The best books to make you a better artist

Who am I?

Although I have been a professional artist for over forty years, I have never yet gotten to the point where I imagine I have it all figured out. There are always new techniques to learn, and new mediums to explore. The books on this list are ones I have found helpful in nudging me in new and productive directions. 

I wrote...

Perspective! for Comic Book Artists

By David Chelsea,

Book cover of Perspective! for Comic Book Artists

What is my book about?

Illustrator and graphic novelist David Chelsea and his hollow-headed pupil Mugg together explore the many aspects of perspective, the art of rendering the visual effect of distance on objects. In an entertaining, step-by-step comic strip format, David and Mugg demonstrate basic concepts of perspective by constructing vivid, spectacular landscapes and architectural interiors. Though designed with the beginning artist in mind, Perspective! for Comic Book Artists will also be useful to working professionals looking to brush up on their skills. 

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of Revealing Illustrations: The Art of James McMullan

Why did I love this book?

James McMullan is one of America’s preeminent illustrators, working consistently from the 60s to today. He may be most familiar for his long series of posters for Broadway shows at Lincoln Center, but he has also done magazine illustrations, children's books, record covers, and animation. Running parallel to his illustration work has been a long career in teaching, principally at New York’s School of Visual Arts (for which he also has done a series of subway posters). I was privileged to take his SVA illustration course– which had a stringent portfolio review – for two years early in my career, about the time this book appeared. No collection of greatest hits, or even a guide to achieving McMullan’s juicy watercolor style, this is a thoroughly candid tour through an illustrator’s work process, including a generous selection of preliminary sketches and reference photos.

Like many of the students who passed through his course, I worked in a McMullanoid watercolor style for a few years. The style I was eventually able to shed, but the method outlined in this book is one I continue to follow.

By James McMullan,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Revealing Illustrations as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

signed hardback book with dust jacket titled REVEALING ILLUSTRATIONS.

Book cover of A Closer Look: The Art Techniques of Patrick Woodroffe

Why did I love this book?

British illustrator Patrick Woodroffe was an eclectic virtuoso, working with equal facility in oils, acrylic, pencil, pen and ink, silverpoint, and a unique technique of his own involving cutout drawings photographed in natural settings. Like McMullan’s, this book gives you a practical look inside one artist’s creative process. One remark of Woodroffe’s helped set me free artistically: “I don’t think strict accuracy is important, for if art is to offer us anything at all that is not to be found ‘out there’ or in photographs, then it can only come from those fortunate instances when the artist sees something not quite straight, when his visual memory fails him just a little. Getting it at least slightly wrong is I believe what art is all about.”

By Patrick Woodroffe,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked A Closer Look as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The celebrated fantasy artist reveals the creative process behind his paintings, etchings, and photographs

Book cover of The Artist's Complete Guide to Facial Expression

Why did I love this book?

Gary Faigin is the guy I took my first and only perspective class from, back when he was teaching at the New York Academy of Arts. Eventually we became friends, and fortunately for me he never wrote a book on perspective. Instead, Gary channeled his considerable knowledge of anatomy and drawing into the indispensable book on facial expressions. In profusely illustrated chapters, Gary breaks down the daunting complexity of facial expressions into six basics: joy, anger, sadness, disgust, fear, and surprise. Like the primary colors, this basic palette yields the full spectrum of extreme to subtle, in-between, and mixed expressions. 

By Gary Faigin,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Artist's Complete Guide to Facial Expression as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Artists will love this book, the definitive guide to capturing facial expressions. In a carefully organised, easy-to-use format, author Gary Faigin shows readers the expressions created by individual facial muscles, then draws them together in a section devoted to the six basic human emotions: sadness, anger, joy, fear, disgust and surprise. Each emotion is shown in steadily increasing intensity and Faigin's detailed renderings are supplemented by clear explanatory text, additional sketches and finished work. An appendix includes yawning, wincing and other physical reactions. Want to create portraits that capture the real person? Want to draw convincing illustrations? Want to show…

Book cover of The Magic Mirror of M.C. Escher

Why did I love this book?

Legendary artist and printmaker M.C. Escher wrote very little about his working method, but fortunately, he gave writer and longtime friend Bruno Ernst full access to his creative process. Ernst does a superb job unpacking the reasoning and revealing the secrets of this always logical but sometimes opaque master. After I read Ernst's chapter explaining the cylindrical perspective in Escher’s classic prints "House of Stairs" and "High And Low", I went right to work drawing my own cylindrical grid, which eventually appeared in my second instructional book Extreme Perspective!

By Bruno Ernst,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Magic Mirror of M.C. Escher as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

Architectural Graphics

By Francis D. K. Ching,

Book cover of Architectural Graphics

Why did I love this book?

I owe Francis D.K. Ching big time. What I learned about perspective in art school served me well enough during my first few years as a working illustrator, but there came a time when I faced a perspective problem beyond my experience on deadline, and I needed to pick up new skills fast. I knew the neighbor in the next apartment over was a graphic designer, so I knocked on her door to ask if she had any books on perspective, and this is what she had on the shelf. The perspective section is only a small part of this elegantly drawn and hand-lettered book, but the information in it was enough to solve my immediate problem and set me to exploring perspective on my own (and some thirty years later, I found my neighbor again on LinkedIn and returned her copy).

By Francis D. K. Ching,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Architectural Graphics as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The bestselling guide to architectural drawing, with new information, examples, and resources Architectural Graphics is the classic bestselling reference by one of the leading global authorities on architectural design drawing, Francis D.K. Ching. Now in its sixth edition, this essential guide offers a comprehensive introduction to using graphic tools and drafting conventions to translate architectural ideas into effective visual presentations, using hundreds of the author's distinctive drawings to illustrate the topic effectively. This updated edition includes new information on orthographic projection in relation to 3D models, and revised explanations of line weights, scale and dimensioning, and perspective drawing to clarify…

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