Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn - The Anatomy Lecture of Dr. Nicolaes Tulp

Essential Books on Oil Painting Basics

Have you ever wished you knew how to paint? Have you watched the works of the classic art masters in awe, thinking how would it feel to paint so majestically? Why don’t you give it a try and see where do you go from there?

In this article I gathered for you the most essential books on oil painting, They will get you started and help you grow your painting skills. If you prefer video instruction better than reading you might also want to read: Get Started: With Oil Painting Basics.

Let’s get started!

Johannes Vermeer - The Milkmaid

Johannes Vermeer – The Milkmaid

The Complete Oil Painter: The Essential Reference for Beginners to Professionals

Oils are perhaps the most versatile of all paint mediums. Yet for many artists oil painting is either shrouded in mystique or considered very difficult. Filled with clear, step-by-step instructions and surefire strategies, The Complete Oil Painter is an essential, one-stop guide to becoming an expert in every aspect of this medium.

Artists will discover everything they need to know about materials (pigments, supports, canvases); tools and equipment (palettes, brushes); paint application (wet-into-wet, alla-prima, glazing, impasto); form and color (light and dark, expression, color mixing); exploring themes (still life, portraiture, figure painting); and much more.

Traditional Oil Painting: Advanced Techniques and Concepts from the Renaissance to the Present

As more and more artists today look to the past, there has been a tremendous resurgence of interest in painting realistically—in creating convincing illusions of three-dimensional depth on two dimensional surfaces.

  • How did the Old Masters create their masterpieces?
  • What kind of education allowed these great artists to create such beautiful work, and how can an artist learn these lessons today?

Traditional Oil Painting answers those questions and many more. This comprehensive sourcebook explores the most advanced levels of oil painting, with full information on the latest scientific discoveries. Author and distinguished artist Virgil Elliott examines the many elements that let artists take the next step in their work: mental attitude, aesthetic considerations, the importance of drawing, principles of visual reality, materials, techniques, portraiture, photographic images versus visual reality, and color.

Traditional Oil Painting helps artists master the secrets of realistic painting to create work that will rival that of the masters.

Raphael Sanzio - Woman with a Veil (La Donna Velata)

Raphael Sanzio – Woman with a Veil (La Donna Velata)

Oil Painting Secrets From a Master

Some of the most popular art instruction books ever written have been based on student notes culled over the years from actual workshop sessions, with all their power and immediacy – and with practical, on-to-one contact between student and teacher. This is such a book. For more than two years, Linda Cateura has pursued teacher / artist David A. Leffel, notebook in hand, as he critiqued the work of students. Linda Cateura’s succinct notes capture his insights, philosophy, painting hints, and general comments.

Leffel’s classic, painterly, twentieth-century old master style, much in the manner of Rembrandt or Chardin, affords ample illustration of the ideas expressed – through his many paintings, details, demonstrations, and diagrams, almost all in color.

No matter what your level of ability, there is something here to apply to your own work, ideas that will cause you to rething your own ways of painting, hints to save you effort, or solutions to persistent painting problems.

The Practice of Oil Painting and Drawing (Dover Art Instruction)

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This instructive volume introduces not only the techniques of oil painting but also the underlying principles of figure drawing. Written by a distinguished Pre-Raphaelite painter, portraitist, and book illustrator, the treatment begins by explaining the construction of the figure, head, and limbs.

Succeeding chapters illustrate these teachings with examples of images by the Old Masters, including paintings from the Italian, Dutch, Spanish, French, and British schools.

The Birmingham Daily Post pronounced this volume “probably the most useful handbook for art students that has yet been published.” Students at every level of expertise will benefit from its discourses on light and shade, monochrome study, still life in color, painting from life in monochrome, coloring a monochrome, and painting in color direct from life. Thirty-two full-color pages complement this new edition of a timeless guide.

The Oil Painting Book: Materials and Techniques for Today’s Artist (Watson-Guptill Materials and Techniques)

This indispensable encyclopedia:

  • compares leading brands of oil paints
  • describes mediums
  • solvents, and varnishes
  • illustrates brushes, palettes, and other tools
  • and shows both traditional and unconventional techniques

Oil Painting for the Serious Beginner: Basic Lessons in Becoming a Good Painter

If looking at wonderful paintings fills you with desire to create your own, this book is for you. Even if you’ve never put brush to canvas before, but are committed to learning how, Oil Painting for the Serious Beginner will enable you to express yourself richly through this esteemed art medium.

With clarity, simplicity, and enthusiasm, Steve Allrich shares with readers the tried-and-true methods he employs in his mastery of oil painting. Practical step-by-step instruction and fully illustrated demonstrations are provided. You will learn how to:

  • Select paint, canvas, brushes, other materials
  • Practice good drawing skills, mix color ranges, design vital compositions
  • Tone canvas, sketch and block in your subject, achieve painterly brushwork
  • Depict strong still lifes and interiors, arrange good lighting effects for both
  • Choose the best landscape settings, handle perspective, capture natural light.


Jan Van Eyck - The Arnolfini Wedding

Jan Van Eyck – The Arnolfini Wedding

Fill Your Oil Paintings with Light & Color

These pages practically glow with Kevin Macpherson’s rich and powerful paintings! He shares his techniques for quickly capturing the mood of a scene in bold, direct brushstrokes, with step-by-step instructions that make it easy—simply a matter of painting the colors you see. Follow his lead and you too, can create landscapes and still lives in a vibrant, impressionistic style.

Oil Painting For The Absolute Beginner: A Clear & Easy Guide to Successful Oil Painting (Art for the Absolute Beginner)

The quick-start guide to great results!
Oil painting doesn’t have to be rocket science, although some books on the subject make it seem that way. Filled with encouraging, easy-to-follow instruction, Oil Painting for the Absolute Beginner is a no-fear, no-experience-required guide to enjoyable painting and happy results. Focusing on the needs of the first-time painter, this book covers everything from selecting brushes and setting up your palette to key principles of color and composition, presented in a way that moves you confidently from first strokes to finished paintings.

  • Mini demonstrations break down fundamental painting techniques in a clear, common sense way
  • 12 step-by-step painting projects progress from simple landscapes, still life and flower paintings to more challenging subjects, such as animals, seascapes and portraits
  • The bonus DVD-workshop features the author creating two paintings from start to finish
  • You’ll learn tricks for keeping the greens in your landscapes looking fresh, advantages to working with water-soluble oil paints, simple tips for dynamic compositions and other expert advice to make your introduction to oil painting the beginning of a beautiful friendship!
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Classic Portrait Painting in Oils: Keys to Mastering Diverse Skin Tones

Discover a simple approach to capturing a world of beautiful skin tones!
Chris Saper takes the mystery and guesswork out of portrait painting while leaving its joy fully intact. Continuing the exploration started in the her first book, Painting Beautiful Skin Tones with Color & Light, this sequel offers step-by-step demonstrations that cover an even wider range of ethnic groups and ages. You’ll get professional advice on working from life, using reference photos, and combining the two approaches to create realistic likenesses that say something about the way you view an individual’s unique beauty and character. Inside you’ll find:

  • A series of 14 step-by-step demonstrations of 7 diverse subjects painted from life and from photos that illustrate the advantages of each approach
  • Techniques for seeing and recording accurate colors at live sittings, and retaining that accuracy when working from photographic references
  • Tips on posing and lighting your subjects using both artificial and natural light sources
  • Expert advice for shooting, selecting and working from reference photographs, including how to compose dynamic multiple-subject portraits
  • Techniques for painting eyes, eyeglasses, mouths, wrinkles and other defining details
  • Though the demonstrations and examples are done in oils, Saper’s techniques are universal. Regardless of your medium or skill level, the lessons inside will make painting skin colors easier, the process more enjoyable and your great results more predictable.

The Oil Painting Course You’ve Always Wanted: Guided Lessons for Beginners and Experienced Artists

Everything you always wanted to know about oil painting…but were afraid to ask. Or maybe you weren’t afraid—maybe you just didn’t know what to ask or where to start. In The Oil Painting Course You’ve Always Wanted, author Kathleen Staiger presents crystal clear, step-by-step lessons that build to reinforce learning.

Brush control, creating the illusion of three dimensions, foolproof color mixing, still-life painting, landscapes, and portraits—every topic is covered in clear text, diagrams, illustrations, exercises, and demonstrations. Staiger has taught oil painting for more than thirty-five years; many of her students are now exhibiting and selling their paintings.

Everyone from beginning hobby painters, to art students, to BFA graduates has questions about oil painting. Here at last are the answers!

Classical Painting Atelier: A Contemporary Guide to Traditional Studio Practice

Students of art hailed Classical Drawing Atelier, Juliette Aristides’s first book, as a dynamic return to the atelier educational model. Ateliers, popular in the nineteenth century, teach emerging artists by pairing them with a master artist over a period of years. The educational process begins as students copy masterworks, then gradually progress to painting as their skills develop.

The many artists at every level who learned from Classical Drawing Atelier have been clamoring for more of this sophisticated approach to teaching and learning. In Classical Painting Atelier, Aristides, a leader in the atelier movement, takes students step-by-step through the finest works of Old Masters and today’s most respected realist artists to reveal the principles of creating full-color realist still lifes, portraits, and figure paintings.

Rich in tradition, yet practical for today’s artists, Classical Painting Atelier is ideal for serious art students seeking a timeless visual education.

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Color Mixing Recipes

‘The popular Color Mixing Recipe Cards by William F. Powell has served as a handy reference of essential color combinations for almost 10 years. And now this collection of recipes is available in an updated, convenient format developed with your needs in mind! Conveniently packaged in a concealed wire-o-bound book that lies flat when opened, the recipe cards will always stay in order with no risk of getting lost.

The book also includes a Color Mixing Grid—the perfect guide for accurately measuring paints. With mixing recipes for more than 450 color combinations, along with instruction in a variety of painting techniques, Color Mixing Recipes is a valuable and practical resource for both oil and acrylic artists

Problem Solving for Oil Painters: Recognizing What’s Gone Wrong and How to Make it Right


  • Is There a Good Abstract Idea Underlying the Picture?
  • What Details Could be Eliminated to Strengthen the Composition?
  • Does the Painting “Read”?
  • Could You Finish Any Part of the Painting?


  • Are the Dominant Shapes as Strong and Simple as Possible?
  • Are the Shapes Too Similar?


  • Could the Value Range be Increased?
  • Could the Number of Values be Reduced?
Claude Monet - Woman with a Parasol - Madame Monet and Her Son

Claude Monet – Woman with a Parasol


  • Is the Subject Effectively Lit?
  • Is the Light Area Big Enough?
  • Would the Light Look Stronger with a Suggestion of Burnout?
  • Do the Lights Have a Continuous Flow?
  • Is the Light Gradated?


  • Do the Shadow Shapes Describe the Form?
  • Are the Shadows Warm Enough?


  • Would the Addition of Foreground Material Deepen the Space?
  • Does the Background Recede Far Enough?
  • Are the Halftones Properly Related to the Background?


  • Is the underlying Form Being Communicated?
  • Is the Symmetry in Perspective?


  • Is There a Color Strategy?
  • Could a Purer Color Be Used?
  • Do the Whites Have Enough Color in Them?
  • Are the Colors Overblended on the Canvas?
  • Would the Color Look Brighter if it Were Saturated into its Adjacent Area?


  • Is Your Palette Efficiently Organized?
  • Is the Painting Surface Too Absorbent?
  • Are You Using the Palette Knife as Much as You Could?
  • Are You Painting Lines When You Should Be Painting Masses?
  • Are the Edges Dynamic Enough?
  • Is There Enough Variation in the Texture of the Paint?

You might also need:

Royal & Langnickel 104-Piece All Media Easel Artist Set

Royal & Langnickel All Media Easel Artist Set is perfect for the avid artist, student, or traveling artist regardless of age or experience. Quality constructed wooden case, hinged and latched, holds all the essentials for sketching, drawing, and painting.


  • 12 oil paint tubes, 12 watercolor paint tubes, 12 acrylic paint tubes, 12 oil pastels, 12 watercolor pencils and much more
  • Also Includes 3 white nylon brushes, 3 plastic palette knives, 2 canvas boards, 1 wooden palette, 1 six well palette and more
  • Storage box with easel measures 10-5/8-inch by 6-1/8-inch by 5-1/8-inch

Art Alternatives Canvas Panel (8 X 10) PACK OF 12

  • Primed with an acrylic gesso for painting in any medium
  • Mounted with pure cotton artist canvas with turned edges

Art Advantage Oil and Acrylic Brush Set, 24-Piece

  • Twenty-four piece brush set
  • Free canvas brush roll-up
  • Long handle brushes
  • Synthetic and natural bristle brushes
  • Perfect for oil and acrylic paint

I hope you will find these books and resources invaluable to your journey to art.

Feel free to comment with your own suggestions as well!

Articles’ Images are in the public domain because their copyright has expired and are available through Wikipedia & Wikimedia.

Article publié pour la première fois le 03/01/2014


I actually have 'Problem Solving for Oil Painters' on my studio book shelf and constantly refer back to it! a few other books that I use while painting are --

It's only a short list but they are books that I open regularly that actually provide a ton of value!

Great post, some of the books on there are really good!



You put together such a good list. I also like Ralph Mayer 'The Artist Handbook'. No wit but information rich.