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You can enjoy painting and have a passion for it. Or you may be interested in trying it and using oils, acrylics, or watercolors to make a masterpiece. Reading books about the craft is an excellent way to develop your skills. If you take classes, like observing experienced artists, or dabble, these activities go a long way to developing art skills. Reading about different methods and styles can help you hone your craft or get started.
Some painting books are ideal for novices, while others help intermediate-level painters explore various techniques and color theory. You can learn to paint landscapes while others guide you in creating lifelike portraits. You can even find options for kids and teens.
Here, the best books on learning to paint.
Best Overall: "How to Paint: A Complete Beginner's Guide to Watercolors, Acrylics, and Oils"
For anyone just starting, we recommend "How to Paint: A Complete Beginner's Guide to Watercolors, Acrylics, and Oils" by Angela Gair and Ian Sidaway. This comprehensive intro to painting book is geared toward novices. It includes 38 projects with step-by-step instructions for depicting everything from landscapes and animals to people and still lifes. As the title suggests, the projects help you learn various watercolor, acrylic, and oil painting approaches.
This catchall book offers tips and advice on selecting brushes, paints, canvases, and other materials. It has more than 350 photos of stunning paintings to help you visualize the methods and inspire you to get started.
Best for Kids: "Paint Lab for Kids: 52 Creative Adventures in Painting and Mixed Media for Budding Artists of All Ages"
If you're looking for a book for an aspiring child artist, "Paint Lab for Kids" by Stephanie Corfee is an excellent pick. With 52 easy-to-follow painting projects, simple materials lists, and lots of photographs, it helps kiddos learn to paint and expand their skillset and enhance creativity.
This book makes a great gift for an artistic child. It's also ideal for teachers, crafty families, and homeschoolers.
Best for Teens: "Painting Party: Acrylic Painting for Beginners"
"Painting Party: Acrylic Painting for Beginners" by Anna Bartlett is perfect for artistic teenagers. It features 12 paint-along projects for those new to the world of acrylic paints. With easy, step-by-step guidance, teens can learn to create bright and vibrant flowers, animals, and landscapes. They can even paint their own version of famous masterpieces, like Monet's "Bridge Over a Pond of Water Lilies."
Best for Adults: "Daily Painting: Paint Small and Often to Become a More Creative, Productive, and Successful Artist"
For adults looking to develop their skill set, we suggest "Daily Painting: Paint Small and Often to Become a More Creative, Productive, and Successful Artist" by Carol Marine. This book acknowledges how hard it can be to get into a routine with painting.
This book offers one-day-at-a-time guidance to help you break free from painter's block and gain confidence as an artist. You'll get motivation, encouragement, and helpful exercises to expand your horizons and improve your craft.
Best for Watercolor: "Everyday Watercolor: Learn to Paint Watercolor in 30 Days"
The best book on watercolor painting is "Everyday Watercolor: Learn to Paint Watercolor in 30 Days" by Jenna Rainey. This contemporary day-by-day guide covers foundational strokes and methods while helping you build on these basic techniques.
Over a month, you'll learn how to achieve various shapes, dimensions, and effects with watercolor. You'll depict objects, paint people, and create landscapes while developing your personal style as an artist.
Best for Oil Painting: "The Oil Painting Course You've Always Wanted: Guided Lessons for Beginners and Experienced Artists"
To learn more about oil painting, check out "The Oil Painting Course You've Always Wanted" by Kathleen Lochen Staiger. It features straightforward lessons with step-by-step guidance on various techniques.
You'll learn about brush control, color mixing, and sketching on canvas. This book caters to beginners and intermediate artists, offering clear tips and guidelines for creating 3D illusions, still-life paintings, portraits, and landscapes.
Best for Acrylics: "Learn to Paint in Acrylics with 50 Small Paintings"
If you're interested in acrylic painting, we recommend "Learn to Paint in Acrylics with 50 Small Paintings" by Mark Daniel Nelson. As the title implies, this book guides you through creating 50 small paintings (5 x 5 inches each) with simple, illustrated steps.
Learn all the fundamentals and methods of working with acrylics. As you make your way through the book, you'll paint a shoe, a flower, a box, a boat, a bunch of bananas, a chicken, and many more simple yet striking pieces.
Best on Color Theory: "Color Theory: An Essential Guide to Color—From Basic Principles to Practical Applications"
"Color Theory" by Patti Mollica explores the use of color in painting or color theory. You'll discover vital aspects of color mixing, color selection, pigment characteristics, and blending techniques while learning how to apply each concept to the canvas. This book also includes step-by-step projects with useful tips for achieving striking, realistic hues.
Best for Technique: "Artist's Painting Techniques"
"Artist's Painting Techniques" by Hashim Akib is a comprehensive guide covering all aspects of learning to paint. It starts with the fundamentals, like learning to sketch and observational skills. The book provides lessons in painting with oils, acrylics, and watercolors while teaching you about color, tone, patterns, composition, and brushwork.
Best for Abstract: "Abstract Painting: The Elements of Visual Language"
If you're interested in abstract art, reading "Abstract Painting: The Elements of Visual Language" by Jane Davies is a great place to start. The book examines how to create a range of visual effects, including lines, shapes, patterns, dimensions, texture, and color. You'll learn to become a more expressive artist and reflect on your work with a new lens.
Best for Portraits: "The Art of Drawing & Painting Portraits"
To learn about portraiture, consider reading "The Art of Drawing & Painting Portraits" by Tim Chambers, Ken Goldman, Peggi Habets, and Lance Richlin. It includes beginner-friendly projects with step-by-step instructions for effectively sketching and painting people. Whether you're partial to acrylics, watercolors, or oil paints, you'll learn how to create stunning, realistic portraits.
Best for Realism: "Color and Light: A Guide for the Realist Painter"
James Gurney's "Color and Light: A Guide for the Realist Painter" is an instructive guide to realism. It covers essential elements, themes, painting theory, color mixing, sketching, and the practical components of creating realistic images with paints.
Best for Landscapes: "Landscape Painting Essentials with Johannes Vloothuis: Lessons in Acrylic, Oil, Pastel and Watercolor"
If you're interested in learning to paint scenery from the natural world, check out "Landscape Painting Essentials with Johannes Vloothuis." This book helps you capture the beauty of nature by teaching you about color selection, brushstrokes, key concepts, and critical techniques. It includes nine easy-to-follow lessons for successfully painting landscapes.
The best beginner book on learning to paint is "How to Paint: A Complete Beginner's Guide to Watercolors, Acrylics, and Oils" (available at Amazon). It's an excellent introductory guide if you are new to the world of painting and includes lessons for oils, acrylics, and watercolors. A great guide for those looking to expand their repertoire or get out of a painting rut is "Daily Painting: Paint Small and Often to Become a More Creative, Productive, and Successful Artist" (available at Amazon).
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Theresa Holland is a book lover, museum-goer, and professional writer with substantial experience researching and reviewing craft products. In addition to The Spruce Crafts, she writes for The Spruce, MyDomaine, and Byrdie.