easy-to-follow instructions.

Each lesson is set up in stages, start to finish, beginning with big sweeping gestures and going all the way to the final details of the piece.

There are also instructions on proportion, measuring, light and shadow, the skeletal system, and various mediums and papers.

If you want to learn the figure and don’t have access to a live model, this is a great instructional book. The drawings are very reminiscent of the pin up poses of the 40’s and 50’s as well.

Bridgmans Complete Guide to Drawing from Life4. Bridgman’s Complete Guide to Drawing from Life by George Bridgman.

Actually, all of the George Bridgman books are good to have in your collection. He was a painter, writer, and also lecturer and teacher at New York’s Art Student’s League.

Bridgman’s Complete Guide encompasses the whole body in one book, explaining how to draw from head to toe by breaking down the figure in spheres and cubes. There’s even a chapter at the end on clothing and how to draw folds in fabric.

With over 1,000 illustrations, this book is an excellent reference for the different positions, postures and planes of the human anatomy. Bridgman even describes in detail the bones and muscles of the body!

Other Bridgman titles include The Book of a Hundred Hands, Constructive Anatomy, Bridgman’s Life Drawing, and Heads, Features and Faces. Any one of them (or all of them) would be great to learn from.

I thought about stopping here, because those are my four favorites, but there are just so many other wonderful art books that I refer to, over and over again, that I’m going to suggest a few more titles in my collection that have helped me in my painting and drawing adventures.

Here are 10 more art books I have kept for many years, and still use often:

5. Drawing Ideas of the Masters

6. Oil Painting Secrets From a Master

7. Sargent Portrait Drawings

8. Modern French Masters: The Impressionists

9. Sketch Book for the Artist

10. Turner on Tour

11. Color Mixing Bible

12. Nicolai Fechin

13. Claude Monet

14. Diego Velazquez

As you can see, a few of them are simply books of some of my favorite painters. . . but they always say to copy the masters to improve and learn!

If you’re looking for a reference book, great inspiration, or just wonderful teaching, take a look at any of the books I’ve listed above. I can’t recommend them highly enough.


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