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Learning how to paint is one thing, but figuring out what to paint is completely different—and often calls for some inspiration to get those ideas flowing. One of the best ways to kick your painting practice into high gear is through art books that ignite inspiration and ideas.
We rigorously researched the best books for painting ideas and inspiration, evaluating them on accessibility, guidance, skill level, painting medium, color theory, and techniques. Our top pick, Daily Painting, covers all painting mediums, inspires consistency, and motivates artists through establishing confidence in their skill set and craft.
Here are the best books for painting ideas and inspiration.
Best Overall: Daily Painting: Paint Small and Often To Become a More Creative, Productive, and Successful Artist
Covers all painting mediums
Makes painting feel more accessible
Not for established artists
One of the most challenging things about painting is actually sitting down and doing it. This is especially true if painting is considered a hobby or something you do when you have free time. For those looking to improve their painting skills, get inspired, and stay consistent with their art, this is a great pick.
It’s our choice for the best overall category because it is inclusive of all painting mediums, helps make a regular practice feel more attainable, and supports productivity and consistency. The painting book also helps establish more confidence as an artist through detailed insight on composition and value, plus it's a great pick for someone looking to create and sell their art, as it covers how to photograph and sell paintings online, too.
This book is all about establishing a daily painting practice and has the structure to help you do so. However, some artists might feel that this book is too structured for their preferred process. Additionally, those who are more established artists might feel that it is a little too beginner-friendly.
Best for Beginners: Painting for the Absolute and Utter Beginner
Practical and accessible skills for beginners
Covers a broad range of topics
Demonstrates problem solving
Mostly focuses on acrylic painting
If you’re on the hunt for the best painting book for beginners, this one is it. The book was inspired by and based on courses and workshops taught by the author, giving the reader a scholastic approach to learning how to paint from the comfort of their own home. It covers everything a beginner painter needs to know—think: techniques, paint consistency, color creation, and dimension building—and guides the reader through the process of painting in a way that feels intuitive and accessible.
One of the things we love the most about this book is that it has fantastic examples that allow the reader to grasp the information, plus it shows how to fix problems, which is something you typically get from taking a class, not reading a book.
The only downside to this book is that it mostly focuses on acrylic painting, so it’s not the best match for someone looking to learn how to oil paint or watercolor.
Best for Acrylics: Compendium of Acrylic Painting Techniques
Covers everything on acrylic painting
Covers color mixing and creating a palette
Brush techniques aren’t as comprehensive
This book on acrylic painting is all about going back to the basics with a comprehensive look at everything from composition, to color mixing, to creating a palette, and more. If you’re on the hunt for an acrylic painting book that will mostly be used either to teach you how to paint or as a reference while painting, this is an excellent choice. It’s also a great choice for someone looking to switch from another painting medium—such as oils or watercolor—and learn the ins and outs of acrylics and how they compare to the mediums they are used to.
The only thing this book doesn’t have a lot of is brushing and painting techniques, or a focus on putting paint to canvas. While there are some, most of the comprehensive guidelines focus on the foundation of acrylic painting, which is why it’s a great guide for preparation of color mixing, palette creation, and other important factors.
Best History: Art: The Definitive Visual Guide
Covers over 7,000 artists’ work
Highlights all of the important movements
Easy to understand
Coffee table book
Taking a look at the history of art is an amazing way to not only ground yourself in the medium’s roots, but to gain some real inspiration from all of the greats that came before. If you’re looking to get inspired by art’s fascinating history, look no further. This visual guide to art history covers over 7,000 artists and their work, highlighting important movements across a variety of mediums. It’s visually stunning, easy to understand, and offers a more comprehensive approach to the vastness of art history.
Our only issue with this book is that it’s a whopping 7.5 pounds. And while it makes a stunning coffee table book, it almost feels too pretty to use near our paints.
Best for Watercolor: Everyday Watercolor: Learn to Paint Watercolor in 30 Days
Guides you through creating a daily practice
Breaks down the techniques needed to master watercoloring
Easy-to-follow exercises that build upon skills
Mostly focused on floral paintings
Doesn’t highlight color theory
The product recommendations aren’t great
Thanks to social media, watercolor is having a major moment right now, and this book is all about taking your watercolor interest up a notch and developing a daily practice. This watercolor book is rooted in easy-to-follow exercises that help the reader (and artist!) build upon their skill set, allowing them to tackle more in-depth works of art as time goes on. It breaks down all of the techniques a beginner might need to know, plus it helps amateurs master their watercolor skills even further. And while we wouldn’t normally recommend a digital art book, the e-book version of this title is pretty comparable to the physical copy.
If you’re looking for a book that will get you in the habit of regular watercolor painting, this is our top choice. That being said, it’s not so great for those who are ultra-new to painting, since it doesn’t cover color theory and other beneficial and foundational skills. On top of that, the product recommendations are on the pricey side, which can make you feel like you need to fork over a bunch of cash on a new hobby, which definitely isn’t the case since you can absolutely go for more affordable and beginner-friendly watercolor products instead.
Best for Color: 1,500 Color Mixing Recipes for Oil, Acrylic & Watercolor
Teaches you how to mix skin tones
Spiral bound for easy reference while painting
Mixing color is an important part of the painting process—but it can also be the root of inspiration, too. For a book that deep dives into the world of color mixing, look no further. This painting book covers everything you need to know about mixing paint colors for oil, acrylic, and watercolor. The reason this book landed on our top picks list is because of how well it makes color mixing feel easy to understand. This is in large part thanks to the book’s Color Guidance Index, which allows you to reference an object and then find the exact recipe for that object’s color. It also offers an immersive, learn-as-you-go approach to color theory, color value mixing, mixing skin tones, and rendering skies and clouds.
The book only has one fault and that is its complexity. Thanks to the subject matter, it’s hard not to get super complex. However, this book can be hard to digest in a traditional way. Because of that, we recommend keeping it on hand as a reference or for sparking inspiration through color palettes versus reading it cover to cover.
Best for Oil Painting: The Oil Painting Course You've Always Wanted: Guided Lessons for Beginners and Experienced Artists
Focuses on creating the illusion of 3D
Great for all skill levels
Not ideal for quick references
If oil painting is your medium of choice, this is a great book for both inspiration, ideas, and furthering your knowledge of the medium. Created for all skill levels—from beginners to trained artists—this title offers clear step-by-step lessons that help you further your oil painting skills through various techniques (including creating 3D illusions) and subject matters. As the title suggests, it’s an oil painting course in the shape of a book, which means it’s also very extensive and not really ideal for quick references while painting. This is definitely one of those books you read through and get inspired to further your painting skills through all that you learn.
Best for Gouache: Get Started with Gouache: A Colorful Guide to Painting the World Around You
Illustrations are modern and inspiring
Might be too simple for experienced artists
This painting book is all about gouache. Altogether, it’s a fresh and fun take on the basics and techniques for creating beautiful pieces of art with the water-based paints—but it also serves as great inspiration. The book includes illustrations from the author that are modern, relatable, and bound to spark your own creative ideas, making the title both functional and inspirational. I
The book is a great read for all skill levels, however, those who are a little more experienced with gouache might find the teachings a little too simple (but they might still love the illustrations).
The best overall book for painting ideas and inspiration is Daily Painting: Paint Small and Often To Become a More Creative, Productive, and Successful Artist. Not only does it inspire you to pick up your paint brush, it also inspires a more consistent practice, no matter what painting medium you prefer. An excellent book for gaining inspiration through color is 1,500 Color Mixing Recipes for Oil, Acrylic & Watercolor. We love that the book has a Color Guidance Index that allows you to search an object and find the exact color recipe to mix. It’s also a great source of inspiration for creating color palettes.
What to Look for in a Painting Book
When searching for the best painting books that spark inspiration and ideas, it’s always a good idea to gravitate toward a book that focuses on your preferred painting medium. While you can absolutely borrow ideas across different mediums, having a book focused on your preferred paint type is bound to induce maximum inspiration.
If you’re new at painting, your skill level is important to consider. Picking up a book that is designed with your experience in mind will help make the ideas, inspiration, and execution all the more accessible.
If you plan on using your book as a guide for painting, be sure to consider the recommended supplies and purchase what you need beforehand. It also helps to check out the book reviews for insight on where to make investments in your supplies, and where to look for more budget-friendly alternatives.
How do I find inspiration for painting?
Inspiration can come from all sorts of places, but a painting book is a great place to start. Many painting books go over techniques and even have painting prompts, which can ignite inspiration. In addition to books, a trip to a local museum is another great place to let your imagination soar. And, immersing yourself in art that makes you feel inspired—whether that be in person or online through social media—can also help get ideas flowing.
How do artists decide what to paint?
Deciding what to paint can be a very personal experience and often stems from personality and personal interests or inspiration. Artists often paint what they know, but they are also open to exploration and immersing themselves in the process of painting, which guides them as they go.
What are the 5 main inspirations for artists?
The general saying is that artists source their inspiration from the photographs, personal experience, observation, imagination, and quest for order.
Why Trust The Spruce Crafts
Contributing writer Jessie Quinn has a Bachelor’s Degree from Academy of Art University and, as the daughter of an artist, has painted for nearly all of her life. When researching the best books for painting ideas and inspiration, Jessie used her background in art and painting as a guide, plus her personal passion for curating her own shelf of inspiring art books to use as inspiration. She rigorously researched dozens of painting books—considering the subject matter, customer reviews, and everything in between—before landing on the above roundup, which showcases titles for various painting techniques, mediums, and skill levels for your inspiration and reading pleasure.