I LOVE books! And I really love watercolor painting books!! I wanted to share my favorite watercolor books with you. While looking through my collection and trying to choose the best, I realized that I wanted books that offered specifics and clear instruction while also being useful and practical. I chose some books appropriate for beginners, some for more experienced painters, and others appropriate for both groups and all painters in between. After much deliberation, I share these personal favorites, which are listed alphabetically, by author’s last name:
Making Color Sing, 25th Anniversary Edition: Practical Lessons in Color and Design (2011, originally published in 1986) by Jeanne Dobie. Color, color, color! Don’t buy lots of tubes of paint – just read this book to see how a few basic colors can create almost any color there is. Dobie’s book may change the way you paint with watercolor.
In the 25th anniversary edition of Making Color Sing, Jeanne Dobie teaches you new ways to think about color and make it work for you, through 31 clear, easy-to-follow exercises. No color exists in isolation; colors are always interacting with one another. As the author explains, understanding color relationships is the key to successful painting.
The lessons on color lead into another essential painting consideration: composition and design. Painting is much more than copying what you see. It involves finding a structure that allows you to organize and thus communicate your impressions and reactions. Dobie encourages artists to experiment with different arrangements of shapes and values to build a dynamic foundation in their paintings. This book stimulates new ways to think about color, generating responses that unlock personal creativity and allow artists to express themselves with paint.
I recommend Making Color Sing to those who have some experience in watercolor as well as to more advanced watercolor artists.
Powerful Watercolor Landscapes (2011) by Catherine Gill. This book gives you the “power tools” you need to transform dull, flat landscapes into robust, colorful expressions of your artistic vision. Each chapter focuses on a specific strategy for tackling tough challenges, complete with inspiring examples, hands-on demonstrations, and instructional diagrams to make these strategies easy and fun to learn. Following Gill’s masterful visual instruction, you’ll learn how to:
See beyond “what you see” to develop strong foundations in every composition
Avoid repainting, overworking, and frustration by focusing on a composition’s unifying elements
Become decisive with your values for heightened interest and impact
Quickly and easily mix a huge range of clean, rich colors—including vibrant grays and greens—with no more mud!
Put it all together, following detailed step-by-step demonstrations of complete paintings from start to finish
The author wants you to get beyond replicating a scene, but instead to start infusing your art with impressions and feeling. Gill can tell you WHY a piece of art catches your eye and HOW to create art with that kind of impact.
Powerful Watercolor Landscapes is NOT a book for someone who wishes to paint exactly what they see before them, but for a painter who wants to create expressive art with impact.
Texture Techniques For Winning Watercolors (1999, 2014) by Ray Hendershot. (First edition better reproduces Hendershot’s artwork; reprinted edition is reportedly of poor quality.) Filling in the gaps where other books fall short, Hendershot elaborates on the fine details that distinguish a good painting from an excellent painting. With his guidance you can learn about a range of effective methods to create texture, such as spattering and spritzing, scraping and blotting. If you have previously learned the basic watercolor techniques, Hendershot offers step-by-step demonstrations and hands-on exercises to build your repertoire. This book would be an asset for advanced beginners.
Painting Nature’s Details In Watercolor (1987, 1991) by Cathy Johnson. Johnson offers practical advice on portraying light and shadow, texture, water patterns, plants and flowers, wildlife, and still life. She is a prolific and knowledgeable artist, with a knack for simplifying her images to include the most salient details of her subjects. Johnson helps an artist observe and take note of the natural world’s subtle detail. My favorite chapter in this book is called Painting The Light and offers numerous tips on how to capture the glow of light in your paintings.
Johnson has written many other books (Creating Textures In Watercolor, Painting Watercolors, Artist’s Journal Workshop, Painting In Nature, and others) as well as many magazine articles. She offers mini-classes on her website (cathyjohnson.info). All of her work is appropriate for beginners and more experienced painters.
Ways With Watercolor (originally 1949, Second Edition, Enlarged 1963) by Ted Kautzky. Ted Kautzky was a master watercolorist. His book discusses pigments, washes, composition, contrast, and the use of accessories for special effects. In simple direct language, Kautzky shares his extensive knowledge of watercolor. At times you may have to re-read portions of each page to truly grasp all the information he has packed into each sentence. In addition to many demonstrations, he also includes challenging practice material. Many illustrations are in black and white, and color reproductions are somewhat muted, but this limitation should not detract from the valuable information presented in Kautzky’s book.
Kautzky has also written other excellent books, including Painting Trees and Landscapes In Watercolor and The Ted Kautzky Pencil Book.
Perspective, Depth and Distance (2004) by Geoff Kersey. (Newer 2017 edition – Painting Perspective, Depth and Distance In Watercolour – is expanded and updated.) Kersey is a good explainer, and in this book he is concise when teaching the theory of perspective, both linear and atmospheric. Then he illustrates perspective with a number of demonstrations, thus making the learning of perspective enjoyable and relevant. He shows how to create depth and distance while painting objects in perspective and allowing them to recede naturally. I recommend using this book to make your watercolors look more realistic. Perspective, Depth and Distance is suitable for beginners and experienced watercolorists alike.
Here ends the first installment of my favorite watercolor books. Check back next week for the rest of the list.