Reading in the Garden 1915 Nikolay Bogdanov-Belsky (fair use)*
Every artist we know has an impressive library of books about art or favorite artists they admire or even books of philosophy to which they turn repeatedly when searching for ideas or inspiration. Some books are perennial sources of inspiration and can be found in almost everyone’s collection. Others are a bit more obscure, hard to find or simply unknown to us. Often, the best way to find a new favorite reference book is word of mouth, so we thought we should ask 13 of our contributing artists what their favorite sources of inspiration are. All books and titles are linked to Amazon to make it easy to add them to your art library. What are your favorites? (The Artist's Road is an Amazon Associate and may earn from qualifying purchases made from these links.)
I’m a fan of Russian Impressionism. I think they had a way of elevating the ordinary and every day to something beautiful. One of my favorite books is of Isaac Levitan, the Great Collection. The print is in Russian, but I bought it for the wonderful reproductions. (Note: The Russian, Isaak Levitan. Albom is difficult to find. We have added a link to one of the more easily available books on Levitan's art - the 2011 Isaak Levitan: Lyrical Landscape by Averil King.) The second book is one I recently purchased, Soviet Impressionism by Vern Grosvenor Swanson. It also has beautiful reproductions.
When I’m looking for inspiration of bolder color, I turn to Mary Balcomb’s book about Sergei Bongart, which is a feast for the eyes.
I almost always have the big Rizzoli Antonio Lopez Garcia book out on a table in the studio to serve as inspiration. Two other go-to books for inspiration are Stebbins' book on Martin Johnson Heade and any of the big Odd Nerdrum monographs. (We have linked to the Odd Nerdrum: Themes, 2007 collection.)
There are of course many art books that have had big impacts on me for various reasons but if you want me to narrow it down to just three, I guess they would be:
Robert Henri's The Art Spirit. David Herbert, my first painting teacher recommended that I read Henri's book .This was the book I first read and read and read when I first started to paint. It was so inspiring and philosophical and it stoked the fires that were burning in my blood to paint and paint and paint.
John F. Carlson's Carlson's Guide to Landscape Painting. My first 10 years of painting were solely studio painting from life (still life and figures). I lived in Miami, Florida and the landscape was not all that inspiring to me at the time. Later, I moved to New Mexico and began to fall in love with the New Mexico Landscape. Someone recommended Carlson's book and although I didn't have a clue about how to compose or paint a convincing landscape, I really relied on the concepts that were expressed in this invaluable book. I also took lots of workshops from landscape painters whom I admired. For the next 10 years I only painted on location from life. I was a purist and I credit that for helping me to understand how light works out of doors.
Charles Webster Hawthorne's Hawthorne on Painting (Dover Art Instruction). This is another invaluable book for any artist who is interested in the concepts of how to interpret what you see onto a two dimensional surface (canvas or board) solely by the use of accurate color relationships, thereby creating the illusion of three dimensions. This is one of the best books regarding capturing the nuances and impressions of light and color. It also describes exercises and techniques to guide the artist in seeing color shapes instead of objects.
I paint in watercolor, oil and pastel, so my library is wide-ranging, but I find that I return to these three the most often. Over time, my favorites have changed a bit, but these artists’ work always resonate and challenge me to try for their high standards in my own work. Being largely a self-taught painter, reference sources like these combined with trips to see the originals are incredibly important and instructive.
My most imfluential books are not necessarily the most fun books to page through. Rather, they are the ones that have stuck with me, changed me.
My three most influential books, in no particular order, are: The Art of Color and Design by Maitland Graves. I found this book in the San Francisco Public library in the early 1970s. I read it over and over; took notes, and thought about it all the time. When I returned the book to the San Francisco Public Library some years later, the fine was almost $30. (back when $30 was real money!) The book has been out of print for over 50 years. I found a copy in a used bookstore. I still refer to it in my classes.
The two Richard Schmid books from the 1970s; Richard Schmid Paints Landscapes: Creative Techniques in Oil and Richard Schmid Paints the Figure: Advanced Techniques in Oil. I’m cheating a bit to get more books listed, but I see these two books as parts of a whole. The first time I saw Richard's work, it was a revelation—like magic. My family lived in Chicago, and every time I visited, I made a point of visiting the Chicago Art Institute. I also visited a gallery on Oak Street (the gallery name escapes me) where Richard showed his work. Seeing the originals was a first-rate adrenaline rush. I got the message, "More is possible."
The Divine Comedy by Dante Alighieri. I’ve always been a reader. I’ve read most of the classics, from Homer to Shakespeare and back. But I’ve never read anything that pushed its way into my painting like Dante’s Divine Comedy. I find it to be a particularly visual prose as well as a very compelling story. Back in the late '70s and early '80s, I began a project that is on-going to this day. I read a few cantos from the Divine Comedy. Then I put it aside and begin painting. I would begin with an intuition of a color harmony. No preliminary sketches or other preparatory work is used. This thing has a different pulse. What comes forth is very interesting. I throw a lot of pieces away, some of the work looks like it was painted by a lunatic. But there is a voice in it that speaks to me. As Dante says, "Follow your own star."
Choosing only three books seems like an impossible task. How could I leave out Irv Shapiro’s How to Make a Painting? Irv was the director at the American Academy of Art in Chicago, where I studied in 1972 - '73. Or Robert E. Woods’s Watercolor Workshop? The maestro was a real mentor to me in the 1970s. I still remember things he said to me. I often think, "So that’s what he meant." when I hear something that brings me back. For a pure adrenaline rush, I love the great picture books on Sargent, Repin, Levitan, Zorn. Once you start listing them, it becomes more a question of the ones left out.
Though I find books about art - history, monographs, philosophy - inspiring, I rarely revisit them. Paintings in museums and the occasional flip through a book, yes. The trouble is temporal. I am standing in a different light from the first reading and the glints and revelations are now coming from somewhere else. One notable exception to prove the rule (though it has been a long time since I peered into its pages) is Robert Henri's The Art Spirit - an encouraging and enlightening resource, worth revisiting for years.
The first books I made sure I owned were by Ted Kautzky, Herb Olson and John Pike because I wanted to learn watercolor. (We've put links to one of each of these artist's books above. There are many more.) This was in the 50s and they were the only books I knew of that were about watercolor. Then I discovered Andrew Wyeth and the world of becoming an artist opened up before me with so much excitement in trying to understand how one artist could paint in such extreme directions all based on composition. WOW! Of course now there are so many wonderful artists that I can look at on Facebook and I am inspired every day to become as good as I can.
*(This artwork may be protected by copyright. It is posted on the site in accordance with fair use principles.)
Every artist we know has an impressive library of books about art or favorite artists they admire or even books of philosophy to which they turn repeatedly when searching for ideas or inspiration. Some books are perennial sources of inspiration and can be found in almost everyone’s collection. Others are a bit more obscure, hard to find or simply unknown to us. Often, the best way to find a new favorite reference book is word of mouth, so we thought we should ask 12 of our contributing artists what their favorite sources of inspiration are.
Filled with inspirational examples by the masters of nightime painting, this little book is sure to fire up your creative energies. Never tried painting at night? We show you how it's done with a step-by-step-oil demo and a tale of night painting in the wilds of Rocky Mountain National Park. The Primer on Night Painting - Nocturnes is a 7 x 7" PDF download with 40 pages of text and images. It includes a gallery of paintings by masters of the nocturne, information to inspire and encourage you in your plein air nocturne painting, an illustrated step-by-step demo and tips for working in pastel and oil. Also available in a softcover edition. Check out the tools and other products that we use in our own art and travels in The Artist's Road Store. We only offer things for sale that we enthusiastically believe in.
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