May 31, 2023

I love books. All kinds of books. Obviously, there are a few rows of art books on my bookshelves. And I use them. I like to flip through them when I'm looking for inspiration. I expand my knowledge about art and artists and get lost in the stories. In general, I love the feeling of being surrounded by books. They make me feel safe and at the same time make me curious. A great combination.

“I have lived a thousand lives and I’ve loved a thousand loves. I’ve walked on distant worlds and seen the end of time. Because I read.”

- George R. R. Martin

Painting has much in common with books. It too tells stories. Both have the power to spark ideas, lead us into strange worlds, or make us see the truth. Today I present my favorite art books. Books on art, books about artists, books for artists.

It's not easy to limit myself to 10 books. After all, I love them all. As you can imagine, I've accumulated quite a few art books over the years. Plus, I live with a writer and art enthusiast. So, what can I say ... We already have a few books 😉
To make it easier for me to choose, I divided the books into categories. And here are my favorites:

Art Books for Overview

The Story of Art by E.H. Gombrich

The standard work in art history. This book is not limited to a simple collection of information about artworks and artists. It tells the story of art (story, not history!). Gombrich, a student of the cultural historian Aby Warburg, looks at artists and their works in the context of their times. One reads how they developed, how migration, politics, and religion influenced art, and how it changed with new knowledge or technological advances.

As much as he delves into the content, his writing style remains fluid and easy. He avoids jargon as much as possible and tells the story in a lively and exciting way. Every piece of art he writes about is also illustrated. He starts with cave paintings and continues into the 1990s. And it is not limited to Western art.
In my opinion, "The History of Art" by E.H. Gombrich is one of the best art history books ever written.

Das Kunstbuch Eine Geschichte der Kunst von E.H. Gombrich aufgeklappt auf der Seite mit Botticellis Geburt der Venus als Aufklappbild.

GEO Epoch Edition - The History of Art

Not a book, but a series of magazines. The GEO Epoch Edition - The History of Art is published twice a year and is dedicated to a specific theme. This can be an art epoch, a particular artist, a period or a region. Each issue contains about 10 articles by different authors, excitingly written, lively and informative.
The illustrations are stunning! Absolute glossy quality. And the selection is great. In addition to the well-known highlights, you always get to see lesser-known masterpieces that are not included in every compilation.

With these magazines, you can not only expand your knowledge, you can simply lose yourself in them and get inspired. At the moment there are 27 issues. Stefan and I just started our collection with 2 issues - the one about Italy and one about Spain. We love to browse through them, each on our own or together. There is so much to discover in them. I also like the fact that you can enjoy them "in bites".
These magazines are definitely worth collecting!

Weniger Kunstbücher, als Magazine. Dennoch sehr lehrreich.

Art of Italy and Art of Spain

Marriage at Cana by Paulo Veronese

Escaping Criticism by Pere Borrell del Caso

Artist Monographs


Of course, I want to know as much as possible about the artists I like. I accomplish this with artist monographs. They focus on a single artist and offer a deeper insight into his or her life, work, and creative development. Many of my books on famous artists are very beautiful coffee-table books from Taschen Publisher, which has grown from a publisher of inexpensive little books to a very serious art book publisher. 

I find that the newer books from Taschen Kunstbuch Publisher are particularly beautiful. The illustrations are carefully selected and printed on high quality paper. The publisher emphasizes knowledge transfer and accessibility of the content. The texts are well researched, well written, and provide a solid introduction to the various artists, art movements, and eras.

One of my favorite artists is definitely Michelangelo Merisi, called Caravaggio. His paintings have the dramaturgy of a play. He is unsurpassed in his use of light and shadow. The illustrations in my art book on Caravaggio are spectacular, and his life reads as shocking and suspenseful as a thriller.

Cover Caravaggio

The Taking of Christ Detail

Caravaggio vs. Rembrandt

Egon Schiele

Egon Schiele's art is completely unadorned. That is what I like about it. It is intense, raw, radical. The book "Schiele" by Reinhard Steiner. It not only tells an interesting story about Schiele's life, but also places his work in the context of his time. The high-quality paper on which the book is printed is also a tactile pleasure for me as a paper lover.

Cover Schiele

Pregnant woman and death by Egon Schiele

Trees in autumn I


Girl with black hair

Artemisia Gentileschi!

1610 AD. Artemisia Gentileschi was 17 years old when she was brutally raped in her father's home. Although her tormentor was brought to justice, he publicly accused her of prostitution. Not only did she have to endure her rapist's own interrogation, but to prove her innocence, she had to have her abdomen examined in court and was tortured with thumbscrews. In the end, he was found guilty, but as a protégé of the Pope, he went free. She, on the other hand, had to leave Rome because of the scandal and entered into an unwanted marriage.

These experiences are reflected in her art. It often deals with either violence against women or their revenge. Caravaggio's influence on Gentileschi's painting is evident. She is also a master of light and shadow.

The book "Lives of Artemisia Gentileschi by herself and others" is unfortunately not even 15 cm high. But that does not make her masterpieces any less impressive. The content of the booklet is also very interesting. It contains not only an excerpt of Artemisia's testimony in court, but also letters about her, to her, and from her. Among other things, it contains a letter she wrote to Galileo Galilei in 1635.

Lives of Artemisia Gentileschi

Judith and Holofernes

The Rape of Lucretia

Judith and her Maidservant

Books for Inspiration

Sketching People

This is a book I pick up again and again. I love the variety and how different the artists express themselves. Helen Birch shows more than 90 works by renowned contemporary artists and talks about the basics - and the techniques with which the pictures were created; but also about the intentions of the artists. It is a great book to flip through and be inspired by. I just discovered that this must be a series, and there are books on other subjects as well. Something for my wish list 😉

Sketching People

Sylvie Guillot

Sophie Rambert

Jylian Gustlin

Fascination nude drawing

This book is also about the representation of the human body. Nude painting is one of my passions and I love the expression that can be achieved. Werner Maier gives suggestions and a small introduction to modern nude drawing. Then he quickly moves on to his own nude drawings and sketches. He does write a few words about the individual drawings, but otherwise lets them stand alone. That's okay, because his book is not for learning how to draw nudes. But for inspiration. I like the ease of his strokes.

Fascination nude drawing

Nude Study

Watercolor Nude

Books about painting techniques and to increase knowledge

Gottfried Bammes drawing school

I got this book a few years ago as a special edition from Boesner. It contains two standard works by Gottfried Bammes: Drawing People and Drawing Animals. Bammes was a professor of anatomy at the Dresden University of Fine Arts. He was also a visiting professor in St. Petersburg, Great Britain, and Switzerland. Many of his numerous publications are indispensable references at art schools and are published worldwide.

The two volumes deal extensively with anatomy and proportion in humans and animals. They are useful and helpful and I always refer to them. Since my copy is a special edition, I do not know if it is still available in this form. But I highly recommend it to anyone involved in the artistic representation of humans and animals.

Drawing school


Bones of arm and hand


Skeleton and musculature

Hind leg

Pastel Rebel by Dawn Emerson

I bought this book once because I wanted to learn more about pastel painting. Nothing really came of it. Although I like the loose pigments very much, I used them rather selectively and sporadically: To underline, to emphasize, to highlight - just to make marks. Still, I love the book.

I appreciate the imperfect, the implied, the shadowy more than the precise drawing. So the book is more a source of inspiration than a textbook. Still, I have gotten many exciting inspirations from this book.

Dawn Emerson begins her book by saying, "This book is about learning to make art as an experience..." This runs through the text, the images, and the structure of the book. For example, there are some step-by-step exercises. But this is not about reproducing a picture she has painted, as is the case in many such books. It's about learning the technique, applying it, and then being able to create your own works of art.

Pastel Rebel

Make as many mistakes as you can

Telling her Story

Abstract painting by Petra Thölken

When I started to get more and more abstract in my painting, Petra Thölken's YouTube channel - Künstlerstreich - was a great help. Petra has a wonderful, introspective way. Who knows the fear of the blank canvas - with Petra you overcome it immediately. Both her videos and her book, which I also bought at the time, are excellent for beginners.

Even though I haven't needed step-by-step instructions for a long time, the book is still a source of inspiration for me. It reminds me to keep things simple, think outside the box, and reuse where I can.

Painting abstract

How to paint

Bonus Book

Ok, I cheated. I could not commit to 10 books and am shameless enough to call the 11th book a bonus book 🙂
But I'm not wrong. Reading Art and Fear is a bonus! I will show you what I mean by quoting the first paragraph of the introduction:

"This is a book about making art. Ordinary art. Ordinary art means as much as: Any art that was not created by Mozart. After all, art is rarely created by people like Mozart-in fact, statistically speaking, there are no such people. But while a genius may be born once a century, good art is created all the time. Making art is an intense human activity, practiced throughout history, full of dangers (and rewards), like any worthwhile endeavor. The difficulties of making art are not remote and heroic, but obvious and common."

Artists Davis Bayles and Ted Orland address the challenges and fears associated with creative processes. The book offers a refreshing and honest look into the world of art and is a source of aha moments for anyone who struggles with themselves and their creativity from time to time - or more often.
It shows that we all sometimes ask ourselves if we are good enough.

Share your art book passion: Recommend me your favorites

I hope you enjoyed this look at my favorite art books! These works have inspired me to unleash my own creativity and continue my artistic journey.

Which (art) books have influenced you? I'd love to hear your recommendations! Are there any particular artists whose work you admire the most? What art techniques or styles are you most interested in?

Thanks for reading and for your support. See you soon. Keep creating!

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About the Author Lea Finke

Lea Finke is an artist with all her soul. In her blog, she talks about inspiration, passion, and encounters with art.

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