The best art books continue to be an important part of an artist’s toolkit, along with the pencils, paints and brushes that help them to bring their work to life. Art books can inspire and educate in equal measure.
With the help of an art book, whether it covers classical works, drawing tips or the behind-the-scenes craft of an animated blockbuster, creators can get a greater understanding of their profession. And even though digital platforms continue to influence the art world and how creators gain information, books still have a unique and valuable place. They have the room to explore a topic in greater detail, and crucially, they are tactile and visually appealing.
It’s a benefit that isn’t just limited to artists. Designers can develop their understanding with graphic design books, and we’ve already seen how fine artists can refine their skills with the best figure drawing books.
In this guide we’ve cast the net wide to bring you some of the standout art books of 2019. Covering a Japanese master, parallel universes and lessons on perspective, we’ve made sure there’s something for everyone.
01. Hokusai: Thirty-six views of Mount Fuji
The artistic high point of a Japanese master
Publisher: Prestel | Author: Amelie Balcou | Pages: 138 | ISBN-10: 3791386077 | ISBN-13: 978-3791386072
Even if you only have a casual appreciation for Hokusai, you’ll know that he was the print maker behind one of Japan’s most famous pieces of art: The Great Wave. If you’ve wanted to learn more about the works of the seminal printmaker, or perhaps you’re already familiar with him and you want to experience his work in amazing quality, then this book should sate your curiosity.
Presented with luxurious silken binding with an additional explanatory booklet, Hokusai: Thirty-Six Views of Mount Fuji takes a detailed look at the artist’s series of prints based around the natural landmark. As its title suggests, this book has a narrow scope that focuses on a fraction of Hokusai’s career, but it makes up for this by presenting them beautifully.
You don’t have to be a Hokusai expert to appreciate this hardback, in fact it’s one of the most stylish ways to dip your toe into his work.
02. Leonardo: The Complete Paintings and Drawings
A comprehensive account of the definitive Renaissance man
Publisher: Taschen GmbH **Author:** Frank Zollner, Johannes Nathan | Pages: 704 | ISBN-10: 3836576252 | ISBN-13: 978-3836576253
To coincide with the five hundredth anniversary of the death of Leonardo da Vinci, Taschen has celebrated the polymath’s life work with this comprehensive survey of his output. Accompanying the fifteen paintings that are often attributed to the Renaissance man himself, this book also packs in nearly 700 of his drawings.
With a subject as well-trodden as da Vinci, it can be difficult to find a new angle. However this large hardback presents da Vinci’s work in a historic and contemporary context that will surprise even his most scholarly of devotees.
It’s a deep-dive into the world of the famous artist, and some passages may be too dense for newcomers or more casual readers. This is offset by the imagery though, which shows off the artist's work with the help of detailed close-ups. As the Financial Times says: "there’s no legal way of approaching Leonardo’s work more closely."
03. Spectrum 26
Discover the best works in contemporary fantastic art
Publisher: Flesk Publications | Author: John Fleskes | Pages: 336 | ISBN-10: 1640410252 | ISBN-13: 978-1640410251
You don’t have to look back as far as Leonardo da Vinci to find great artists. The annual Spectrum collections prove that there’s plenty of contemporary art to appreciate, and 2019 appears to be no exception.
As its name suggests, this book is the twenty sixth in the best-selling series. In its pages you’ll find exceptional works from extraordinary creators spanning a wide variety of mediums including illustration, sculpture, fine art, video games and more.
If you’re an artist working today, Spectrum 26 gives you an idea of the standard you need to live up to. Don’t let it make you jealous though. As the publishers themselves say, Spectrum is meant to be a celebration of very special artists that helps them to find a wider audience. So if you find an intimidatingly-good new artist inside, don’t feel defeated, instead use them as inspiration for your next project.
04. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse - The Art of the Movie
Behind-the-scenes insight from the animated blockbuster
Publisher: Titan Books | Author: Ramin Zahid | Pages: 192 | ISBN-10: 1785659464 | ISBN-13: 978-1785659461
It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say that Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse stepped up our expectations of what a superhero film could achieve. And not just in terms of the incredible storytelling. A pivotal part of its success was its stunning animation and art design, and this book reveals some of the work that went into it.
If you’re a Spider-Man fan, or even just into the MCU, this book is well worth checking out. Not only does it explore the artistic decisions behind some of the stranger characters and settings, it also teases who might return in a sequel.
And that’s what sets this art book apart from similar releases. You can tell all of the artists involved were giving it their all as this film allowed them to show off their ideas to the max, rather than playing second fiddle to live-action elements.
Regardless of whether you usually pick up art books, this one will give you a greater appreciation of the story as well as giving you the chance to savour some of the film’s incredible visuals on the printed page.
05. Figure Drawing for Kids
Start them early with this guide to figure drawing
Publisher: Rockridge Press | Author: Angela Rizza | Pages: 102 | ISBN-10: 1641527714 | ISBN-13: 978-1641527712
We’re bending the rules a little bit here with an art book that won’t be on the shelves until January 2020. In our defence though, you can pre-order it right now, and it’s not often that we see figure drawing books aimed at the nine to twelve-year-old age bracket.
Promising to be a fun way to approach figure drawing, this guide makes the subject accessible to young readers by using examples of familiar people, namely pop culture icons and superheroes. It also promotes different body types, which itself can be lacking in figure drawing books pitched at adults.
If you know a young artist who could do with some figure drawing guidance, it looks like you could do worse than this book. And it sure beats those poor quality art sets that often find their way into the stockings of creative children on Christmas morning.
06. The Graphic Novelist’s Guide to Drawing Perspective
Get your head around the fundamental drawing technique
Publisher: Search Press | Author: Dan Cooney | Pages: 176 | ISBN-10: 1782217258 | ISBN-13: 978-1782217251
Do you have trouble making your horizons taper off into a vanishing point? Fear not, graphic novelist Dan Cooney is here to walk you through the basics of perspective in an engaging, easy-to-understand way.
Tips on perspective drawing can sometimes be sidelined in other how to draw books, so it’s good to see the technique getting the attention it deserves here. Especially seeing as it’s a fundamental drawing principle.
Dan Cooney’s accessible writing style comes from a place of being equally frustrated and troubled by perspective, so he’s perfectly positioned to explain how it works. With chapters dedicated to each of the three perspective points, he guides you through it so effortlessly that by the time you finish you’ll wonder how you ever drew without this advice.
07. Morpho: Simplified Forms: Anatomy for Artists
Break down the art of anatomy drawing into easy steps
Publisher: Rocky Nook | Author: Michel Lauricella | Pages: 96 | ISBN-10: 1681984482 | ISBN-13: 978-1681984483
It’s not just kids who have been treated to some figure drawing books this year. For adult artists, Michel Lauricella has put together this brief breakdown of how you can draw the human body with the help of just a few simple shapes.
If you’re familiar with figure drawing, you’ll already know that thinking in terms of geometric shapes can help make sense of the model. However, this guide deviates from the traditional approach to figure drawing by showing you how you can draw everything from heads, torsos and limbs with just a small collection of forms that can be combined and shaped into more complex structures.
Given that figure drawing and human anatomy can be intimidating for newcomers, Lauricella does a good job of grounding it and going back to basics. So if you’ve ever thought about trying to draw figures, or maybe you’re returning to it after some initial struggles, this is an accessible way to do so.