If you are determined to become a great watercolorist, then it’s absolutely imperative that you start with the basics.
While watching countless videos on YouTube can be quite effective, simply reading book on the basics can help teach the entire watercoloring process from start to end in a much more structured manner.
To guide the aspiring artist on their journey, we rounded up some of the best and most recommended watercoloring books that we personally and many others find ourselves relying on time and time again.
Not only have many of these books withstood the test of time, but they will adequately convey important aspects of watercoloring that you might not have considered, especially if you are a self-taught artist.
But for the more seasoned artists reading this, you will also find some great recommendations in this list for both intermediate and advanced skill levels.
Here’s our list of the best watercolor painting books:
1. Everyday Watercolor: Learn To Paint Watercolor in 30 Days
Watercolorist Jenna Rainey covers all the essentials that any beginner would want to know in this 224-page book.
Broken into the 5 easy-to-read sections:
- Form, Perspective, and Light
- Complex Shapes and Forms
- Value, Volume, and Depth
This book is perfect for beginner watercolorists who have their supplies at the ready but not sure where to go first.
Jenna will walk you through all the essentials that you absolutely must know when watercoloring.
What we (and many other artists) loved about this book was the structure.
If you stick with this book for 30 short days, you will definitely see a marked improvement in your work. Others who have gone through this book have said that “[Everyday Watercolor]…has been so helpful to me” and that “I might be in love with this book”.
Everyday Watercolor will not only be a staple for your studio, but a book that you will find yourself coming back to time and time again.
2. Modern Watercolor
Embracing that “creativity is an inherent human trait”, watercolorist Kristin Van Leuven takes you through the world of watercoloring with a contemporary lens.
What really set this book apart was not only its importance of color theory (the first section within the book after essential supplies to have on hand), but also the exploration of resist techniques and the focus on popular subject matters including botanicals (flowers, greenery, and wreaths) along with animals, landscapes, faces, and more.
The structure of the book will not only foster a terrific learning environment for you, but will reinforce proper techniques for watercolors.
The skill level of Modern Watercolor tends to skew a hair bit more intermediate.
Therefore, if you have some experience with having a brush in your hand (perhaps with other mediums), but still not sure how to tackle watercolors, Modern Watercolor should make for a great read.
3. Texture Techniques For Winning Watercolors
Ray Hendershot is a highly-regarded watercolorist that primarily paints rural landscapes.
His work is remarkable and this Texture Techniques book is a reflection of that.
For those watercolorists that feel they are a bit more advanced and looking for recommendations, this book will open your eyes to some remarkable techniques that will not only make your artwork look amazing, but will also give you more technical insights on how to become better.
This book, which originally was published in 1999 features 130 pages dissecting the watercolor work in great detail. When flipping through the pages you are greeted with full page paintings along with smaller detailed shots of the painting to help explain the techniques employed further.
Just be sure that when you pick up this book, go with the hardcover version.
As evident in many of the reviews, the paperback version of the book has a poor quality paper grade that can takeaway from both the artwork and learning experience.
4. The Complete Watercolorists Essential Notebook
Gordon MacKenzie will take you on a journey through the concepts of watercoloring in this highly-revered guide that has served watercolorists for years.
What makes this book so special (and the reason why we included it in our list of best watercolor painting books) is that instead of diving deep into the details or techniques of watercoloring, this book takes almost a mores hands-off approach.
Instead of rules to follow while watercoloring, this book embraces the process instead.
Giving you concepts to paint by, this book is great not only for absolute beginners who still haven’t even gotten their brush wet yet, but for those who strive under a more of an informal structure.
But as ‘loose’ as the concept of watercoloring may be within this book, it still features stunning paintings and will give you an idea on how to achieve similar, if not the same, effects.
5. If You Are Bored With Watercolor Read This Book
As the name may imply, this book sounds like it aims squarely at those watercolorists who are starting to lose interest in the craft (although I am not sure entirely how that is possible!).
While If You Are Board With Watercolor Read This Book may seem geared towards intermediate and perhaps expert level artists, this 128 page book by Veronica Lilja does cover the basics as well.
Within the book not only will you see rudimentary categories like color wheel discussion, exploring warm vs cool colors, but you will also learn about the various types of watercolor paper, along with the essential watercolor painting supplies you will need in your studio.
While this may understandably be a turn-off for some of the more seasoned watercolorists, it does actually go much further in detail and fully live up to the title by covering mixed media (watercolor with pencil, Chinese ink, pastel, charcoal, and several more media), advanced textures, and new techniques.
We felt it best to include this book within our list as it could serve watercolorists that may not want to follow a rigid structure like the Everyday Watercolor book that gives you a 30-day curriculum.
6. Watercolour For The Absolute Beginner
The amount of information that Matthew Palmer was able to pack in this 128-page book is quite remarkable!
Not only will you find over 500 step-by-step illustrations that will guide a complete beginner through a beautifully executed watercolor painting, but also housed within the book are 6 complete projects along with 12 drawing outlines.
If you are completely intimidated by simply drawing a sketch before watercoloring, this book is for you!
Many of the budding watercolorists who own this book find it to be quite effective in not only learning about just how complex the watercolor medium truly is, but also learn some great insight that you would normally get when paying for a pricey art class.
Another great aspect of this book that we loved is the way Matthew talks about the essential watercolor supplies, paper types, brushes, etc. that ultimately give you that ‘a-ha’ moment!
Overall, Watercolour For The Absolute Beginner is a perfect read for those who want to get into watercoloring but just don’t know where to start.
7. Watercolor Techniques: Painting Light And Color In Landscapes And Cityscapes
California based watercolorist Michael Reardon takes you through the works of landscapes and cityscapes in this 142-page book exploring tips, techniques, and most importantly, how to really develop an atmosphere that truly brings a painting to life.
Marketed squarely at the more developed artists, this book explores techniques in great detail.
But don’t feel left out if you are a bit of a novice, as an experienced watercolorist, Michael does a great job walking you through the process that doesn’t come off as intimidating.
However, it’s worth noting especially for the beginners, as the title would imply this book focuses on landscapes and old-world cityscapes. Therefore, you shouldn’t expect focus on other subject matters like plants, dogs, people, etc.
For the advanced artists, expect to see your approach in watercoloring change a bit after reading this book. The approach that Michael takes will help add a little extra to your painting that you felt might have been lacking before.
8. Watercolor 365: Daily Tips, Tricks and Techniques
Watercolor 365 best suited for the busy artists out there that might take on painting more as a hobby rather than a profession.
What Watercolor 365 does best is to gently nudge you into becoming a better artist. Through bite-sized tutorials, demonstrations, advice and more, you learn the basics of watercoloring in a very non-committal or intimidating manner.
Leslie Redhead, a member of countless art societies and writes in an inspiring manner that will leave you wanting to come back time and time again to see what each new day brings.
Another great part of this book is that given its not chopped into large chapters of boring reading, the short sections allow you to easily jump around and find the parts that might be best suited for you and your skill level.
Overall, this is a beginner friendly book for watercolorists who are looking to really bring an additional level of creativity and skill to their artwork with time.
Lastly, what we really love about this book is the habit-forming regimen. Just doing one lesson or reading out of this book a day puts watercoloring at the front of your mind.
Not only will this allow you to practice more with your paint, but ensures that you will get better quickly.
9. Painting Watercolors (First Steps)
This 128-page book by Cathy Johnson is a perfect introduction into watercolors. Packed within each page are full-color illustrations and simple yet informative explanations on what is going on within the painting.
Beginners love this book because Cathy not only takes a hand-holding approach to watercolors, but talks in such an easy and simple manner that anyone will be able to understand this.
From the basics on art supplies to covering some easy-to-learn ways to paint, you will be making amazing pieces in very little time.
The demonstrations in this book alone are amazing. If you are thinking about picking up a few books today, then be sure to add this one also in your cart.
10. Breaking The Rules of Watercolour
Renowned watercolorist, author, and instructor Shirley Trevana takes you through 10 different paintings in Breaking The Rules of Watercolour.
Not only do you get a detailed and quite candid discussion of the thought process that Shirley employed when painting the pieces, but you learn how you can apply these within future paintings.
Breaking The Rules of Watercolour isn’t really geared towards the novice artist, therefore you won’t see detailed discussion on color theory, mixing, or rudimentary supply discussion.
However, for the watercolorists out there that are a bit long in the tooth, this book will help to explain what Shirley does within her work to make them really stand out.
Fans of Shirley’s should check out her author page and take a look at some of her other highly revered books as well.