The landscape of how-to books for artists is vast. And every year brings more, reflecting new developments in media and methods and an always changing creative marketplace. To help you sort through the options, we’ve assembled a selection of our favorites for a range of artistic practices; they include both reference books on materials and techniques and practical guides for working artists. Pick up one or more to develop your understanding of a creative process—or perhaps try something new.
1. The Artist’s Handbook of Materials and Techniques
This 784-page tome is a godsend for any artist who works with paint, from traditional oil painters to sculptors to printmakers. Although originally published in 1940, it has been continuously revised and updated and remains an artist’s bible of sorts. Author Ralph Mayer provides practical tips on materials, the chemistry of pigments, and heaps of other technical information that spans the history of painting. This is a scholarly book with few illustrations, but Mayer writes in clear language that inspires as much as it instructs.
2. Painter’s Handbook: Revised and Expanded
If Mayer’s handbook sounds a tad overwhelming, consider this slimmer option by Mark David Gottsegen. The author, a painter and art professor, similarly dives into painting materials and techniques, but with less of a focus on historical development and uses. You’ll learn about varnishes, preservation, and presentation and get step-by-step instructions on how to stretch canvas, make paints, and more. At 352 pages, the book is still relatively dense—and also lacks visuals—but it’s slightly more searchable and concise than our top pick.
3. Perspective Drawing Handbook
If you’re an artist who struggles with depicting depth, this handbook is a good addition to your library. Written in a clear and approachable style, it provides the framework to start teaching yourself the ins and outs of perspective drawing. Author Joseph D’Amelio breaks down the complexities of space and depth—like vanishing points, foreshortening, and diminution—into digestible pieces, and his text is made even clearer by many illustrations and diagrams. You’ll be acing your shadows in no time.
4. Graphic Artists Guild Handbook: Pricing & Ethical Guidelines
Stuck on how to market your creative practice and get properly compensated for your art? This immensely valuable resource from the Graphic Artists Guild, a national organization that provides professional support for creatives, includes tons of information on how to run a creative business as a freelancer. It’s not just for graphic artists and designers. Inside, find lessons on how to price your work, draft contracts, register copyrights, and much, much more.
5. The Mural Artist’s Handbook
Written by muralist Morgan Bricca, this handbook dissects the complexities of mural painting. There’s tons of practical information, including wisdom on creating budgets, writing contracts, forming steering committees, hunting down the best materials, and keeping your workplace safe. But Bricca also gets into the crucial aspect of engaging with communities who will be living with these public artworks, explaining different project scenarios for clients who range from schools to residential buildings and how to balance the priorities of all involved parties.