As a self-taught artist, practice, practice and more practice come first. But there are a few great books that all artists should read. Clicking on the links will connect you to the books below on Amazon.com.
I find that after reading portions of any of these books, I go back to the paintings I have completed and think about what I would do differently. Perhaps adjusting the composition, such as placing a tree or a path in a different location. Maybe the juxtaposition of several hues can be re-arranged. Making art is a continuous learning experience. It's a blast!
Here are my favorite art instruction books. As a landscape painter, my favorite is Edgar Payne's "Composition of Outdoor Painting."
This is the absolutely, positively the number one composition book for landscape painters! I thank Ed Kennedy, eminent pastelist from Southeast Michigan, for mentioning Edgar to me. A short book for the price (About $50), it is well worth it. In this book, besides laying out a variety of composition types, Edgar references two other books on my list.
The first to note here is Henry Poore's "Pictorial Composition." This book covers landscapes, architecture, still life and portraits.
I believe that one of the most fascinating concept discussed in Poore's book is the use of the diagonal line with geometric "guidance" to find the most satisfying composition. Read the third full paragraph starting with "On a rectangular canvas." below:
The guidance of Poore's geometry can help the artist place the focal point of the painting. Now I am hooked to sketch each scene with these diagonals and right angles in mind! The fascinating part of Poore's book is how he selects iconic artwork and explains how they fit a variety of ideal compositions. Another easy read and well worth it!
The next two books deal with color theory. I must admit, they are a bit obtuse! Especially Payne's recommendation of Joseph Albers "Interaction of Color." Whoaa! What is THIS guy talking about? It appears that a large amount of the content deals with lessons he taught to art students. Some of the demonstrations are revealing about how illusionary (and relative) color can be! Before purchasing this book, I would suggest borrowing it from a library. It is quite an offbeat read!
But this book reminded me of another iconic color theorist, the one and only Johannes Itten,"The Elements of Color." The book below is an abridged version of his famous work "The Art of Color."
Both books can enhance the artist's use of color, be it the juxtaposition of complementary and analogous hues, or the use of values across the color spectrum.
After studying these books, I have a greater appreciation of the award-winning paintings posted on a variety of art exhibit websites, as well as the classic paintings of art history that any self-taught artist should peruse to gain a sense of the truly best pieces of art.
Creating art is a learning experience. It is the process of creating art that is most enjoyable. Using the tools offered by Payne, Poore, Albers and Itten will not only improve our artistic creations, but teach us how to decipher and appreciate the best of the art world!
Enjoy creating art!