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Old 10-20-2011, 04:18 AM
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jackiesimmonds jackiesimmonds is online now
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best books

I am looking to compile a list of the BEST CURRENT BOOKS available on composition, to put onto my blog at some point.

Would appreciate knowing about any books you have found, currently IN PRINT, although I dont mind others provided they are still available in libraries.

thanks
Jackie
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Old 10-20-2011, 08:59 AM
claude j greengrass claude j greengrass is offline
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Re: best books

Mastering Composition - techniques and principles to dramatically improve your painting, by Ian Roberts. Reviewed on WC here. I recommend that you borrow this one before you buy it. I found Ian's book incomplete and flawed but his "5 picture planes" was my starting point for visual design. Reading his book was my lightbulb moment. I invested 6 months of hard study with little time for painting to find that starting point. It may not work for you, but it was an epiphany for me.

It's out of print, but Rex Brant's, Seeing with a Painter's Eye is my current number one design book. In used condition, it is still quite affordable. If you are looking for a gallery of paintings, this book is not for you. At 123 pages, mostly black and white illustrations, I only wish Rex had produced a larger book.

Tony Couch's "You Can Do It", is about 50% about composition and design. Tony is an Edgar Whitney student and this book is a wonderful compliment to Edgar's "Complete Guide to Watercolor Painting". Edgar's prose and compound sentences may be dated in today's sound bite world, but there is a gold mine worth of information about composition is his slim book and it's still in print, but be warned, there are few colour pictures in this book.

Jo Taylor's "Watercolor Wisdom" is a watercolour painting book, but Jo packs a lot of design including some design exercises into her book. Very well illiustrated. I suspect that Jo was either a student of Edgar Whitney, or influenced by is book.

The Artist's Guide to Composition by Frank Webb, is a YAEWS (yet another Edgar Whitney student) combines the examples of 24 artists to illustrate composition and design. There are at least three editions of this book around all with different titles. I think the earliest edition was called "Strengthen Your Paintings With Dynamic Composition" and the latest being "Composition for the Painter". I only noticed slight differences between the first two titles. I haven't seen the last title, so I can't comment of it, but from the description here, it would appear to be a revision of the previous publication. YMMV
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Old 10-21-2011, 03:46 AM
Keith2 Keith2 is offline
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Re: best books

"The Simple Secret to Better Painting" by Greg Albert is a good book on the subject of composition.
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Old 11-09-2011, 11:48 AM
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Re: best books

Thanks Claude and Keith.

Otherwise.... I cannot believe that all you people out there have no books to recommend.

?????
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Old 11-09-2011, 01:53 PM
claude j greengrass claude j greengrass is offline
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Re: best books

Jackie,

There are two problems here.
  1. Laziness. Yes, very few people want to invest the time and effort in the study of design and composition.
  2. Low traffic on this forum which is a direct result of #1
I recently managed to borrow a copy of Nathan Goldstein's Design and Composition. In the preface he laments regarding design books: "Often they seem too difficult for students to wade through. Frequently, they list and label important design issues rather than explain them. And despite the useful qualities that most of these design texts possess, they sometimes complicate the subject, make it seem esoteric, and treat it as separate from the artist's purposes and passions."

I fully concur with his analysis of design and composition books for painting.
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Old 11-10-2011, 02:28 PM
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Re: best books

Quote:
Originally Posted by jackiesimmonds
Thanks Claude and Keith.

Otherwise.... I cannot believe that all you people out there have no books to recommend.

?????


Probably because design and composition is considered difficult to understand. So for that reason, there aren't that many books to recommend.

I've got the Ian Roberts book referred to by Claude, and I've read one of the Frank Webb books - in fact I saw a copy in the local library recently. Instructional books on art only seem to briefly refer to composition.
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Old 11-11-2011, 08:55 AM
claude j greengrass claude j greengrass is offline
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Re: best books

Quote:
Originally Posted by Keith2
Probably because design and composition is considered difficult to understand. So for that reason, there aren't that many books to recommend.

I've got the Ian Roberts book referred to by Claude, and I've read one of the Frank Webb books - in fact I saw a copy in the local library recently. Instructional books on art only seem to briefly refer to composition.

The reason most 'instructional books on art' seem to briefly refer to composition, is that most 'instructional art books' are not instructional. Many start with the usual padding on materials, followed by a brief instructional section on a particular technique, followed by the almost olbigatory gallery of paintings.

You mention Ian Robert's book Mastering Composition. I found that 50% of this book was a display of the authors works and accompaning DVD might be valuable as a tea coster. Ian did provide the best analysis of the picture plane that I have seen or read anywhere and he did have the outline of a great composition book in 5 chapters, but didn't follow through on it IMOSHO!

I like Frank Webb, both as an artist and author and being a Whitney student, his books expand on Whitney's teachings as does another Whitney student Tony Couch in his "Watercolor You Can Do It".

Contrast, Rex Brandt's "Seeing with a Painter's Eye" is 123 pages of instruction on composition complete with exercises. Borrow or buy ($23 from Amazon) a copy. You will see the difference. No materials, no technique, no gallery of paintings, just solid instruction on composition. The only down side, is it leaves you wanting more!
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Old 11-11-2011, 02:09 PM
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Re: best books

Here are some free internet books on composition:
Pictorial Composition and the Critical Judgement of Pictures, Henry R. Poore.
I first found this book at my university library many years ago. Despite its old fashioned language, it was most helpful. Just recently I found an online PDF version to download.
http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/26638
http://www.archive.org/stream/pictor...ge/42/mode/2up
The Art of Composition, A Simple Application of Dynamic Symmetry, Michel Jacobs
Another goody from the past. This book demonstrates the different "roots" ratios and the golden mean (called "the whirling root" here). The grids are useful in figuring out the optimum arrangement of elements.
http://www.archive.org/details/artof...tion00jacouoft
Composition: a series of exercises in art structure for the use of students and teachers, Arthur Wesley Dow. The turn of the 20th Century must have been the golden age of art instruction with the likes of Arthur Wesley Dow around!
http://www.archive.org/details/compo...erie00dowauoft
Another useful book if it wasn't out of print but not out of copyright is The Painter's Secret Geometry,Charles Bouleau. I read the public library copy of it many years ago and was confused and put off by all of the grids and diagrams. But thirty years later I read the same book and came out with a greater understanding. Sometimes one has to be ready intellectually to get the benefit from some books. The main gist I understand is that there are many theories on composition, the Golden Mean is only just one theory. The diagrams and grids have been useful guides in using the computer in cropping and arranging my pre-drawings on the computer. I also have found the computer useful in judging the values and black & white arrangements (AKA Notan, according to Dow).
Its a shame that The Painter's Secret Geometry is out of print. It was originally published in 1963 and reprinted in 1980. Both issues command rare book prices.
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Old 11-13-2011, 01:06 AM
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Re: best books

One the comes to mind is Composition of Outdoor Painting by Edgar Payne. Back in print, though not sure if you can get it on Amazon.
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Old 11-13-2011, 09:19 AM
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Re: best books

Although it's been a long time since I read it, I remember Rudolf Arnheim's "The Power of the Center" as being an excellent book on composition. It's not a how-to book but one which tries to get at an understanding of why things work the way they do. It does, however, spend much more time on real world examples and practical application than his better known but less accessible "Art and Visual Perception".
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Old 03-12-2012, 11:28 PM
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Re: best books

Thank you for this great list. I find composition fascinating...perhaps we are more left-brained in this forum?? I am a beginner with drawing and watercolor, but I love composition and want to learn about it so I understand as I'm working.

Most of these books seem oriented to representational art. Are the concepts applicable to abstract art as well? Are there books you can recommend that focus more on abstract art?

Thanks.

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