So, I did a book review article a few years ago for Epilogue, wherein I listed all my favorite illustration technique and art theory books, and I was thinking - why not re-do that here, with a few additions and updates to bring it into... the future! I'll split it up over a few posts to make it a bit more bite-sized.
One subject artists like to talk about is art technique books. The ones they love, the ones they hate, the ones they can’t do without. Everyone has their favorites, and I certainly have mine.
First, a bit of info about my library might be interesting: I have a hobby of sorts, which is reading and collecting books on art technique. I have lots of obscure artists’ magazines from the 1930s and ’40s, and even a number of tutorial books from the 1920’s era. The great thing about these is that they are from the aptly termed “Golden Age of Illustration”. There was, at that time a vast, popular appreciation for illustrators, many of whom had the sort of superstar status which is today reserved for performing geniuses like Britney Spears and Keanu Reeves. With this popular support came an exceedingly high standard of craft, which is reflected in the books of the time; they can be very enlightening.
I counted the other day, and I'm up to about 250 technique/artist books, plus another 400 or so reference books. Quite a library! And here's a few of my favorites.
Rendering in Pen and Ink, Arthur Guptill
Rendering in Pencil, Arthur Guptill
Color in Sketching and Rendering, Arthur Guptill
I’ll start with my favorite writer on the subject of art: Arthur Guptill. The man just flat-out knows how to write an instruction book! I re-read these and other books of his periodically, just for the joy of running my eyes over his prose and excellent examples. Even though they were written in the 1930’s and ’40s, they are as useful today as they ever were. They all center around architectural and landscape rendering, rather than figure drawing. But that's fine with me, as there are plenty of books out there that focus only on drawing people. And (I've found) most of us need to work more on our architecture anyway..
Amazingly, two of these books, Rendering in Pencil and Color in Sketching and Rendering, are out of print, though they seem to print the Pencil book every few years, so it’s easier to find. These books are complete, they’re easy to follow, and they include lots and lots of stunning examples by different top artists of the day, representing as many different styles as Guptill could find, it seems.
I still grab one of these books off the shelf to read in bed every few months or so to look through. They're always entertaining and still educational. Along with Figure Drawing for All It's Worth by Loomis, I think the one indispensable book for any beginning illustrator is Rendering in Pen and Ink.
The Illustrator’s Bible, Rob Howard
The subtitle (though potentially coma-inducing) says it all: The Complete Sourcebook of Tips, Tricks, and Time-Saving Techniques in Oil, Alkalyd, Acrylic, Gouache, Casein, Watercolor, Dyes, Inks, Airbrush, Scratchboard, Pastel, and Mixed Media. They couldn't say it if it wasn't true, could they? Well, maybe they could, but in this case it's true anyway...
It ’s very well written and filled with unexpected tips from the personal experiences of a very good commercial artist. If you're at all interested in traditional media (and you should be!) I think you’ll enjoy it.
Figure Drawing for All It's Worth, Andrew Loomis
Creative Illustration, Andrew Loomis
(Out of Print)
You may have heard of Loomis, but until you have read one of his books you simply don’t know what you are missing. Here is a man who is both a master illustrator and a master teacher. His knowledge and his ability to convey this knowledge in print are both breathtaking. I'm truly sure that everything you would ever need to know about being a professional illustrator is contained within these books - the rest you could teach yourself.
The subjects covered in these books are all indispensable to any illustrator: from basic techniques such as perspective, composition, figure drawing and using reference, to such advanced ideas as how to proceed from a client’s brief to final art.
Sadly, problems between Mr. Loomis’ estate and potential publishers have kept these and other Loomis books out of print for 30 years or more. Walter Foster offers some VERY truncated volumes, but they’re really only useful for looking at the pretty pictures - I’m afraid I can’t recommend those. There’s good news though - you can sometimes find some scanned versions of the books online. If you dig hard enough It’s a pain but it’s better than nothing… Or you can save up your money and buy one yourself, but expect to spend $75 - $250 or more, depending mostly on the edition and condition.
Keep your eyes peeled for a bargain - they’re worth it. In the meantime, the links above will take you to Amazon where there are usually some used copies for sale at various prices.
Bridgman's Complete Guide to Drawing from Life, George Bridgman
(a.k.a. Bridgman’s Life Drawing)
Bridgman’s easy-to-follow “constructive anatomy” technique is a great standard, and very useful to the working artist. This book is not very expensive, and can often be found used.
Well, that's it for this time. I really hope you take a look at some of these, you won't regret it. I'll post some more soon.