Inspiring and Helpful Art Books to Check Out


February 6, 2023

Studio-life Balance
Art Practice
follow Jill
Berkshire artist, day-dreamer, color collector, and recovering sketchbook hoarder. I’ll always be excited by the initial energy surge of a new art supply, color mix, or technique. This attraction to the possibility of discovery during exploration has influenced my entire artistic journey.
I'm Jill Gustavis
A stack of art books in the sun next to a couch.

February is National Reading Month! So I’m sharing a list of Art books with you that I’ve found useful and inspiring. In addition to the books, I also have a great way to check out books without spending any money! So if you’ve wanted to boost your creative practice on a budget, read on!

In case you didn’t know this about me, I love books. I grew up an avid reader and even worked at the Endicott College library all four years plus a summer. Books have also always been my favorite way to learn something. There are times when a video is more useful when you’re learning timing or movement, but many things can be very well presented on paper, always available despite Wi-Fi, and don’t require you to stare at a screen.

I picked out a few of my favorite books I have, or are on my own wish list. Each book has an affiliate link to find it on Amazon. If you use the links to purchase the books, I will receive compensation. If you’re not an Amazon fan, or are more interested in that no-money approach I talked about, hang tight. I’ll cover how to use the Amazon page to get your hands on the book for free!

Let’s get into it!

The Books:

How-to Be Good to Your Inner Artist:

“The Artist’s Way: A Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity” by Julia Cameron

A program to walk you through common blocks to being creative and constructive habits to cultivate your creative self. Get ready to start taking yourself on artist-dates and writing in your morning pages!

A Good Beginner’s Watercolor Book:

“The Watercolor Book: Materials and Techniques for Today’s Artist” by David Dewey

This book is full of basic foundational tools, principles, and techniques, as the title says, laid out with lots of step by step photos and tips. A great place to start getting familiar with watercolor.

Landscapes Looking Loose and Painterly:

“Watercolor Painting: A Comprehensive Approach to Mastering the Medium” by Tom Hoffman

An inspiring and illuminating book balanced between technique and theory that celebrates the lovely loose nature that watercolor paintings can master. Although this book concentrates on landscapes, the techniques and mindset could also be applied to other subjects with a discerning mind.

Landscapes in the Traditional Style:

“Artful Watercolor: Learning to Use the Secrets of Light” by Lou Bonamarte and Carolyn Janik

Complementing Hoffman’s looser text, Artful Watercolor approaches landscapes with a more structured style. Often amidst beautiful details, chapters and examples include focusing on value, composition, and color harmony within a scene.

All About Color:

“Exploring Color Workshop” or “Confident Color: an Artist’s Guide to Harmony, Contrast, and Unity by Nita Leland

These two books are both great. Although there is a slight difference between them, and I prefer Exploring Color a bit more overall, I would just recommend whichever is easier for you to access. Both books display many mediums (not exclusively watercolor) as they cover color theory, color-inspired artworks, color-mixing techniques, and common color palettes, both limited and full.

A Relatively New Addition to my Book List!
Sketching/Plein Air Painting:

“Sketching Techniques for Artists: In-Studio and Plein-Air Methods for Drawing and Painting Still Lifes, Landscapes, Architecture, Faces and Figures, and More” by Alex Hillkurtz

As the subtitle illuminates, this book covers much more than urban sketching. I recently checked this book out and was extremely impressed by the range of techniques and mindset covered by Alex. I will be picking up my own copy some time this year. (Most likely right before plein air/urban sketching season picks up!)

So, How Do I Get These Books for Free?

Easy, you check them out. Physically check them out from your local library! Is your library on the smaller side, and probably doesn’t have the latest in art books? No worries. Most libraries belong to a system of libraries. Depending on where you live, there’s a chance there’s a large urban area, universities, and other large sources of newer and interesting books, not just children’s bedtime staples and a gardening encyclopedia from 1984.

It Gets Better…

Now, you could take each title and type in into you local library site to see if it’s in the system. Or, if you use Chrome, there’s an add-on called the Library Extension. You just set it up with your desired library or library system and it automatically pops up on a book page (Amazon, B&N, etc) with your library search results. Magic.

The Library Extension will show up here as 3 stacked books.

Some examples for you:

See on the upper right it says there’s 0 of 1 copy in the C/W Mars library Catalog? That’s because I have it sitting next me. 😉

This one shows that the catalog has 2 copies total, but one is checked out. If I wanted to borrow it, the button would link me over to the catalog’s website to sign in and check the book out.

Now, not every book will be in your library system, but it’s a great way to literally check out books before buying them! For every book I decide I definitely want to buy after borrowing, there’s probably 3 I didn’t. Sometimes books are a one-read experience, and others I want on my shelf to reference often. This allows me to limit how many “Why did I buy this” books I’m storing on my bookshelf.


This works for ANY sort of book, audiobook, dvd, music, etc that may be in the library catalog! My second biggest use of borrowing books is COOKBOOKS!

I’ve lost count of how many cookbooks look good online and in enthusiastic reviews, but prove not a good fit. One flip through eliminates many due to too many/costly/hard-to-get ingredients or unusable/complicated recipes in general. (An overnight marinade is pushing it and “You can get this from any insert-specialty-store.” is usually a nope.)

On the other hand, I’ve also confirmed some recipe books as keepers, ordering my own copy not 24 hours into a borrow.

Not that you asked, but this is my favorite lately.
Also found through the library!

My Kitchen Chalkboard: Seasonal Menus for Modern New England Families by Leigh Belanger

Wrapping Up This Chapter

I love books, which is also evident in my obsession with sketchbooks. I also love when I don’t feel guilty binging on them because I get to read them risk-free. Each of the books listed above I first borrowed through the library. I know own each, with the exception of the last book on Sketching Techniques, as I’m still rereading the library copy! It will join the collection soon enough though.

I hope these reading recommendations and the tip about Library Extension prove helpful for you! I’m always on the lookout for a good book, so if you know of one you think I should know, shoot me a contact form, leave me a comment on Instagram, or Facebook!

Until next time!


Question or topic on you mind you'd like me to talk about? Contact me!

get in touch

Join my Studio Insider mailing list for VIP updates and exclusive insights straight from me to you.

Be a Studio Insider

* indicates required