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The Best Books about Oil Painting

Updated on November 9, 2015
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Katherine regularly reviews art books and has a very extensive art library (4 bookcases and lots of stacks waiting for the next one!)

some of my books about oil painting
some of my books about oil painting | Source

Develop your knowledge and skills about painting in oils

Do you need an instruction book about how to paint in oils?

Want to develop your skills in painting with oils?

Are you interested in knowing more about oil painting?

Find out about art instruction books about painting in oils which can fill in the gaps in your art library.

The problem with Amazon is that the book you are looking for doesn't always appear in the category you're looking in. I've been surprised again and again about where books get hidden - which is why I developed The Best Books about Oil Painting. That and the fact I wanted to learn more about oil painting and wanted good reference sources to be listed and organised!

I developed this site as part of a project on my blog Making A Mark - see Which are the best art books about oil painting? Thus the ratings of books and comments come from people who regularly paint in oil paints and know which books they have found useful over the years.

Descriptions relate to product descriptions unless otherwise indicated. I'm adding in my personal notes and the names of/links to people who recommend each book and their comments as the recommendations come in

Who is this site for? - books for oil painters - beginners, intermediate and advanced

My very first oil painting
My very first oil painting | Source

This is a CURATED COMPENDIUM FOR ARTISTS OF BOOKS ABOUT OIL PAINTING

WHY I CREATED THIS SITE

I started to learn how to paint in oils in 2011. I like to read about a topic as I start to learn and very much wanted to know which were the best books about oil painting. I'm a great believer in start with the good books not the very basic books! So I asked the readers on my blog - and they told me. (see MAKING A MARK: Which are the best books about oil painting? 30 May 2011).

I'm now sharing that information with others via this website.

I also created this site to help people screen out some of the less good / dumbed down / thin content books about oil painting which exist on online sites such as Amazon. Such books exist because publishers like to cut costs and reprint content as if it's a new book and partly because of the eruption of author published books by artists in need of a good editor.

I now update this site with those new books which get a good reception on publication from people who know what they're talking about.

SITE CONTENT

In terms of content, this site leans very much towards the fine art end of painting rather than the dumbed down, step by step end. Which is not to say there aren't some books which explain techniques in terms of a step by step approach - rather that they have a great deal more to offer than just demos of a place you've never seen!

What I've tried to do with this site is group books into categories so that it's easier to spot the type of book (or author) you might be interested in.

It contains books which are suitable for younger people who are interested in oil painting, although not every book is designed for the reading age of different children.

For the record the one book which gets recommended time and time again is Alla Prima by Richard Schmid - but you might balk at the price. It's not just a book about painting with oils - rather it is a comprehensive book about painting.

Alla Prima II Everything I Know about Painting--And More
Alla Prima II Everything I Know about Painting--And More

RECOMMENDED: Rated an average 4.9 out of 5 stars (25 customer reviews)

This is the book that lots of oil painters have been looking forward to for a long time! Mainly because the first one was so highly rated and nobody could get hold of a copy!

Richard Schmid has followed up his extremely successful first book All Prima with an expanded and revised version. Check out the poll below this module and you'll note 56% of the respondents say the first version of this book is their favourite book about painting.

Richard Schmid books have never been cheap - and his books have the unique distinction of costing more the older they get! As a result, in the UK where Alla Prima II has yet to surface, new copies of the first book are retailing on Amazon for close to £400! So if you want the second edition of a book that is highly recommended my suggestion is you buy now before the prices go up!

Apparently the first print run has some typos and the book has now been re-edited and the second printing will see those typos fixed.

Paperback: 328 pages

Publisher: Stove Prairie Press, LLC; 1ST edition (2013)

 

TOP RECOMMENDED BOOKS

Recommendations below are based on

(1) top books identified by a review exercise run on my blog Making A Mark

(2) a review of the ratings given to books by Amazon and other websites

Choose from the books most often mentioned by artists and those which get favourable reviews

Which is your favourite oil painting book?

See results

OIL PAINTING INSTRUCTION FOR BEGINNERS

The purpose of this section is to highlight books which are well attuned to the needs of the artist who is beginning to paint in oils

The Oil Painting Course You've Always Wanted: Guided Lessons for Beginners and Experienced Artists
The Oil Painting Course You've Always Wanted: Guided Lessons for Beginners and Experienced Artists

One of the Top 10 Best Selling Books about Oil Painting on Amazon

Rated: 4.6 out of 5 stars (60 customer reviews)

Everything you always wanted to know about oil painting...but were afraid to ask.

Covers the basics - supplies required re. paint, brushes, mediums, varnishes and other supplies etc

Discusses:

* Making your brush behave

* Getting the colors you want

* Putting it all together

* 3 lessons on creating a still life, landscape and portrait paintings

Paperback: 176 pages

Publisher: Watson-Guptill (July 1, 2006)

 
The Oil Painting Book: Materials and Techniques for Today's Artist (Watson-Guptill Materials and Techniques)
The Oil Painting Book: Materials and Techniques for Today's Artist (Watson-Guptill Materials and Techniques)

Reviews: 4.7 out of 5 stars (47 customer reviews)

Bill Creevy has been creating excellent reference books for those starting out - which also satisfy more experienced painters - for some time. This book is more than ten years old but has had a lot of good reviews on Amazon and also got some mentions and recommendations in my survey. What people like about it is that it's a reference book which is good for beginners but will continue to be useful as you progress. Creevy provides a very practical and insightful commentary on commercial art supplies and materials for oil painting - it's a bit like having all the artist recommendations in your regular art magazine in one book!

"I love this book and it is full of interesting tid-bits you can go back to over and over again. It's more about experimenting with different type of oil and different approaches to painting in oil, rather than a how to paint an oil painting type of book. It was written 20 years ago, so may possibly need updating. I love Bill's enthusiasm for experimenting."

Maggie Latham

When I made the transition from painting in watercolour to oils (Winsor & Newton Griffin Alkyd) Bill Creevy's 'The Oil Painting Book' was (and is my bible). I wanted to know more about glazing in the first instance and this book has it all, different media, different techniques and materials, analysed and presented to the interested artist by an accomplished creative. I wanted to paint like him!!! This book is a treasure.

Lesley Ninnes

Published by Watson-Guptill (March 1, 1999)

 
Oils (Ron Ranson's Painting School)
Oils (Ron Ranson's Painting School)

This book about oil painting by Trevor Chamberlain is now out of print and only available by dealers. Particularly relevant to those who want to paint landscapes and paint plein air using a pochade box.

Highlighted by a number of people in my blog survey. These are their comments

"A good all-rounder in the direct approach to oil painting, lovely loose style of landscape work."

Maggie Latham

"This book was the one that inspired me to get out and paint plein air and introduced the pochade box. Trevor Chamberlains loose representational work is used to take one through most aspects of painting outdoors. A good succinct text for beginners and improvers , particularly who want to paint outside. A few years ago I would have rated this a ten."

Fred Marsh

"A good choice for beginners and improvers, the first section deals with the basics. Each area covered is followed up with ideas for practice. The second section looks at the elements of a painting again with plenty of examples of Trevor's work and more practical tasks."

Tessa Spanton

Published Trafalgar Square (January 1995)

 
Color Mixing Recipes for Oil & Acrylic: Mixing recipes for more than 450 color combinations
Color Mixing Recipes for Oil & Acrylic: Mixing recipes for more than 450 color combinations

One of the Top 10 Best Selling Books about Oil Painting on Amazon

Rated: 4.4 out of 5 stars See all reviews (54 customer reviews)

This is a book for people who want to know:

* how to measure out quantities of paint

* how to mix different colours to get the colour they desire

The Color Mixing Recipe Cards - providing more than 450 color combinations - developed by William F. Powell are now packaged in a a concealed wire-o-bound book which lies flat when opened. So you never lose a card and always have an easy reference

The Color Mixing Grid provides a perfect guide for accurately measuring paints.

Spiral-bound: 48 pages

Publisher: Walter Foster (July 1, 2004)

 
Color Mixing Recipes for Landscapes: Mixing recipes for more than 500 color combinations
Color Mixing Recipes for Landscapes: Mixing recipes for more than 500 color combinations

Rated an average of 4.3 out of 5 stars based on 53 customer reviews

#3 in Books > Arts & Photography > Painting > Oil Painting

#7 in Books > Arts & Photography > Painting > Acrylics

William Powell's books on colour mixing include one for painting landscapes using oils or acrylics.

The book also discusses how colour in the landscape is influenced by the time of day, the angle of the sun, and changing season

Series: Color Mixing Recipes

Hardcover: 48 pages

Publisher: Walter Foster Publishing; Spi edition (April 30, 2012)

 
Brushwork Essentials
Brushwork Essentials

This is a totally unique book - I've never come across another one like it

It's the only book I know of which talks in a lot of detail about brushes - the different types, the different makes and how to use them

"Mixing and loading paint, cleaning and shaping brushes for maximum control, and picking the right paint for specific types of strokes are all covered."

Rated:

USA - 4.5 out of 5 stars (48 customer reviews)

UK - 4.3 out of 5 stars (6 customer reviews)

North Light Books; 1 edition (March 29, 2010)

 

Other Books for Beginners

Identifying books which are suitable for beginners is not easy.

Not least because all beginners start with a different level of knowledge and skills.

  • Some may be starting to paint for the first time.
  • Others may be moving on from other media having mastered basics relating to generic art skills such as composition and colour
  • Some like their books dumbed down - or so some of the publishers would have us believe
  • Others like to be able to read about the scope of oil painting and more advanced aspects of oil painting

If you have a recommendation about a book which you found particularly valuable please leave a comment at the end

The Encyclopedia of Oil Painting Techniques
The Encyclopedia of Oil Painting Techniques

One of the Top 10 Best Selling Books about Oil Painting on Amazon

Rating: 4.4 out of 5 stars (21 customer reviews)

 
The Complete Oil Painter: The Essential Reference for Beginners to Professionals
The Complete Oil Painter: The Essential Reference for Beginners to Professionals

One of the Top 10 Best Selling Books about Oil Painting on Amazon

Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars (24 customer reviews)

Paperback: 128 pages

Publisher: Watson-Guptill (January 1, 2004)

 

OIL PAINTING INSTRUCTION FOR IMPROVERS

Fill Your Oil Paintings with Light & Color
Fill Your Oil Paintings with Light & Color

This is a very popular and well regarded book which has been bought by a lot of people.

Rating: One of the Top 10 Best Selling Books about Oil Painting on Amazon

#1 in Books > Arts & Photography > Painting > Oil Painting (May 2014)

* USA - 4.6 out of 5 stars (57 customer reviews)

* UK - 4.9 out of 5 stars (17 customer reviews)

Kevin McPherson is a professional artist and tutor who is a master of painting outdoors and using a pochade. He is also a regular instructor at the Scottsdale Artists' School. This book is best for those wanting to create a vibrant, impressionistic style of painting.

Here's a comment from one of my readers

"I prefer this one to his other book on Landscape Painting. In particular I received good value on the coverage of plein air painting, traveling with paints and using a very limited palette"

Fred Marsh

The book step-by-step demonstrations, painting exercises, snappy and easy to remember tips plus galleries of his work. You'll learn how to capture the character of a still life or landscape scene quickly and accurately, in bold, direct brushstrokes. Includes terrific chapters on PLEIN AIR and POCHADE painting.

Published North Light Books (March 1, 2000)

 
Problem Solving for Oil Painters: Recognizing What's Gone Wrong and How to Make it Right
Problem Solving for Oil Painters: Recognizing What's Gone Wrong and How to Make it Right

One of the Top 10 Best Selling Books about Oil Painting on Amazon

Rated an average of:

USA - 4.6 out of 5 stars (70 customer reviews)

UK - 4.4 out of 5 stars (17 customer reviews)

I first read this book by Gregg Kreutz when a friend brought it on holiday (see "Four Go Painting in Provence") and it came highly recommended by its owner. It was the only book I ordered from Amazon on my return.

The book addresses a checklist of questions relevant to oil painting - and art generally, explains essentials and demonstrates how to improve your painting. The critical difference for me is that this book is written by somebody who is very knowledgeable about oil painting. You just know that this is an author worth listening too

Paperback: 144 pages

Publisher: Watson-Guptill (April 1, 1997)

 
Oil Painting Secrets From a Master
Oil Painting Secrets From a Master

Rated an average of 4.4 out of 5 stars by 45 customer reviews

One of the most unusual books I've ever read. Minda Cateura wrote this book from notes she made in workshop sessions with David Leffel. She took what he said and organised it to create this book.

I've read it (thanks Ronelle!) and it's very impressive - and I bought my own copy as a result!

Here are comments from my blog readers

"Cateura's 'Oil painting Secrets from a Master' was my first oil painting book and I find it excellent. Easy to read, great for beginners and great images. "

Sophie Ploeg

"Wonderful choice snippets picked up by Linda C when a student of David Leffel. Thought provoking ideas & hints which makes one think when constructing a painting. Coverage includes the importance of developing a concept for a painting, brushstroke techniques, Values, colour etc. Probably best for someone looking to improve and advanced, particularly if you paint still life. (Leffels are to die for.)"

Fred Marsh

Published by Watson-Guptill (September 1, 1995)

 
Capturing the Moment in Oils
Capturing the Moment in Oils

Rated anaverage of:

USA - 4.4 out of 5 stars (7 customer reviews)

UK - 4.7 out of 5 stars (15 customer reviews)

David Curtis is one of the most popular authors writing about how to paint in oils in the UK. His paintings are also enormously popular and when I see them at exhibitions they very often have a red spot on them

Paperback: 128 pages

Publisher: Batsford; Reprint edition (February 7, 2012)

 
Painting Light in Oils
Painting Light in Oils

One of the Top 10 Best Selling Books about Oil Painting on Amazon

Peter Wileman, the President of the Royal Institute of Oil Painters demonstrates his technique in several set by step demonstrations. This is not so much an art instruction book as "this is how I do it" plus some good tips.

His paintings are eye-catching and always seem to sell well - so it's worth taking a look

Rated 3.8 out of 5 stars (6 customer reviews) | Like (18) Those who have been critical of the book echo the views I expressed above - they liked the pictures but found it too lightweight in relation to explanation of how to paint light

In his first book, Peter Wileman shows how he gets inspiration for his exciting landscapes and seascapes, working both on location and in the studio. Several step-by-step demonstrations show how he captures light and shade on his canvas with such amazing effect. There are also sections on tone and colour harmony, reflected and changing light and how to paint from both sketches and photographs.

 
The Painterly Approach: An Artist's Guide To Seeing, Painting And Expressing
The Painterly Approach: An Artist's Guide To Seeing, Painting And Expressing

Rated an average of 4.7 out of 5 stars by 27 customer reviews

This book is about eliciting a more emotional response to a landscape painting through the use of composition, value, colour and mood in a painterly way

One reader commented about this book as follows

"Bob Rohm has a way of explaining things and his painting style is just the thing I was looking for.... since reading his book 'The Painterly Approach', I find my self looking at the landscape in an entirely different way. Just discovering HOW to see and use values has encouraged me to go outside with my oils; something I wouldn't have considered a mere six weeks ago. "

Bob Rohm is a signature member of Oil Painters of America and The Pastel Society of America

Hardcover: 144 pages

Publisher: North Light Books (September 1, 2008)

 

OIL PAINTING INSTRUCTION FOR ADVANCED ARTISTS

Alla Prima: Everything I Know About Painting
Alla Prima: Everything I Know About Painting

Rated an average of 4.3 out of 5 stars by 56 customer reviews

This is the paperback version of this extremely popular book by Richard Schmid about alla prima painting in oils

It's very expensive because everyone wants a copy!

Highly rated on Amazon and mentioned a lot by oil painters in my survey (and in other surveys). I think I'd probably suggest this book actually occupies the top spot in the best books about oil painting.

This is what people had to say

"Schmid is hailed in the USA as one of the great living 'alla prima' painters. I used to own the paper back version of this book, but leant it to a friend and never had it returned. I do miss the book as it had very useful commentary on the value of creating colour charts...."

Maggie Latham

"The Richard Schmid Alla Prima book has had a massive impact on me. It is an incredible resource. I am on my 5th read of it so far and continues to offer greater and greater incites into direct painting."

Jake Gumbleton

"I will give a BIG thumbs up to "Alla Prima ~ Everything I Know About Painting" by Richard Schmid. It is a very thorough book -I have 2 copies, one for highlighting, and one for good. "

Sharon Lynn Williams

"Richard Schmid's Alla Prima I recently read and was very, very impressed. This is the best book on painting I've ever read. Love it. Not for beginners, but the ones who are already stuck into painting. "

Sophie Ploeg

"Comprehensive coverage of all aspects of alla prima painting. Design, tone, lowering chroma and colour charts were the things that I valued. Beginners through to advanced painters will get great value from this book"

Fred Marsh

"It's full of practical and down-to-earth advice. I've just started to get back into oil painting (my last one was done in 1975) and his help has been invaluable."

Walt Taylor

Stove Prairie Press (2004)

 
Gruppé on Painting: Direct Techniques in Oil
Gruppé on Painting: Direct Techniques in Oil

Now out of print and only available via dealers. It focuses on alla prima painting in oils

Gets excellent reviews from people who have bought it. It was also very highly rated in another survey I ran about favourite art books

Watson-Guptill Publications; 1st edition (1976)

Rated an average of 4.9 out of 5 stars by 8 customer reviews

 
Oil Painting Techniques and Materials (Dover Art Instruction)
Oil Painting Techniques and Materials (Dover Art Instruction)

This is one of the old standards republished - and hence will not suit all readers. However it is highly regarded.

Amazon rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars (21 customer reviews)

One reviewer on Amazon compares this to Richard Schmid's 'Alla Prima' book in coverage but says that this book is more dense - which is why I've included it in the serious students / advanced painters section

"Harold Speed's second book 'Oil Painting Techniques and Materials ' is incredible"

Jake Gumblton

PAPERBACK EDITION | KINDLE EDITION now also available

 

© 2010 Katherine Tyrrell

Has this site helped you with learning to paint in oils? - comments are welcome - but please do not spam

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    • SaraPaxtonArtwork profile image

      Sara Paxton 2 years ago from Australia

      Great list of books, I especially like 'Painting Light in Oils'. There are millions of books on oil paintings more than one would think so it can be hard to sift through them all.

      I have been painting in oils, full time for many years and have quite a collection. Some of the books I regularly come back to are listed here

      -- http://www.sarapaxtonartworks.com/must-read-art-bo...

      One that I can never recommend enough is called 'Studio' it is a stunning book full of the most inspiring painting spaces. It is extremely motivational!

    • Millionairemomma profile image

      Millionairemomma 4 years ago

      You provided a really great selection of books!

    • profile image

      eileen_morey 5 years ago

      My mother studied with Gruppe, so I'm familiar with his books. They're very difficult to find, and incredibly expensive. If you do manage to find one, I recommend making color photocopies of the pages for your own use. I keep my notebook (with photocopies) next to my easel, for reference. That way, if and when I get paint on the pages, it's not heartbreaking; they're only photocopies!

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