Elizabeth Barsham's Art Classes

Rule number Three - When in doubt, refer to Rule number One

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Bookshops are full of attractive volumes promising to show you how to become an expert artist. All of them contain a few gems of helpful information, but most are the artistís equivalent of the coffee-table cookery book. Very pretty to browse through, but not much more. Go to the library, borrow much, and you will soon develop a sense of what to look for in a truly useful art book.

These are some of the books I found helpful when first learning to paint and draw. I still refer to them frequently. Some, alas, are now out of print, but they do occasionally crop up in second-hand book shops. Others have been revised and newer editions are available than the ones I have on my shelves. Still others I have borrowed from the library from time to time.


Berger. John. Ways of Seeing. London. Penguin
This is an enjoyable introduction to some artistic concepts. Better still, itís small enough to read in the bath.
Collier. Graham. Form, Space and Vision. 1963. Eaglewood Cliffs. Prentice Hall
This book is aimed at the general reader rather than the serious art student and is an inspirational introduction to design. It contains some really useful ideas and there is a later edition with observational drawing exercises at the end of each chapter. Unfortunately it is out of print, but keep an eye on second-hand bookshops.
Gombrich. E.H. The Story of Art. London. Phaidon
The classic history of art. Should be compulsory reading for everybody.
Rasmusen.Henry N. Art Structure; A Textbook of Creative Design New York. 1950. McGraw Hill
A very old book full of good, sound, old-fashioned advice about why and how to construct pictures.


NicolaÔdes. Kimon. The Natural Way to Draw. 1972. London. Andre Deutsch.
Another classic every young artist should study. Work your way through the exercises and you will become a very proficient draughtsman indeed.
Simpson. Ian. Drawing: Seeing And Observation. 1982. A & C Black
The title says it all. Highly recommended.


Note: Books of photographs of models are useless unless you are already extremely competent at figure drawing; donít waste your money. If you canít find a model, strip off and pose in front of a full-length mirror. Or copy a drawing by a great artist.

Two excellent books using works by the worldís greatest artists to illustrate the principles of drawing are:

Hale. Robert Beverly. Drawing Lessons from the Great Masters. 1965. New York. Watson-Guptil
Hale. Robert Beverly and Terence Coyle. Anatomy Lessons from the Great Masters. 1977. New York. Watson-Guptil
This includes the classic clear, detailed anatomical diagrams by Dr Paul Richer first published in France in 1889.
In 1971 Watson-Guptil published Richer's Artistic Anatomy, translated into English and edited by Robert Beverly Hale. Much more technical, but well worth having if you can find it.
Hogarth. Byrne. Dynamic Anatomy 1973. New York. Watson-Guptil
Hogarth. Byrne. Dynamic Figure Drawing 1973. New York. Watson-Guptil
Hogarth was the artist who drew the Tarzan comic strips, and these two books show the figure in dramatic motion. The anatomy book describes the workings of muscle, tendon and skeleton; the figure drawing book shows you how to apply this knowledge to your drawings.


Duberry. Fred and John Willats. Drawing Systems. 1972. London. van Nostrand Rheinhold
Technical drawing rather than art, and a fairly technical book. Extremely useful for learning linear perspective, but probably only for the enthusiast.
O Broin. …anna. Technical Draughtsmanship. 1986. Dublin. Gill and McMillan
Yes, this is a serious technical drawing textbook full of nuts and bolts and helices and third-angle projections. But a beautiful book, with a good clear section on perspective drawing.


Mayer. Ralph. The Artists Handbook of Materials and Techniques. London. Faber and Faber.
This is the Bible. Very big, very technical, but all you ever wanted to know. And more. New editions appear now and then to keep up with modern materials. In the Reference section of the State Library if you donít want to buy it.
Mayer. Ralph. The Painter's Craft. 1966. New York Van Nostrand Co Inc
A "user friendly" version of the big one. Less formidable, far more compact and approachable. Probably out of print, but the State Library has a copy.
Itten. Johannes. The Elements of Colour
Another classic text. Itten was a lecturer at the Bauhaus in 1930s Germany, and developed a comprehensive theory of colour.
Wilcox. Michael. Blue and Yellow Don't Make Green. Bristol. The Michael Wilcox School of Colour. Revised edition 2001
A good, practical guide to colour mixing. Sensible, readable advice.
Daniels. Alfred. An Introduction To Painting With Acrylics. 1988. Chartwell Books Inc - Quintet Publishing
Unlike a lot of "how to paint" books, this one contains many good, practical exercises and much useful information about the medium.
Dunstan. Bernard. Painting Methods Of The Impressionists. 1976. New York. Pitman/Watson-Guptill
Probably of limited practical use for beginners, but a good, readable history of the development of impressionistic techniques with descriptions of the painting methods of many famous artists.


If you want to paint yachts, learn to sail. Unless you understand what all those ropes are for and what that pointy bit is, you are unlikely to draw or paint them convincingly.

The same principle applies to drawing animals - and to drawing anything else. To draw animals you have to know a lot about them - their anatomy, how they behave, why they look the way they do, what their proportions should be. Specialist books on drawing animals are not much help. Go to sources of information about your subject - e.g. kennel clubs and breed societies that specify how particular breeds of dog or sheep should look. Get up close and personal with real, live animals. Find the information produced for livestock breeders and judges.

You may find you have to do some quite serious research and study, but familiarity with your subject matter will allow you to relax and express yourself without worrying about whether your drawing "looks right".