Painting Technique – Suggested Bibliography


I list bellow some books that I consider fundamental for a complete artistic training. This list is not exhaustive as I am mainly considering manuals that include practical advise. Many more should perhaps be included about non-western traditions as well as history of art, aesthetics and anthropology.
These books are arranged per period, so you can jump to the section that interests you the most.



Greek and Roman Methods of Painting: Some Comments on the Statements Made, By Pliny and Vitruvius About Wall and Panel Painting, by A. P. Laurie
Originally published in 1910, this book analyses Greek and Roman painting techniques, using evidence from ancient writings and archaeological remains, including those from Pompeii. Laurie examines how ancient artists could have created certain colours from natural ingredients and the influence of ancient Egyptian methods on Graeco-Roman artists over time.


The Materials of the Painter’s Craft in Europe and Egypt: from Earliest Times to the End of the XVIIIth Century, With Some Account of Their Preparation and Use, by A. P. Laurie
This book, extends the scope of the previous book in order to include very interesting information about the pigments, mediums and techniques of western art created across different eras.


Techniques of Icon and Wall Painting, by Aidan Hart
I can thoroughly recommend this book as a ‘Once in a lifetime’ publication that will be the standard textbook for icon or wall painters for many years to come. This is the most comprehensive manual on Greek-Byzantine iconography produced to date, covering all aspects but most importantly teaching the complete set of techniques required to produce an icon.

Prosopon School of Iconography
This series of DVDs are intended for broad range of iconographers, artists, and anyone who is interested in the ancient art of Russian Icon-writing; no artistic background is necessary. The entire process consists of 22 steps of practice and demonstrates each step of the painting process, from the roskrysh to the final oiling. It is followed by a theological explanation by the Master-Iconographer and founder of Prosopon School of Iconology, Vladislav Andrejev.


The Craftsman’s Handbook, by Cennino Cennini
This is D. V. Thompson’s definitive English translation of “Il Libro dell’Arte, ” an intriguing guide to methods of painting, written in 15th century Florence.
Anyone who has ever looked at a medieval painting and marveled at the brilliance of color and quality of surface that have endured for 500 years should find this fascinating reading. It describes such lost arts as gilding stone, making mosaics of crushed eggshell, fashioning saints’ diadems, coloring parchment, making goat glue, and regulating your life in the interests of decorum which meant shunning women, the greatest cause of unsteady hands in artists.


The Materials and Techniques of Medieval Painting, by Daniel V. Thompson
Mediaeval painters built up a tremendous range of technical resources for obtaining brilliance and permanence. In this volume, an internationally known authority on mediaeval paint technology describes these often jealously guarded recipes, lists of materials, and processes. Based upon years of study of mediaeval manuscripts and enlarged by laboratory analysis of paintings, this book discusses carriers and grounds, binding media, pigments, colouring materials, and metals used in painting.
It analyses the preparation of surfaces, binding media, discussing relative merits of glair versus gums, oil glazes, etc. It tells how the masters obtained, processed and applied their colours. It tells how metals were prepared for use in painting, how gold powders and leaf were laid on, and dozens of other techniques.



Vasari on Technique: Being the Introduction to the Three Arts of Design
Explore the foundations of the Italian Renaissance and art history in Vasari on Technique: Being the Introduction to the Three Arts of Design. Giorgio Vasari was a 16th Century painter, sculptor and architect who is known as the father of art history and wrote this book when the Renaissance was in full bloom. As an artist himself, Vasari has great credibility when he gives advice on how to work with various materials and the strengths and weaknesses of different approaches. The book is even more enjoyable because of Vasari’s passion for art. For example, after praising classical Greek formations, Vasari attacks the Gothic style as being awful, deformed and demented.


A Treatise On Painting, by Leonardo da Vinci
During the course of his life Leonardo da Vinci used his writings to greater explain his theories on art, science and man’s relationship with nature. This particular text also includes a number of his fables, prophecies and reflections on life. These writings of one of the most extraordinary minds in history are highly recommended.


A More Compendious Discourse Concerning Ye Art of Liming, by Nicholas Hilliard
Treatise on the Arte of Limning is one of the most important documents in the history of English art. A charming book on miniature painting by the first named major English artist.
His discussion on Albrecht Durers’ portraits is especially illuminating. How to temper the paints, and how to render sapphires and other gemstones is concise and succinct.

The Practice and Science of Drawing, by Harold Speed
This classic approach to the dynamics of drawing by a brilliant teacher is filled with insights and practical advice on line drawing, mass drawing, visual memory, materials, and much more. Throughout, the author offers historical backgrounds and specific exercises. This is arguably my favourite book on drawing technique.




Oil Painting Techniques and Materials, by Harold Speed
Some provocative assertions are characteristic of this stimulating and informative guide, written in a highly personal and unique style by a noted painter and teacher. Brimming with pertinent insights into the technical aspects and painting in oils, it is also designed to help students perfect powers of observation and expression.
Harold Speed has distilled years of painting and pedagogical experience into an expert instructional program covering painting technique, painting from life, materials (paints, varnishes, oils and mediums, grounds, etc.), a painter’s training, and more. Especially instructive is his extensive and perceptive discussion of form, tone, and color, and a fascinating series of detailed “Notes” analyzing the painting styles of Velasquez, Reynolds, Gainsborough, Franz Hals, and Rembrandt.


The Painter in Oil, by Daniel Burleigh Parkhurst
A widely cited resource on painting in the style of the old masters, this classic guide contains a wealth of insights for amateur and professional artists. Daniel Burleigh Parkhurst, a student of Bouguereau and one of the foremost artist/instructors of the early 20th century, presents a master’s course in the science and technique of painting that encourages the use of traditional tools and methods.
Parkhurst’s four-part treatment encompasses materials, general and technical principles, and practical applications. Topics include canvases, easels, brushes, paints, and other tools; attitude and originality; drawing, perspective, light and shade, composition, and color; and sketching, still life, flowers, portraits, landscapes, and figures. Specially good for direct painting methods.


Carlson’s Guide to Landscape Painting, by John F. Carlson
Written by a famous American painter and teacher, whose landscapes are found in many of the world’s most noted museums, this book is known as one of the art students’ most helpful guides. It provides a wealth of advice on the choice of subject; it tells what to look for and aim for, and explains the mysteries of colour, atmospheric conditions, and other phenomena to be found in nature.
Through his profound understanding of the physical nature of landscapes and his highly developed artistic sense, John Carlson is able to explain both the whys and the hows of the various aspects of landscape painting. Among the subjects covered are angles and consequent values (an insightful concept necessary for strong overall unity of design), aerial and linear perspective, the painting of trees, the emotional properties of line and mass in composition, light, unity of tone, choice of subject, and memory work. In the beginning chapters, the author tells how to make the best of canvas, palette, colors, brushes, and other materials and gives valuable advice about texture, glazing, varnishing, bleaching, retouching, and framing.


ALLA PRIMA II – Everything I know About Painting – and More, by Richard Schmid
Richard Schmid spent two years updating the original edition giving him the opportunity to fine tune and greatly expand what is generally regarded as the art world’s foremost book for painters seeking serious instruction in alla prima representational painting. This book offers the wisdom and technical savvy which comes from a classical education and a lifetime of painting and teaching. Writing as an acknowledged master, Richard gracefully leads his reader through the subtleties of painting theory and technique with refreshing directness and unmatched technical authority. With an emphasis on painting from life, he writes with warm humor about the joys and trials of being an artist. This book can be ordered from the artist’s website.