Good reading about the little process details of painting and art-making
May 27, 2017 6:14 PM   Subscribe

I've been doing a lot of oil painting lately and a fair bit of reading about painting and painters, but haven't so far come up with much stuff that takes a really close, documentary look at artists' step-by-step working processes. Book and blog recommendations?

I've found plenty of material on established/famous artists, some of which stray into process now and then, but I'd like to read some stuff that is more consistently and densely focused on the nitty gritty of the art-making process. I'm less interested in concept or theory or motivation here than I am in just getting an edifying look at literally how someone is/was doing their work. Less big picture thinking, more microscopic day-to-day doing.

I know there's a lot of instructional "how to paint with oils" stuff out there, and have looked at a fair amount of that; not really what I'm looking for at this point though recommendations for anything exceptional there are okay on the side.

I've got a particular interest right now (and also basically zero education) in op art, hard edge, minimalism, and related chunks of 20th century work, so process-oriented stuff that lines up with that is a bonus, but anything focused on oil painting in general along the lines laid out above would be great.

And while I'm hungry mostly for reading material, I'd also be down with recommendations of particularly good process-oriented youtube videos/channels.
posted by cortex to Media & Arts (9 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Great question. Here are a few thoughts. On the studio practices associated with American minimalism, Caroline A. Jones' "The Machine in the Studio" is one of the canonical works. It may not have as much of the minute by minute process stuff as you're interested in, but it's very good on those figures and how they made their work.

Another famous book that takes a very close look at the daily working practice of a singular (sometimes) minimalist artist is Lawrence Wechsler's book about Robert Irwin, "Seeing is Forgetting the Name of the Thing One Sees".

On the daily practices of a lot of contemporary artists, Mary Jane Jacob and Michelle Grabner's anthology "The Studio Reader" is great. It's about spaces and how artists think about and negotiate them, but it may still be relevant.

Finally, I give my strongest recommendation to James Elkins' "What Painting Is", a detailed phenomenological look at the daily life, thought, and practice of oil painting by one of the sharpest art theorists alive. While Elkins ultimately abandoned painting, the book itself is a marvelous and richly textured chronicle of all the things that paint means to artists.
posted by informavore at 6:36 PM on May 27, 2017 [3 favorites]

Best answer: Long out of print, Composing Pictures was written by the man who taught the early Disney studio art classes. It's not an animation book. It's very trippy...full of insights into the structure of visual "language".
posted by bonobothegreat at 7:34 PM on May 27, 2017

Best answer: You might want to watch Tim's Vermeer.
posted by Ideefixe at 8:00 PM on May 27, 2017

Best answer: The most process oriented book I've ever read on oil painting is Alla Prima by Richard Schmid. He has apparently revised this work and released Alla Prima II. It's pricey. Schmid is a representational artist, but you may find his technique and process section illuminating despite your interest in more modern, abstract works. (I ran across Schmid when sourcing book recommendations for artists without the money or time to attend an atelier.)
posted by xyzzy at 8:16 PM on May 27, 2017

Best answer: One guys taping technique.
posted by artdrectr at 12:42 AM on May 28, 2017

Best answer: MoMA has what sounds like a stupid series but is actually amazing and fascinating called IN THE STUDIO. It's "how to paint like..." but it's nicely technical and very nitty gritty, right down to the treatment of the canvas before painting.
posted by DarlingBri at 4:44 AM on May 28, 2017

Best answer: The Muddy Colors blog often features detailed walkthroughs of the process, from working illustrators and teachers. (There's many more than the one I linked.)
posted by culfinglin at 6:40 PM on May 28, 2017

Best answer: Cortex, I worked as Technical Artist for a large art materials manufacturer and would be happy to answer materials and techniques questions if I can be of help: brushes, grounds, media, varnishes, working lean to fat, pigment characteristics.
posted by effluvia at 9:51 PM on May 28, 2017

Response by poster: Thanks everybody for this stuff, a lot of useful/promising leads.

Of the books suggested, I've been able to put in holds from the local library on all but two, which is fantastic. The holdouts are "The Studio Reader" and Schmid's "Alla Prima", the latter of which I've seen recommended several other times too; I'll hunt around a little harder in town for both and look into whether the county library has a process for suggesting new acquisitions. Interestingly, "Composing Pictures" was available, so that's cool.

Tim's Vermeer is a great suggestion, that by chance I'd already watched recently. Very interesting and fun; if anything I just wish it had followed Tim's day-to-day process in more detail. I did based on that borrow David Hockney's "Secret Knowledge", which is a really wonderful read and very nicely illustrated with examples that support Hockney's thesis.

I enjoyed that taping example, artdrectr; will poke around and that guy's site a bit more to see what kind of further process detail he goes into.

The IN THE STUDIO series looks interesting, Muddy Colors likewise; I'll dig into both and see where that takes me.

And effluvia, that's very kind and I will try to remember to drop you a line if I've got something specific I'd like to pick your brain on there.
posted by cortex at 10:52 AM on May 29, 2017

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