Painting Technique – Suggested Bibliography

ART TECHNIQUE BOOKS TO READ

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. The date between brackets refers to the first edition.
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EGYPTIAN AND CLASSICAL PERIOD (ANCIENT GREEK AND ROMAN):
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Greek_Roman_PaintingGreek and Roman Methods of Painting: Some Comments on the Statements Made, By Pliny and Vitruvius About Wall and Panel Painting (1910), by A. P. Laurie
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. A fascinating reading for those who have an interest in ancient historical techniques.
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Europe_Egypt_Painting_MaterialsThe 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 (1910), 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. A good introduction to Mediaeval techniques if you prefer to skip all the complexities of such subject.

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GREEK BYZANTINE AND RUSSIAN ICONOGRAPHY
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Techniques of Icon and Wall Painting (2011), 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.
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Prosopon_DVDProsopon 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.
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MEDIAEVAL PAINTING AND ILLUMINATION TECHNIQUES
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Cennino_CenniniThe Craftsman’s Handbook, by Cennino Cennini
This is Daniel Varney 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 marvelled at the brilliance of colour 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.
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Mediaeval_PaintingThe Materials and Techniques of Medieval Painting (1956), by Daniel Varney Thompson
Mediaeval painters built up a tremendous range of technical resources for obtaining brilliance and permanence. In this volume, you will find 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 and dozens of other techniques.
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RENAISSANCE AND BAROQUE
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Vasari_TechniqueVasari 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.
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Leonardo_Treatise_PaintingA 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. It can be a dense reading at times – but essential if you want to understand the minute technique of Leonardo’s painting. These musings of one of the most extraordinary minds in history are highly recommended.

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Artist’s Techniques in Golden Age Spain: Six Treatises in Translation (1987), by Zahara Veliz
This collection of translated passages on painting techniques is taken from six seventeenth-century treatises written in Spain and Portugal by Nunes, Corducho, Pacheco, Hidalgo and Velasco. These technical writings reveal invaluable information about the artists’ painting methods, providing both art historians and conservators with a firmer base for dealing with practical and theoretical problems related to the study and conservation of Iberian baroque painting.
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Nicholas_Hilliard_LimningA 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 16th-17th century 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. A must read for miniaturists who wish to paint on vellum.

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19TH AND EARLY 20TH CENTURY:

A Manual of Oil Painting (1886), by John Collier
Very interesting discourse on late 19th century academic painting, more specifically as practiced in England at the time. Written by one of the most accomplished Pre-Raphaelite painters, full of details regarding 19th century methods. I do not recommend this book for beginners. Nevertheless, I consider these Victorian books better than the vast majority of modern manuals. It is fascinating to see how the complexities of colour were taught before Munsell brought in a more scientific approach.
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Painter_Oil_ParkhurstThe Painter in Oil (1898), 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 late 19th 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 colour; and sketching, still life, flowers, portraits, landscapes, and figures. Specially good for direct painting methods.
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Landscape Painting (1909), by Lowell Birge Harrison
Harrison saw the American painters harvest the best of what the French impressionists discovered, and take landscape painting much farther. And he describes every bit of it.
The contemporary American method — a “warm undertone and a cool overtone” — is quite refined. His explanation of refraction, of vibration, and particularly his marvellous chapter on composition, are as good as it gets.
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The practice of oil painting (1911), by Solomon Joseph Solomon
Students at every level of expertise will benefit from this fantastic painter’s discourses on light and shade, monochrome and colour painting. Solomon’s book just stands out for its clarity, logical methods, and concise information. I believe he has managed to say much more than with fewer words than most modern atelier tutors that also published books. Studying Solomon’s book feels like really coming close to the very essence of classical atelier training.
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The Practice and Science of Drawing (1913), 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, written at a time when it was normal to talk about “beauty” and “the sublime”. Sheer genius!
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Outdoor Sketching: Four Talks Given Before the Art Institute of Chicago (1915), by Francis Hopkinson Smith
Smith is as much an artist with words as he is with charcoal and water-colours. He stresses the importance of observation of nature that transcends time. It was notoriously written by someone who truly loved life and its manifestations. The words reach a poetical realm. The text is superb. Highly recommended to those who are sensitive to beautiful writing and who enjoy the directness of charcoal and watercolour.
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Harold_Speed_OilOil Painting Techniques and Materials (1924), 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 English 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.

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Carlson-Guide-Landscape-PaintingCarlson’s Guide to Landscape Painting (1928), 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.
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21st CENTURY
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ALLA PRIMA II – Everything I know About Painting – and More (2013), 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 humour about the joys and trials of being an artist. This book can be ordered from the artist’s website. I also suggest you buy the Alla Prima II Companion, by his student Katie Swatland.
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Painting the Visual Impression (2014), by Richard Whitney
If studied, internalised, and put into practice, Richard’s text will lead the artist/student on a journey of exploration and solid artistic achievement that should last a lifetime. Painting the Visual Impression is a phenomenal digest of the basic building block to great art, a gem for understanding the principles of impressionist viewing. A concise manual that is filled with sound, practical information for the painter working from nature. Highly recommended for artists, although perhaps not an ideal book for total beginners.
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Figure Drawing for Artists: Making Every Mark Count (2016), by Steve Huston
The sequence of this book is logical and there are lots of exercises and references to old master drawings to demonstrate certain points. The final section in the book is called “Five Minutes” and refers to a daily practice routine (mind you that artist Anders Zorn practiced for 12 hours a day!).

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Creativity And The Campfire (2016), by Marco Bucci
This inspiring text discusses the nature of creativity and art, if talent is or isn’t innate and if it really is relevant to artists, the importance of skill and inspiration and how to nurture it, advise regarding art school training, etc. It really helps demystifying the creative process by exposing patterns, pitfalls, and misguided beliefs that a person is likely to encounter on the road to becoming an artist. A book that is equally suitable for people who don’t believe in their own creative skills.