The best watercolor painting books

Many authors have picked their favorite books about watercolor painting and why they recommend each book.

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By Stephanie Pui-Mun Law,

Book cover of Dreamscapes: Creating Magical Angel, Faery & Mermaid Worlds In Watercolor

Pui-Mun Law has been one of my favorite artists since I discovered her website over twenty years ago. She is an accomplished artist, and her books are not only filled with beautiful artwork that will inspire any fantasy artist, but also contain very detailed tutorials and sketches.  Although the tutorials focus on finishing pieces using watercolor, this book is also filled with beautiful pencil sketches and guides on drawing different poses, body parts, and scenery to suit your fantasy character. Her watercolor style is uniquely detailed and precise, which makes the book a great reference for artists using drawing mediums as well. 

Who am I?

I have been drawing fantasy creatures and characters for over thirty years now, and have collected hundreds of fantasy, art, and art instruction books over the decades. Both drawing and reading are a passion of mine, so I am happy to share some of my favorite fantasy art books that I have in my own personal library.

I wrote...

Drawing Fantastic Dragons: Create Amazing Full-Color Dragon Art, Including Eastern, Western and Classic Beasts

By Sandra Staple,

Book cover of Drawing Fantastic Dragons: Create Amazing Full-Color Dragon Art, Including Eastern, Western and Classic Beasts

What is my book about?

Drawing Fantastic Dragons teaches you all the tricks and techniques you’ll need to create your own amazing dragons and bring them to life in distinct and dramatic colors. With easy-to-follow, step-by-step instructions, you’ll discover how to draw all types of dragons. Packed with example after example, this hands-on guide features dragons of all shapes and sizes, and includes a special section on how to draw unique beasts. It also features a special section on adding claws, scales, horns, beards, and other details to your dragons. 


By John Marx,

Book cover of Etudes: The Poetry of Dreams + Other Fragments

An award-winning architect and poet, Marx explores creative ideas through poetry and watercolors, giving a very different way to view the art and craft of architecture. The paintings have a mysterious calm to them—evoking the work of Giorgio de Chirico—and are poetic in themselves. And then, you get actual poetry alongside the paintings! Graphic artist Jeremy Mende’s layout of the poems adds yet another layer of artistry. The tactility of the book as an object is delightful. Printed on thick watercolor paper, the book appears as a precious portfolio of secret thoughts and dreams. 

Who am I?

Books are my passion; architecture relates to my profession. The combination, for me, is pure joy. I get such pleasure building my personal library of architecture, design, art, and photography books. After having been a magazine editor and writer, I founded Taylor & Company in 1994, to promote the value of architecture and design. My respect for architects is deep—they create something that must function in all ways and are still able to express themselves creatively. The books I’ve selected are all written by architects, giving me an extra layer of admiration for their talents to express themselves in other media. 

I wrote...

Spa: The Sensuous Experience

By Robert D. Henry, Julie D. Taylor,

Book cover of Spa: The Sensuous Experience

What is my book about?

Spa: The Sensuous Experience is an international array of 50 beautifully designed spas. Each profile includes the spa’s location, design, and treatments—and how those traits all relate to each other to give a holistic experience. Divided into chapters based on spa type (day, medical, resort, thermal, etc.), the book welcomed guest essayists for each section. Sites as remote as Keflavik, Iceland, and as active as Las Vegas are included, along with major locales in North America, Asia, Europe, the Middle East, North Africa, and Australasia. The book also features a rare look at a day spa by eccentric Austrian artist and architect Friedensreich Hundertwasser. Part travelogue, part design book, part treatment review, the book’s aim is to engage readers by enticing their senses.

Martin's Big Words

By Doreen Rappaport, Bryan Collier (illustrator),

Book cover of Martin's Big Words: The Life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

The Reverend Martin Luther King is best known for his rousing “I Have a Dream” speech at the 1963 March on Washington. This biography shows how his religious upbringing in the segregated South honed the faith and fortitude to lead the Civil Rights Movement.

Who am I?

Carole Boston Weatherford, author of Unspeakable: The Tulsa Race Massacre, has over 60 books, including the Newbery Honor winner, BOX: Henry Brown Mails Himself to Freedom, and three Caldecott Honor winners: Freedom in Congo Square, Voice of Freedom: Fannie Lou Hamer, and Moses: When Harriet Tubman Led Her People to Freedom. Recent titles include Beauty Mark: A Verse Novel of Marilyn Monroe, R-E-S-P-E-C-T: Aretha Franklin, The Queen of Soul, and The Roots of Rap: 16 Bars on the 4 Pillars of Hip Hop. A two-time NAACP Image Award winner, she teaches at Fayetteville State University in North Carolina.

I wrote...

Voice of Freedom: Fannie Lou Hamer: The Spirit of the Civil Rights Movement

By Carole Boston Weatherford, Ekua Holmes (illustrator),

Book cover of Voice of Freedom: Fannie Lou Hamer: The Spirit of the Civil Rights Movement

What is my book about?

Stirring poems and stunning collage illustrations combine to celebrate the life of Fannie Lou Hamer, a champion of equal voting rights.

Despite fierce prejudice and abuse, even being beaten to within an inch of her life, Fannie Lou Hamer was a champion of civil rights from the 1950s until her death in 1977. Integral to the Freedom Summer of 1964, Ms. Hamer gave a speech at the Democratic National Convention that, despite President Johnson’s interference, aired on national TV news and spurred the nation to support the Freedom Democrats. Featuring vibrant mixed-media art full of intricate detail, Voice of Freedom celebrates Fannie Lou Hamer’s life and legacy with a message of hope, determination, and strength.

The Knight and the Dragon

By Tomie dePaola,

Book cover of The Knight and the Dragon

More than anything I love a picture book where a princess is also a librarian. In this story, the knight and dragon learn everything from books—like tail swishing and building armor, all of which lead to a big, pointless fight that leaves them bruised, burned, and battered. The librarian shows up in a book-mobile and hands the dragon and knight BBQ cookbooks. In the last illustration spread, they are shown with a hopping K& D BAR-B-Q joint. I especially enjoy how the armor and fire-breath that were previously used for fighting each other, are now used successfully for their restaurant venture. De Paola’s simple and colorful watercolors bring the story to life, and show that we can all get along really well! 

Who are we?

The subject of friendship can be explored endlessly, as every friendship is unique. I am especially drawn to stories of unlikely friendships that look at the surprising and interesting ways that we show up for one another. One of the things that I see in all of the stories that Giselle and I have chosen, is that these unusual friendships make a difficult, awkward, or downright scary world a better place to be. 

We wrote and illustrated...

Olive & Pekoe: In Four Short Walks

By Jacky Davis, Giselle Potter (illustrator),

Book cover of Olive & Pekoe: In Four Short Walks

What is our book about?

Olive & Pekoe: In Four Short Walks is the story of two dogs taking daily walks together and is told in four vignettes. Olive is very old and wise, and Pekoe is rambunctious and inexperienced, and even though they are significantly different, they are still the best of friends. Together they explore the woods, enjoy sticks, get caught in bad weather, and confront a mean bully in a dog park.

A starred Kirkus review, calls the book, “A delight.” And says, “Illustrator Potter’s impressively expressive naïve-style watercolor, ink and colored-pencil illustrations perfectly nuance author Davis’ witty text.”

Leon and Bob

By Simon James,

Book cover of Leon and Bob

Leon and his mom are new to town. His dad is in the army. Leon shares his new room with his imaginary friend, Bob. Their friendship is as important as it is real, to Leon. A tender and loving relationship. A boy moves in next door. Read the book to see how sweet this deceivingly simple story is. The words are sparse and well-chosen. The artwork is loose and expressive ink linework. Beautiful watercolor washes. The imaginary friend theme is treated in a fresh way. I am always touched by the portrayal of little boys’ natural sweetness - as they really are when allowed to be. 

Who am I?

I decided at the age of 5 that I wanted to write and illustrate books for children. That is exactly what I have been doing the last 40 years of my adult life. I find that I walk around seeing and hearing the world as potential stories. It’s fun! I can not imagine doing anything else for a living! I recommended the 5 books that I did because they are a little strange and curious and thought-provoking. The art, as well. Therefore, they feel like they emerged from the author/illustrator from that place within, way down deep, where only authentic expression of self can be found. 

I wrote...

Is That You, Eleanor Sue?

By Tricia Tusa,

Book cover of Is That You, Eleanor Sue?

What is my book about?

Eleanor Sue loves to play dress-up. She decides to ring her own front doorbell to try out these various characters on her mother. Is her mother fooled? Is mom playing along? Hard to know until the reader is pulled into the big surprise. The book confirms the fun of imaginative play and how far it takes us into that realm within. And how satisfying it is to share it with someone you love and trust. And finally, it was fun for me to do a book with a lot of underlying femaleness. An expressive young girl, a willing (and tireless!!) mother, and a grandmother with a dry sense of humor. It was a satisfying feeling when this idea came to me, and equally satisfying to come up with artwork to fill out the words.

Mary's Monster

By Lita Judge,

Book cover of Mary's Monster: Love, Madness, and How Mary Shelley Created Frankenstein

Holy moly, what a beautiful book. Take a look at Lita Judge’s social media just to absorb her varied and stunning artwork. Then pick up this title about a teenage Mary Shelley and dive in. The novel is written in free verse, with over three hundred black-and-white watercolor illustrations, the kind of thing I sometimes have to force myself to stop and absorb. But with these, I happily took my time, enjoying the art as a full part of the storytelling, which is spare, beautiful, and begging to be gobbled up

Who am I?

When I was pitching my then novel-in-progress, Me, Myself, and Him to editors and agents, I usually got one of two responses: either “That sounds like a tough sell” or “That sounds great, and not like anything I’ve seen before.” Of course, I preferred to hear the latter, but I also enjoyed winning over skeptics by giving them something much more accessible than they might have expected, based on my pitch. It all speaks to the special place I have in my heart for the books you never expect to love…and then love anyway.

I wrote...

Me Myself & Him

By Chris Tebbetts,

Book cover of Me Myself & Him

What is my book about?

When Chris Schweitzer takes a hit of whippets and passes out face first on the cement, his nose isn’t the only thing that changes forever. For the last summer after high school, he’s shipped off to live with his famous physicist but jerk of a father to prove he can “play by the rules” before Dad will pay for college. Or...not.

In an alternate timeline, Chris’s parents remain blissfully ignorant about the accident, and life at home goes back to normal–until it doesn’t. A new spark between his two best (straight) friends quickly turns Chris into a (gay) third wheel, and even worse, the truth about the whippets incident starts to unravel. Is it possible to be jealous of another version of yourself in an alternate reality that doesn’t even exist?

My Friend Fear

By Meera Lee Patel,

Book cover of My Friend Fear: Finding Magic in the Unknown

One of the challenges of running an online teaching business is starting on the path of the unknown. I’ve had to face many fears on my journey, some of them are so well-masked that it took years to understand what they are. These fears have held me back. That’s why I appreciate reading Meera’s reflections on fear, how to befriend it and see it as an indication for growth. Beautifully written and illustrated, this book is a delight to hold in your hands, and I believe its message will gently guide you towards a life of overcoming your fears so you can journey into a new land of entrepreneurship with more curiosity and confidence.

Who am I?

The start of my own online teaching business in 2010 felt both liberating and frustrating. I enjoyed working for myself but struggled to make my offers unique, attractive, sustainable, and successful. I had no idea how to make my voice heard in the highly-saturated and fast-growing online teaching industry. Following the advice of famous online business gurus, I lost track of what I wanted my business to accomplish and burned out following every online teaching trend there was. The books I’ve selected helped me align with my own vision and values, inspired me to overcome my limitations and succeed on my own terms.

I wrote...

Grounded Growth: Sustainable and Profitable Online Teaching Business On Your Own Terms

By Elena Mutonono,

Book cover of Grounded Growth: Sustainable and Profitable Online Teaching Business On Your Own Terms

What is my book about?

Grounded Growth is a book for online language teachers and coaches who struggle to make their businesses profitable and their 1:1 client work sustainable. When most of your income comes from client work, you find yourself exhausted and anxious about the future of your business, as client numbers may fluctuate.

Grounded Growth shows to you, in detail, how sustainability and profitability work in an online language teaching business, what stifles growth, how money shame can sabotage your success, and what action steps you need to take in order to make your business healthy on your own terms. Find detailed examples, budget templates, and new teaching formats that work for any small and budget-conscious online teaching business.

Water Sings Blue

By Kate Coombs, Meilo So (illustrator),

Book cover of Water Sings Blue

To me, this book feels like a walk along the beach. I pick up each poem, sink into the swirls and splashes of color, and let my mind wander. Books that encourage such meandering strolls near the ocean have a special place in my heart: the idea for my horseshoe crab book started on just such a walk. Water Sings Blue is a great reminder that you never know what wonders you will discover when you go outside and let your curiosity guide you. 

Who am I?

I spent long days at the beach as a kid, and sharp bits of horseshoe crab shells in my sandcastles were a frequent annoyance. As an adult, I discovered a horseshoe crab lurching its way back to the water and wondered: What's the deal with this weird animal? To find out, I read books, talked with scientists, and assisted with horseshoe crab and shorebird research. What I discovered—about horseshoe crabs, other animals, and the water they live in—was too amazing to keep to myself. I hope my book encourages kids to go out and explore wild places, too!

I wrote...

High Tide for Horseshoe Crabs

By Lisa Kahn Schnell, Alan Marks (illustrator),

Book cover of High Tide for Horseshoe Crabs

What is my book about?

Every spring, millions of horseshoe crabs crawl to the shore to lay their eggs, just as they have since before dinosaurs roamed the earth. But they aren’t the only ones crowding the beaches! Flocks of shorebirds stop to feed on the horseshoe crab eggs. Scientists and tourists turn out to see the spectacle and learn more about the animals that call this habitat home for a few weeks. 

With layered text and in-depth back matter, High Tide for Horseshoe Crabs engages readers at multiple levels. Evocative watercolor paintings by Alan Marks bring young beach explorers down to the shoreline to observe this exciting annual event that interconnects species. Come join the frenzy!

If We Were Gone

By John Coy, Natalie Capannelli (illustrator),

Book cover of If We Were Gone: Imagining the World Without People

Another picture book dealing with difficult themes. John Coy’s, If We Were Gone speaks to what would happen should humanity fall into environmental catastrophe. While this is a very real and frightening topic for many of us, it handles the subject with a gentle tone and so much care, the reader can’t help but feel comforted. John’s book reminds us that we need the environment much more than it needs us, and that one day or another, there will be greener days ahead.

Who am I?

In my kidlit writing, I am someone who almost exclusively writes more difficult topics, grounded in reality. My debut deals with the police-sanctioned murder of Black people. My second book deals with mental illness and how to bounce back from sad days in a way that’s accessible to young people. I thoroughly enjoy reading and writing more thoughtful picture books with much to say about our greater world. 

I wrote...

Sarah Rising

By Ty Chapman,

Book cover of Sarah Rising

What is my book about?

Sarah starts her day like any other day. But today isn't a day like any other day. Today, her dad brings her to a protest to speak out against police violence against Black people. When Sarah spots a beautiful monarch butterfly and follows it through the crowd, she finds herself inside the no-man's land between the line of police and protesters. Sarah is confronted with the cruelty of those who are supposed to protect her and learns what it feels like to protect and be protected.

Inspired by the protests that happened during the Minneapolis Uprising after the police killing of George Floyd, Sarah Rising provides a child's-eye view of a protest and offers an opportunity for children to talk about why people take to the streets to protest racial injustice.

If I Were a Bear

By Shelley Gill,

Book cover of If I Were a Bear

What I found most enjoyable about If I Were a Bear is that it uses a rhyming text to share simple facts about various Alaskan bears. It’s a lovely combination of lyrical writing and nonfiction, with soft watercolor illustrations by Erik Brooks. Young children love hearing rhyming texts (their brains actually need rhythm and patterns for healthy development!), so whenever I find a book with well-written rhyme that conveys factual information, it’s a winner in my book!

Who am I?

I’m the author of 25 children’s books, and I recently moved to a small mountain town that has come to co-exist with wild black bears by learning how to properly store and dispose of our food (rather than the alternative, which was to eliminate the bears!). Ever since I’ve lived there, I’ve been fascinated by human-bear interactions, having a few of my own now! When Yosemite Conservancy put out a call for children’s stories, I knew exactly what I wanted to write about—how people can help keep bears safe and wild through proper food storage. I’m a huge advocate for bears and all wildlife!

I wrote...

Eat Up, Bear!

By Terry Pierce, Nadja Sarell (illustrator),

Book cover of Eat Up, Bear!

What is my book about?

Curious, hungry black bears just want to eat! Juicy berries, tender grubs, sticky honey—that’s good bear food. But if little adventurers and their families don’t watch out, their food will be bear food, too! The rhyming text and vibrant pictures in this board book show how people of all ages can help keep bears safe and thriving. Perfect for first-time and seasoned campers alike.

Years ago, a bear stole all my food on a backpacking trip, despite tying the food in a tall pine tree (bears are persistent when they know food is at hand—or should I say “paw”!). This book is written to teach toddlers and their families about food storage so this doesn’t happen to them, and helps keep bears wild.

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