Where to Turn: 15 Artists Share Their Favorite Sources of Inspiration

Where to Turn:

15 Artists Share Their Favorite

Sources of Inspiration

Reading in the Garden

Reading in the Garden          1915          Nikolay Bogdanov-Belsky (fair use)*

  Every artist we know has an impressive library of books about art or favorite artists they admire or even books of philosophy to which they turn repeatedly when searching for ideas or inspiration. Some books are perennial sources of inspiration and can be found in almost everyone’s collection. Others are a bit more obscure, hard to find or simply unknown to us. Often, the best way to find a new favorite reference book is word of mouth, so we thought we should ask 13 of our contributing artists what their favorite sources of inspiration are. All books and titles are linked to Amazon to make it easy to add them to your art library. What are your favorites? (The Artist's Road is an Amazon Associate and may earn from qualifying purchases made from these links.)

Roger Dale Brown


My all time favorites and fall-backs are:

Carlson's Guide to Landscape Painting  Sargent and Italy by Jane DiniAnders Zorn:  Sweden's Master Painter by Johan Cederlund

Carlson's Guide to Landscape Painting by John F. Carlson

Sargent and Italy by Jane Dini

Anders Zorn: Sweden's Master Painter by Johan Cederlund


Kim Casebeer


Isaak Levitan Lyrical Landscape by Averil King

Soviet Impressionism by Vern Grosvenor Swanson

Sergei Bongart by Mary Balcomb

I’m a fan of Russian Impressionism. I think they had a way of elevating the ordinary and every day to something beautiful. One of my favorite books is of Isaac Levitan, the Great Collection. The print is in Russian, but I bought it for the wonderful reproductions. (Note:  The Russian, Isaak Levitan. Albom is difficult to find. We have added a link  to one of the more easily available books on Levitan's art - the 2011 Isaak Levitan: Lyrical Landscape by Averil King.)

The second book is one I recently purchased, 
Soviet Impressionism by Vern Grosvenor Swanson. It also has beautiful reproductions.

When I’m looking for inspiration of bolder color, I turn to Mary Balcomb’s book about Sergei Bongart, which is a feast for the eyes.

Marc Dalessio


(Marc wrote us with a link to a posting on his website - "Ten Books on Painting". We've chosen three from his list to share here. Visit the link to see his complete list with his remarks.)

The Enjoyment and Use of Color by Walter Sargent

The Practice and Science of Drawing by Harold Speed

Composition of Outdoor Painting by Edgar Payne






The Enjoyment and Use of Color by Walter Sargent. There are a lot of books on color, this is the best one that I’ve read.

The Practice and Science of Drawing (Dover Art Instruction) by Harold Speed. The classic book on drawing.

Composition of Outdoor Painting 
by Edgar Payne. Excellent book on landscape compostion by the great plein air painter.

The other books on Dalessio's "Ten Books on Painting" list include:
The Birth of Tragedy and The Case of Wagner by Friedrich Nietzsche
Neoclassicism and Romanticism: 1750-1850 : Source Documents on Neoclassical and Romantic Art (Icon Editions) by Lorenz Eitner
Pagan Mysteries in the Renaissance by Edgar Wind

The Artistic Anatomy of Trees (Dover Art Instruction) by Rex Vicat Cole
The Art of Ancient Greece: Sources and Documents by J. J. Pollitt
The Artist's Handbook of Materials and Techniques: Fifth Edition, Revised and Updated (Reference) by Ralph Mayer

Rob Evans


 Antonio Lopez Garcia - RizzoliMartin Johnson Heade by Stebbins

  Odd Nerdrum





I almost always have the big Rizzoli Antonio Lopez Garcia book out on a table in the studio to serve as inspiration. Two other go-to books for inspiration are Stebbins' book on Martin Johnson Heade and any of the big Odd Nerdrum monographs. (We have linked to the Odd Nerdrum: Themes, 2007 collection.) 

Howard Friedland


Robert Henri's The Art Spirit

Carlson's Guide to Landscape PaintingHawthorn on Painting


There are of course many art books that have had big impacts on me for various reasons but if you want me to narrow it down to just three, I guess they would be:

Robert Henri's The Art Spirit. David Herbert, my first painting teacher recommended that I read Henri's book .This was the book I first read and read and read when I first started to paint. It was so inspiring and philosophical and it stoked the fires that were burning in my blood to paint and paint and paint.

John F. Carlson's Carlson's Guide to Landscape Painting. My first 10 years of painting were solely studio painting from life (still life and figures). I lived in Miami, Florida and the landscape was not all that inspiring to me at the time. Later, I moved to New Mexico and began to fall in love with the New Mexico Landscape. Someone recommended Carlson's book and although I didn't have a clue about how to compose or paint a convincing landscape, I really relied on the concepts that were expressed in this invaluable book. I also took lots of workshops from landscape painters whom I admired. For the next 10 years I only painted on location from life. I was a purist and I credit that for helping me to understand how light works out of doors.

Charles Webster Hawthorne's Hawthorne on Painting (Dover Art Instruction). This is another invaluable book for any artist who is interested in the concepts of how to interpret what you see onto a two dimensional surface (canvas or board) solely by the use of accurate color relationships, thereby creating the illusion of three dimensions. This is one of the best books regarding capturing the nuances and impressions of light and color. It also describes exercises and techniques to guide the artist in seeing color shapes instead of objects.

There are many more great books including:
Composition of Outdoor Painting by Edgar Payne
Richard Schmid Paints Landscapes: Creative Techniques in Oil
Richard Schmid Paints the Figure: Advanced Techniques in Oil
Alla Prima: Everything I Know About Painting
Art & Fear: Observations On the Perils (and Rewards) of Artmaking by Bayles and Orland
Interaction of Color by Joseph Albers
Clyde Aspevig - various show catalogues
Scott Christensen books and show catalogues

R.J.T. Haynes


My own list varies, but at the moment I'd say:

The Glasgow Boys by Roger Billcliffe

A Face to the World by Laura Cumming

The Glasgow Boys by Roger Billcliffe

A Face to the World: On Self-Portraits by Laura Cumming

The Best Art You've Never Seen by Julian Spalding

 John Hulsey


American Watercolors by Christopher FinchSorolla, The Masterworks by Blanca Pons Sorolla

Anders Zorn - Sweden's Master Painter






I paint in watercolor, oil and pastel, so my library is wide-ranging, but I find that I return to these three the most often. Over time, my favorites have changed a bit, but these artists’ work always resonate and challenge me to try for their high standards in my own work. Being largely a self-taught painter, reference sources like these combined with trips to see the originals are incredibly important and instructive. 

 American Watercolors by Christopher Finch

Sorolla: The Masterworks by Blanca Pons-Sorolla

Anders Zorn: Sweden's Master Painter by Johan Cederlund

Other sources I regularly turn to include:

John Singer Sargent by Carter Ratcliff, Winslow Homer Watercolors by Helen A. Cooper,
J.M.W. Turner: His Art and Life by Andrew Wilton.

Frank LaLumia


 The Art of Color and Design by Maitland Graves

Richard Schmid Paints Landscapes

Richard Schmid Paints the Figure      The Divine Comedy by Dante





My most imfluential books are not necessarily the most fun books to page through. Rather, they are the ones that have stuck with me, changed me.

My three most influential books, in no particular order, are:
The Art of Color and Design by Maitland Graves.
I found this book in the San Francisco Public library in the early 1970s. I read it over and over; took notes, and thought about it all the time. When I returned the book to the San Francisco Public Library some years later, the fine was almost $30. (back when $30 was real money!) The book has been out of print for over 50 years. I found a copy in a used bookstore. I still refer to it in my classes.

The two Richard Schmid books from the 1970s; Richard Schmid Paints Landscapes: Creative Techniques in Oil and Richard Schmid Paints the Figure: Advanced Techniques in Oil. I’m cheating a bit to get more books listed, but I see these two books as parts of a whole. The first time I saw Richard's work, it was a revelation—like magic. My family lived in Chicago, and every time I visited, I made a point of visiting the Chicago Art Institute. I also visited a gallery on Oak Street (the gallery name escapes me) where Richard showed his work. Seeing the originals was a first-rate adrenaline rush. I got the message, "More is possible."
The Divine Comedy by Dante Alighieri. I’ve always been a reader. I’ve read most of the classics, from Homer to Shakespeare and back. But I’ve never read anything that pushed its way into my painting like Dante’s Divine Comedy. I find it to be a particularly visual prose as well as a very compelling story. Back in the late '70s and early '80s, I began a project that is on-going to this day. I read a few cantos from the Divine Comedy. Then I put it aside and begin painting. I would begin with an intuition of a color harmony. No preliminary sketches or other preparatory work is used. This thing has a different pulse. What comes forth is very interesting. I throw a lot of pieces away, some of the work looks like it was painted by a lunatic. But there is a voice in it that speaks to me. As Dante says, "Follow your own star."

Choosing only three books seems like an impossible task. How could I leave out Irv Shapiro’s How to Make a Painting? Irv was the director at the American Academy of Art in Chicago, where I studied in 1972 - '73.  Or Robert E. Woods’s Watercolor Workshop? The maestro was a real mentor to me in the 1970s. I still remember things he said to me. I often think, "So that’s what he meant." when I hear something that brings me back. For a pure adrenaline rush, I love the great picture books on Sargent, Repin, Levitan, Zorn. Once you start listing them, it becomes more a question of the ones left out.

Thomas Paquette


Robert Henri's The Art Spirit
Though I find books about art - history, monographs, philosophy - inspiring, I rarely revisit them. Paintings in museums and the occasional flip through a book, yes. The trouble is temporal. I am standing in a different light from the first reading and the glints and revelations are now coming from somewhere else. One notable exception to prove the rule (though it has been a long time since I peered into its pages) is Robert Henri's The Art Spirit - an encouraging and enlightening resource, worth revisiting for years.

Mary Pettis


The Yin Yang of Painting

What Painting Is by James Elkins

The Paintings of Zhang Wen Xin

Zhang Wen Xin Selected Paintings





My go-to books are these:

The Yin/Yang of Painting: A Contemporary Master Reveals the Secrets of Painting Found in Ancient Chinese Philosophy by Hongnian Zhang and Lois Wooley

What Painting Is by James Elkins

3 catalogs of the works of Zhang Wen Xin (b.1928) - The Paintings of Zhang Wen Xin, Zhang Wenxin-Selected Works of Chinese Famous Painters and The Landscape Works of China Contemporary Realism Oil Painter  Zhang Wen Xin.

Matthew Richter


Wilson Hurley

The Art of Robert Bateman

Alla Prima by Richard Schmid





I have a lot of books for reference and inspiration. I’ll narrow it down to the window of the last ten years and pick three which I return to most often.

Wilson Hurley: A Retrospective Exhibition, 1995. Images and an interview with the artist. The huge scale of landscape and the story of the artist’s career opening up in his later life.

The Art of Robert Bateman, 1981. Images encouraging intimate spaces and subject matter.

Alla Prima: Everything I Know About Painting, Richard Schmid. Technical approach, emphasis on each mark being complete in value, shape and edges.

Mort Solberg


Ways with Watercolor by Ted KautzkyJohn Pike Paints Watercolor

Andrew Wyeth






The first books I made sure I owned were by Ted Kautzky, Herb Olson and John Pike because I wanted to learn watercolor. (We've put links to one of each of these artist's books above. There are many more.) This was in the 50s and they were the only books I knew of that were about watercolor. Then I discovered Andrew Wyeth and the world of becoming an artist opened up before me with so much excitement in trying to understand how one artist could paint in such extreme directions all based on composition. WOW! Of course now there are so many wonderful artists that I can look at on Facebook and I am inspired every day to become as good as I can.

Ann Trusty


The Art Spirit by Robert HenriMonet's Years at Giverny:  Beyond Impressionism 


I find inspiration pouring over the books of work by Levitan, Sorolla, Turner and the Impressionists. It’s hard to narrow down to three! The Art Spirit by Robert Henri, never ceases to inspire. I’m currently immersed in Sorolla: Gardens of Light by Blanca Pons Sorolla and regularly return to Monet's Years At Giverny Beyond Impressionism by Phllippe de Montebello  for the eye candy! Frank Lalumia's Plein Air Painting in Watercolor and Oil is an excellent book on painting on location and I still enjoy returning to it.

Colley Whisson


The Oil Paintings of Arthur Streeton
Alla Prima by Richard SchmidTrevor Chamberlain England and Beyond






Here are my three art book selections:

The Oil Paintings of Arthur Streeton in the National Gallery of Australia (1867 - 1943)

Alla Prima: Everything I Know About Painting by Richard Schmid

Trevor Chamberlain: England and Beyond a Celebration of Sixty Years of Painting

Sarah Yeoman


It took me a few days to decide which books I wanted to choose. Here are my three:

Freedom in the Wilds - Harold WestonTrees - Tom ThomsonMaking Color Sing by Jeanne Dobie







Freedom in the Wilds: An Artist in the Adirondacks by Harold Weston

Tom Thomson: Trees

Making Color Sing by Jeanne Dobie

*(This artwork may be protected by copyright. It is posted on the site in accordance with fair use principles.)


Copyright Hulsey Trusty Designs, L.L.C. (except where noted). All rights reserved.
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