This month's roundup is a mixed bag of new books, news skills, and new tools. One of the best titles out this May takes a modern, engaging approach to mastering to art of how to draw people – plus we look at the best pencils and papers to go with it. Another new book aims to demystify art, by explaining in simple language exactly what 300 iconic texts really 'mean'. Elsewhere, we look at a guide on how to give your landscapes new depth using mixed-media techniques – including found objects.
Struggling with artists' block? We've got something for that – a book that explains what creativity is and how to unlock yours. And if that doesn't work there's a tried-and-tested resource from which everyone from Botticelli to Damien Hirst has found inspiration. Ever heard of 'snitte'? We sharpen our knife and take a look at the craft that is described as "a rite of passage for most Scandinavians".
01. Danish whittling
In The Danish Art of Whittling, Frank Egholm teaches you the ancient Danish craft of 'snitte'. This new book gives you a visual, step-by-step guide to a range of simple whittling projects for the home – wooden toys for children, a necklace, butter knives, and pretty much everything in between. It's a relatively cheap craft, since you don't need many tools to get started. And it's a relaxing, satisfying, and productive way to get away from the computer. Could it be your new favourite creative hobby?
02. Whittling knife
This whittling knife is specially designed for woodcarving. It has a thin, tapered edge of laminated steel, which is tough, so it'll withstand lots of snitte before it's needs regrinding. And it also comes with a storage case, to keep it in good shape. Best of all, as you use it, over time the oiled birchwood handle will slowly change shape until it perfectly fits to your hand – which is when you'll know you're a true master of snitte.
03. Good wood
People have been using basswood for woodcarving for thousand of years. It makes for a particularly good material for whittling because it doesn’t have much of a grain and it's soft and therefore easier to work with. This 10-piece pack is free of acid and lignin, plus each block is quite small, making it ideal for the beginner whittler, and for practising detail and finesse work. It's good snitte.
04. Art made easy
Patrick De Rynck and Jon Thompson hit the nail on the head in their new book, Understanding Painting: with all its talk of themes and symbols, art can be intimidating. Here they look at over 300 famous pieces – from the middle ages to the 20th century – and explain clearly and concisely what they 'mean'. Vermeer, Picasso, Hopper and more feature here. The language is simple and engaging, and it looks smart too.
05. Creativity unblocked
In Being Creative: Be Inspired, Unlock your Originality, artist Michael Atavar talks about creativity and how to find yours, how to develop ideas, and how to bridge the big gap between the development stage and completing a projects – something even the most experienced creative can struggle with. With this book, Atavar aims to prove that creativity isn't some magical, possibly mythical thing floating about in the ether, but something real, inside everyone, waiting to get out. A good read for creatives in any field.
06. If all else fails …
You've heard how talent borrows but genius steals? Well, the best of the best regularly steal ideas from classical Greek and Roman myths. In Flying Too Close to the Sun, James Cahill looks at how mythology has inspired the work of Botticelli, Caravaggio, Jeff Koons, Damien Hirst – plus the Coen Brothers, Margaret Atwood, and Arcade Fire – and how they've taken these ancients stories and weaved them into their own work. It tackles big themes like fate, jealously, and redemption, and is full of ideas on how you can use them in your work.
07. Mastering portrait technique
This Pocket Art guide to portrait drawing offers a lively, modern approach to this fundamental skill. London artist Miss Led is your teacher. She tells you what tools you need, how to understand the face, its features and expressions, and how to master the tricker stuff, like hair and skin. Best of all, she does it in just 112 pages. This is another title that is helping to bring art theory into the 21st century.
08. Portrait pencils
This 24-piece set of pencils is perfect for portraiture, particularly certain skin and hair tones. It gives rich, creamy, vibrant colours, which are easy to blend, and look smooth on the page. They give a much more professional finish than your average coloured pencil. Not the cheapest, but excellent quality as always from the ever-reliable Prismacolor brand. They don't break easily. And come in a proper tin for safe storage.
09. Toned paper
Strathmore is one of the leading brands in art supplies – trusted by students, hobbyists, and professionals alike. This toned paper is an immediate way to refresh your portrait work. On white paper, you tone down. With this range of toned paper, you have to shade both down and up, which is great for practising light and shadow. Plus, non-white paper helps with eyestrain.
10. Textile painting
Textile Landscape Painting encourage you to use paper and paint, fabric and thread, and found objects to create stunning landscapes with added depth. Author Cas Holmes guides you through it step by step – from coming up with ideas in your sketchbook, to stitching and painting them on cloth, and even completing these projects digitally. The book doesn't just focus on pastoral scenes either. It also looks at urban environments.