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Classic Advice for Making Your Art the Best It Can Be

As you know, this blog is usually dedicated to ideas for marketing, but recently I was reminded that there’s an essential first step that comes before any marketing can happen, even before any thought of marketing should begin: making good work. So this week’s post is a quick review of a few of the art instruction books that I’ve found extremely beneficial to my artistic development since I never had the privilege of formal art training. If you don’t have these classics on your shelf and you’re looking to improve your own work, perhaps they’ll be of interest to you, too.

First on my list is Nita Leland’s Exploring Color Workshop, which has just been revised and updated as a 30th anniversary edition. The original was eye-opening, and this new edition is every bit as good. I think most artists agree that color is one of the most challenging qualities to master, so Nita starts with the basic building blocks and gradually works up to the most complex  issues. She’s provided really great demos and exercises every step of the way so that you can truly grasp this tough subject. Perhaps one of the most valuable sections of the book is the middle, where she explores a wide range of color palettes. For someone like me, who learned to paint with a limited palette and is often reluctant to add another color, this is great instruction and inspiration. And speaking of inspiring, Nita has included exemplary artwork from some of the best artists of our day. Linda Daly Baker, Chris Krupinski, Fabio Cembranelli, Joan Rothel, and Paul St Denis are just a few of the many talented artists whose works are found on nearly every page of this new edition.

For understanding the basic principles of art—repetition, dominance, harmony, and so on—my go-to book is still Tony Couch’s Keys to Successful Painting. Even though the artist uses watercolor, it’s ideal for all artists because the book is about great design in any medium. In my early days of painting, I really struggled with these issues, and most of the books I found only covered the basics of color, value, shape, and the rest. Tony’s book, loaded with little demos and finished paintings illustrating his main points, helped me put these fundamentals together in a more sophisticated fashion by breaking it all down with really clear explanations and examples. 

Finally, one that’s near and dear to my heart because I had the great pleasure of editing it is Dan McCaw’s A Proven Strategy for Creating Great Art. From the outset, I understood that Dan wanted to create something quite different in his book. It’s far more about idea generation, exploration, and thought process than it is about technique, although there’s plenty of that in there, too. Page after page of awesome McCaw paintings make this a keeper for me, too. Even after all these years, I find that I can open the book to any page and find words and images that motivate and inspire me.

My list of classics could go on and on—Kevin Macpherson, David Curtis, Skip Lawrence, John Carlson, Greg Albert, and Edgar Payne, just to name a few. We all know there’s no better teacher than to simply put brush to canvas or paper, but you never know when some concept, insight, or tiny tip found in an art instruction book will help take you to the next level. And the better your work, the more successful you’ll be at marketing and selling. 

Any suggestions for more favorites? Let’s connect!

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