Recommended Art Books for Watercolour Artists
by JL Farmer

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Sharing the books that are real gems for me and have helped me along in my watercolour painting. All links below are (non-commission) amazon UK links, but the URL can be changed to read .com, .fr etc. Here are just some of the more outstanding books that I have found to be so useful as well as beautiful - both recent publications and also not so recent. Great additions to the library of all watercolour artists.

The Artist's Guide to Composition
by Frank Webb, David & Charles, 1995 (UK edition)

Arguably the most important book that any budding artist - using any media - could hope to acquire. Frank Webb is such a brilliant artist who also understands all of the various elements of design and is able to put them across in a very understandable way. Take your time with this book. Read one chapter a day if necessary so as to take it all and digest it all. Such a wonderful book, I recommend it at the highest possible level.

USA edition is called
Strengthen Your Paintings With Dynamic Composition (Elements of Painting) (see below.)

Watercolor for the Serious Beginner
by Mary Whyte, Watson-Guptill, 1997

This was the very first watercolour book that I ever bought, from Pacific Bookshop, Santa Cruz in 1998. I love this book and have read it to death so very many times since I bought it. This book is a classic among classics. Mary goes for the best in everything and she certainly achieves the best in this wonderful book. Highly recommended. Out of print and not often for sale at low price; maybe bookmark the link and check back from time to time (I recently bought two more copies for less than £20 each.)

"According to author Frank Webb, "Composition is more important than fact, technique, or subject." To create compelling, expressive works, you must make the composition the foundation of your plan. This book provides example-by-example demonstrations of how you can achieve this.

The works of 24 professional artists included in this book give you an over-the-shoulder look at how to apply composition techniques. Armed with this information, you can paint a powerful picture and—just as importantly—analyze and improve a work that has gone wrong."

Please note: I do not recommend this book as published by
Echo Point Books & Media, 2015.
Why not? I found it to be very disappointing. The paper is matt paper and the graphics in the book are not the same reproduced colour, nor as vibrant as the original North Light Books edition, which is printed on better quality paper. Yes, the North Light edition is somewhat hard to find and usually more expensive, but I bookmarked the amazon URL above and found two copies within a few days of each other. You will be glad that you waited and bought the original edition ...

Published in the UK (with UK English spelling ;-) as
The Artist's Guide to Composition by David & Charles, 1995

Breaking the Rules of Watercolour
by Shirley Trevena, Batsford Ltd, 2012

An absolutely gorgeous book that shows (and discusses) the freedom of painting with gorgeous colours and freehand techniques, without using a pencil drawing in advance. Shirley gives an in-depth analysis of ten of her paintings, explains the process of their construction and the techniques involved in their accomplishment. A highly recommended book for every watercolour artist - especially people who come from a traditional watercolour background and want to experiment with new ways of working with this wonderful medium.

Jean Haines' World of Watercolour
by Jean Haines, Search Press, 2015

This has to be one of the most important books on watercolour painting that has been written in this new millennium.
For me, the most bell-ringing statements in Jean's book (page 14) are in her own words at how she began to move forward with her art: "I wanted to grow as an artist and so I moved from painting botanical flowers to classical landscapes. My watercolours then were perfect without a single watermark in sight, as that was how I had been taught. I painted in the same way as everyone else on every art course I attended at that time. Each student ended up with similarly perfect images of a church or village scene that had been painted a million times before in almost the same colours and using exactly the same techniques. My inner artistic spirit was fading." Stunning book and highly recommended.

Painting Realistic Abstracts
by Kees van Aalst, Search Press, 2010

Publisher: "This book introduces the concept of realistic abstract painting - a loosely impressionistic form of painting that leaves much to the imagination of the viewer. The subject, though recognisable, is executed with freedom and fluidity, resulting in a painting that is far from photographic. It has been described as the 'grey' area between figurative and abstract painting, yet there is nothing dull about this style, as the numerous colourful examples in this book show."

I like to think of the essence of this book as being the psychology of watercolour painting - it really is that good. Several works by different artists portray the various techniques that were used to accomplish their work and the whole book rolls on with one light after another going on in one's head. Every artist's library would greatly benefit by having this book very close to hand. I hardly put the book down for the first two months after I started reading it and still use it regularly as a reference guide. A stunning must-have book.

Watercolour Textures
by Ann Blockley, Collins, 200 7

"Flowers, leaves and seedheads…also landscapes, animals and still lifes done in a way that will definitely make you look twice. [Warecolour Textures]Offers all kinds of opportunities for development." The Artist Magazine

Ann uses the examples of the more traditional watercolour painting of florals and landscapes (though not exclusively) to illustrate the different methods of the addition of texture to her work. Brushmarks, back runs, washing out, lifting colour - many techniques are shown and explained in Ann's truly gorgeous paintings. A rich and beautifully illustrated book.

Tate Watercolour Manual Lessons from the Great Masters
by Joyce H. Townsend and Tony Smibert, Tate Publishing, 2014

From the editors: "This accessible and clear workbook is both a practical guide and informative history - beginning with a 1-day course , the chapters cover technique, equipment and general theory, leading to twelve short sections examining the master watercolour artists. The authors also include following chapters on plein air, painting conservation, and a short overview of contemporary watercolour practice readers. Each chapter includes photographs and helpful examples of works in progress, methods and how-to demonstrations. Firmly designed for those who have not picked up a paintbrush since schooldays as well as more seasoned watercolour practitioners, Joyce Townsend and Tony Smibert have used their considerable expertise to develop a book with a breadth of content suitable for anyone who wants to become painter in watercolour, be a more assured and better artist, or simply gain new understanding of the great British watercolourists."

And non-British watercolourists too, such as French painters, Claude Lorrain and Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot and Russian artist Alexander Cozens.

There are nine artists portrayed in this book. Along with the above mentioned three artists, there are six British artists:  John Sell Cotman, J. M. W. Turner, Thomas Girtin, John Constable, David Cox and John Ruskin. There are biographies - along with art works and techniques used - all wonderfully displayed in quality colour and published on quality paper.

The instructional pages (generously displayed and often numerous) of the techniques employed by these artists are absolutely stunning and along with the 45 pages that precede the main section which include 25 pages concerning the nature of watercolour, paper, brushes, drawing materials, pigments, paint boxes, advice for schools, art work preservation along with a 7 page introductory course and the 17 pages that follow the main "Masters" pages, make for a top-shelf book that artists will enjoy, yeah, love. Highly recommended.

See also my article "Studying the Past-Masters of Watercolour Painting"

Painting Light and Shade
by Paul Millichip, Batsford, 1994

I love this book; it's a travelling artist's paradise of a book and a constant source of visual beauty. One day, I want to be able to paint like this. Gorgeous sections on the Greek Islands and Southern Morocco. Recommended for every artist's library.

The Watercolorist's Complete Guide to Color
by Tom Hill - North Light Books, 1992

Essential reading. Tom doesn't just talk about colour and colour mixing, he delves into the aesthetics of shadows and light, palettes that work and much more. Highly illustrated throughout with full-size, colour travel paintings, a must-have for every watercolour artist.

Watercolor: Go With the Flow
by Guy Lipsomb - Watson-Guptill, 1993

Along with artists Frank Webb, Paul Millichip, Tom Hill, Jerry McClish and Ron Ranson, Guy Lipscomb can also be justifiably placed within the grand realm of the "Grand-Daddy" exponents of the principles of 20th century loose watercolour painting. This book is full of demonstrations, along with chapters on drawing and the importance of composition. Highly recommended.

Loose Watercolor: A Step-by-Step Painting Guide
by Jerry McClish - Hand Books Press, 2003

This was the first book that I found on the subject of loose watercolor painting which then led me on to discover the work of Frank Webb and other artists on this important subject of loose watercolour. I still read this book today - and always will - and still have much joy when I browse through its contents and read once again the first guide I had to the steps I have taken along the way.

Watercolor School (Reader's Digest Learn-As-You-Go Guide)
by Hazel Harrison - Reader's Digest Association, 1993

From beginning to end this book is worth every penny. Hazel starts at the beginning with artist materials and works all the way up from basic to advanced techniques. A real gem of a book.

More coming soon...

Written by JL Farmer
December 11, 2015


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