The best books for timeless art advice

Who am I?

In the “meme-ification” of the world, the long-form version of learning and practicing skills is getting lost. True discovery happens after a thorough and deep understanding of the subject. Truth is a multilayered, complex exploration that is hard to sum up in a single sentence. 


I wrote...

Graphic L.A.

By Robh Ruppel,

Book cover of Graphic L.A.

What is my book about?

Graphic L.A. is part practical instruction, part guided meditation on the importance of color values and objects in art. By reducing environments down to basic shapes and colors (or "symbols"), Robh builds astounding images. Robh documents the progression of building an image while referencing basic techniques. By using color with surprisingly bold brushstrokes, he produces images of incredible depth with intricate handling of light and shadow. It is a rare exploration into simplicity without resorting to minimalism.

The books I picked & why

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The Human Figure

By John H. Vanderpoel,

Book cover of The Human Figure

Why this book?

Vanderpoel was JC Leyendecker‘s teacher in Chicago. You can’t go wrong by going back to the source. Underneath JC’s style, is rock solid form and structure. With slightly archaic language that takes a while to understand, this book offers huge insight into the structural thinking of how to draw and interpret the human figure.

The Human Figure

By John H. Vanderpoel,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked The Human Figure as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

This great classic is still unrivalled for its clear, detailed presentation of thousands of fundamental features of the human figure. Every element of the body (such as the overhang of the upper lip; the puckering at the corners of the mouth; the characteristic proportions of the head, trunk, limbs, etc.; the tension between connected portions of the body; etc.) is carefully and concisely pointed out in the text. Even more helpful are the 430 pencil and charcoal drawings that illustrate each feature so that you are, in effect, shown what to look for by a master teacher.
The result is…

Drawing Lessons from the Great Masters

By Robert Beverly Hale,

Book cover of Drawing Lessons from the Great Masters

Why this book?

Hale’s book uses master drawings as the basis for his analysis. He shows the critical thinking that went behind the draftsmanship and offers a few choice words on conceiving a solid shape before trying to render it. Style is great but style without understanding is just a bad xerox of an idea. Hale offers a deeper dive into understanding what all those bumps and lumps are and more importantly, the hierarchy to where they sit and what to emphasize. Mindless rendering never helped anyone.

Drawing Lessons from the Great Masters

By Robert Beverly Hale,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Drawing Lessons from the Great Masters as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A book whose sales have not diminished but rather increased dramatically since its publication 45 years ago, this bestselling classic is the ultimate manual of drawing taught by the late Robert Beverly Hale, who's famed lectures and classes at New York City's Art Student League captivated artists and art educators from around the world.

Faithfully producing and methodically analyzing 100 master drawings-including works of Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, Rodin, Goya, and Rembrandt among others-Hale shows how these artists tackled basic problems such as line, light and planes, mass, position and thrust, and anatomy. With detailed analytical captions and diagrams, every…

The Practice of Oil Painting and Drawing

By Solomon J. Solomon,

Book cover of The Practice of Oil Painting and Drawing

Why this book?

This book offers the technical breakdown of painting in grisaille. I only know of a few books that cover it and this one was written by an amazing painter! This was the common practice of Bouguereau and Gerome and is thoroughly explained in this particular volume as well and the rendering of planar “facets.” The practice of grisaille is an important phase in painting. The separation of color and form is partly why so many of the “masters” had such control over form and value.

The Practice of Oil Painting and Drawing

By Solomon J. Solomon,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Practice of Oil Painting and Drawing as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

This instructive volume introduces not only the techniques of oil painting but also the underlying principles of figure drawing. Written by a distinguished Pre-Raphaelite painter, portraitist, and book illustrator, the treatment begins by explaining the construction of the figure, head, and limbs. Succeeding chapters illustrate these teachings with examples of images by the Old Masters, including paintings from the Italian, Dutch, Spanish, French, and British schools.
The Birmingham Daily Post pronounced this volume "probably the most useful handbook for art students that has yet been published." Students at every level of expertise will benefit from its discourses on light and…

The Practice and Science of Drawing

By Harold Speed,

Book cover of The Practice and Science of Drawing

Why this book?

The Practice and Science of Drawing is one of the few books worth reading every page of. I thumbed through it for years before finally reading it. The author breaks down drawing into two major categories, that of line and that of mass, and how they are distinct from one another, yet how they are intertwined in their ability to render form. An awareness of both concepts is crucial to a full education of the artist.

The Practice and Science of Drawing

By Harold Speed,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked The Practice and Science of Drawing as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Much of the learning to practice as well as to appreciate art is concerned with understanding the basic principles. One of these principles is what Harold Speed calls "dither," the freedom that allows realism and the artistic vision to play against each other. Very important to any artist or work of art, this quality separates the scientifically accurate from the artistically accurate. Speed's approach to this problem is now considered a classic, one of the few books from the early years of this century that has continued to be read and recommended by those in the graphic arts.
In this…


The Five C's of Cinematography: Motion Picture Filming Techniques

By Joseph V. Mascelli,

Book cover of The Five C's of Cinematography: Motion Picture Filming Techniques

Why this book?

A photo book that breaks down composition into a very simple workman-like manner not relying on formula. Too many times composition is taught as a formula or “rules of thirds,” which simply scratches the surface as to what composition can and should be doing for the artist. The author offers a different perspective than that of a painter but just as valid.

The Five C's of Cinematography: Motion Picture Filming Techniques

By Joseph V. Mascelli,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Five C's of Cinematography as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

With the aid of photographs and diagrams, this text concisely presents concepts and techniques of motion picture camerawork and the allied areas of film-making with which they interact with and impact. Included are discussions on: cinematic time and space; compositional rules; and types of editing.

5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in drawing, painting, and figure drawing?

6,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about drawing, painting, and figure drawing.

Drawing Explore 56 books about drawing
Painting Explore 41 books about painting
Figure Drawing Explore 12 books about figure drawing

And, 3 books we think you will enjoy!

We think you will like Bridgman's Life Drawing, An Atlas of Animal Anatomy for Artists, and Oil Painting Techniques and Materials if you like this list.