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My 8 Favourite 'Art Books'

Updated: Jan 20

It's that time of year when thoughts start turning to what you might like to wrap and put under the tree, or look forward to receiving. Here are eight 'art' books which I think are wonderful, inspirational and I don't think you need to be an artist to enjoy any of them. They're in no particular order (and I really struggled to whittle it down!).




Paul Cézanne Drawings and Watercolours

by Christopher Lloyd


This is my slightly geeky pick, it's a fascinating book looking at the life and work of one of the greatest artists of his day through the prism of his drawings and watercolours, which is what attracted me to it.


Cézanne was dedicated to his vocation of depicting the truth of what he saw. This book takes the reader through his life looking the influence of past masters, impressionism, and then onto chapters exploring subject matter; the figure, the individual, landscapes and still life. There are 226 illustrations making it a visual treat for the eye as well as a fascinating read. The images include work by other artists of the day as well as a wealth of work by Cézanne, one for the mind and the eye.


Sketchbook Explorations for Mixed Media and Textile Artists

by Shelley Rhodes



This is a proper 'eye candy' book. I could just stare at the wonderful pictures for hours (and do regularly!). The writing is rather marvellous as well. There are hints and tips about how particular materials work, what to take in a travel kit, which specific sketchbooks Shelley favours and ideas to help start a sketchbook habit. It provides a fascinating insight into the working process behind the simply stunning work that Shelley creates and where she gets her inspiration from alongside examples from other artists. Shelley recently released a second book called Fragmentation and Repair which might just be appearing on my wish list!


Visit Shelley Rhodes website


The Secret Lives of Colour

by Kassia St Clair


I have to admit I get a bit befuddled when people talk about hot greens and cool reds etc. I'm not much of a colour geek in that respect but I adore colour and find the stories behind where colours come from fascinating. This is a wonderful trip around both the colour spectrum and the world giving an insight into the painstaking (and often quite fascinatingly disgusting) processes that artists and colour makers endured to achieve their colour dreams.


The book is organised into chapters for each 'colour' and then broken down into specific shades, for example there are seven white's including silver, beige and ivory. The stories behind each colour are varied and fascinating, they are a collection of the stories of people throughout history and our obsession with colour.


A Hebridean Notebook & A Shetland Notebook

by Norman Ackroyd



I'm cheating slightly here as I have two of these: the Hebridean and the Shetland sketchbooks. These are amazing reproductions of Norman Ackroyd's sketchbooks. Until I bought these I hadn't realised quite what an intrepid explorer he is.


These sketchbooks are the preparatory work for Ackroyd's amazing etchings and are made during research trips when he hires a small boat and journeys to the far, almost unreachable places at sea to capture images complete with the wind, the rain, the spray and the waves. You can almost smell the salt rising off the pages as you turn them.


Visit Norman Ackroyd's website


The Miserable Lives of Fabulous Artists

by Chris Orr


This is the most wonderfully humorous book for anyone who enjoys hunting for detail in pictures and has a sense of humour. Chris Orr creates incredibly detailed prints, drawings and watercolours that look deeply into the human experience. The example below is Jackson Pollock's page and the caption reads 'Searching for a lost button at Jackson's'.


At the back of the book is an explanation about each image. Although there is a sense of irony and humour in the images, with the explanation comes a better understanding of Orr's respect for the artists he is portraying and the deep thought that has gone into the making of each image. This is a multi layered book that will make you chuckle then think, and return to it again and again.


Visit Chris Orr's website


Descent to Byworth

By John T Freeman

John T Freeman is a painter, printmaker and (excellent) teacher. Descent to Byworth is the second in a trilogy of books which starts with I, London and ends with Paris Workings. The images, a mixture of paintings and etchings, are accompanied by a commentary which is haunting, beautifully written and utterly gripping. The book starts in Lambeth, Brixton in 1983 and is entitled 'Tired of London, tired of life'. A vivid picture of life in working class London is painted in incredibly succinct snippets of experience and observation. Each page of writing is accompanied by an image which compliments the words but is not directly connected.


The main body of the book is called 'Exiled' and describes life over a three month period in Byworth, West Sussex in 1984. The observations are sharp, the descriptions are poetic and it's impossible to put down once you start. The problem with this book is that the writing is so gripping that you have to go back to properly appreciate the images. I can't possibly do them justice by trying to describe them, but they're oh so worth going back to, again and again!

Visit John T Freeman's website


The A-Z of Printmaking

By Elly Robinson


I had to include this because it's such a gorgeous little book. There is an image for each letter included alongside a poetic little verse. The whole book is acrostic, spelling out printmaking terms and essentials from 'hands' to 'viscosity', 'intaglio' and 'paper', all with beautifully poetic descriptions. This is a wonderful gift for anyone with a printmaking passion!


Norfolk Gems 44 Printmakers Explore the County

By Alan Marshall


This is a stunning book which takes the reader on a journey around the county led by the images. There is a wonderful array of printmaking techniques on display from 44 artists which makes the imagery varied and exciting. As well as information about the places depicted in the images there are snippets about the printmakers and their methods, such as the fact that HJ Jackson hand burnishes all his linocuts using an old tobacco tin and Sally Hirst used iron filings to rust the paper for her 'Gasholder #1' print.


It is fascinating to see several images depicting the same place interpreted by several different artists. This is a lovely book for anyone with a passion for Norfolk or who enjoys printmakers work (or both!).



So there you have eight fabulous books, if you have further recommendations do let me know, I so love a good book!

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