Watercolor is notorious for being the paint medium that is the most difficult to master. Washes, layers, brush techniques, color theory and more combine to make this a complicated skill to acquire. Accordingly, it is critical for artists to find the best watercolor books to guide them along their journey.
After reviewing dozens of contenders, the following 10 volumes are our top picks because of the quality of their instruction and the comprehensiveness of their subject matter. Additionally, each of these books is filled with colorful illustrations that provide step-by-step guidance that’s perfect for novice artists.
Keep reading if you’re looking for an informative book that will provide a solid introduction to watercolor.
10 Best Books for Learning Watercolor Painting:
1. Modern Watercolor Botanicals: A Creative Workshop
This is the best book for learning watercolor painting, especially if you want to paint plants. Each lesson is based on a botanical subject and is presented at three levels: beginning, intermediate and advanced. Accordingly, this is a book that grows with your skills.
Lessons in this book focus on wildflowers, tropical leaves, olive branches, eucalyptus wreaths and more. Lessons feature clear instructions, pictures and diagrams, and with 100 examples of traceable artwork, you don’t need any experience to start.
This hardcover book is spiral bound and covers the essentials for getting started with watercolors. Users call the imagery in this book stunning and say that it’s the best book for learning how to watercolor. Nonetheless, some people find the text a bit cramped for easy reading.
If you’re interested in floral and botanical subjects, you can’t go wrong with this selection.
2. 15-Minute Watercolor Masterpieces
This may be one of the best watercolor books for beginners because of the 15-minute format, which is perfect when you want to learn a new craft but are short on time.
Step-by-step instructions are included for each of the 50 projects, and these cover a variety of subjects from fancy desserts to underwater landscapes. With each lesson, artists create a new watercolor work. The author uses each project to introduce new, more efficient techniques.
With the detailed instructions, readers are presented with examples in progress so that they can follow along. Readers love having this book either as an addition to the author’s social media presence or on its own. They say it’s perfect for beginners.
However, a few readers wish that the color mixing instructions were more detailed.
With 50 charming projects to complete, this is an excellent choice for new watercolor painters.
3. Everyday Watercolor: Learn to Paint Watercolor in 30 Days
The promise given in the title of this book is extraordinary. After all, who wouldn’t want to become proficient in one month? As this is one of the best watercolor instruction books, if you’re diligent, you’ll definitely increase your abilities in just 30 days.
Readers are encouraged to paint a watercolor every day. The volume covers everything from strokes to shapes so that painters achieve a grasp of the basics.
Author Jenna Rainey provides instructions regarding form, perspective and light while also demonstrating how paintings are built by layer. Describing herself as a self-taught artist, this book is her attempt to guide others.
Many readers describe this book as beautiful and informative, cautioning that it’s important to read the lessons before painting. Those who are complete beginners don’t find the 30-day timeline realistic as they feel more practice is needed.
If you’re a fan of Rainey’s work, then you’ll love copying her techniques from this book.
4. The Complete Watercolorist’s Essential Notebook
Among books on watercolor painting techniques, this one differentiates itself by providing a collection of principles rather than a list of hard-and-fast rules. Accordingly, the reader comes away with general information and concepts that are designed to help them build their own creative process.
Author Gordon MacKenzie has combined two of his most popular titles in this hardcover volume. The result is marvelously well designed and informative. Artists from beginners to professionals swear by it as a reference and teaching tool.
Because it covers such a large variety of subject matter, some artists claim that it’s the only reference they need. Nonetheless, some say that this isn’t necessarily the best choice for those who are absolute beginners.
MacKenzie’s work is a timeless reference that deserves a place in any artist’s library.
5. Collins Gem 10-Minute Watercolours
If you’re looking for watercolor painting books that will help you build your skills even though you don’t have much time, then this book is a solid choice. It’s designed to inform both beginners and advanced artists and emphasizes the maintenance of spontaneity.
Subject matter included in the lessons ranges from people to landscapes, buildings and still life. Beginners may have difficulty with this book as it mainly shows finished pieces rather than featuring works in progress. Nonetheless, many novice painters have been able to use this book to further their progress toward proficiency.
Readers praise the author’s clear and precise instructions as well as the beautiful paintings. Nonetheless, some people feel that the book’s format is too small for easy reading.
If you’re looking for a pocket-sized watercolor reference, this may be it.
6. Watercolour for the Absolute Beginner
If you need a reference that covers basic nature painting techniques in watercolor, then this may be the right book. It contains full-size outlines so that you can easily mimic the techniques as they are introduced.
Author and artist Matthew Palmer presents this comprehensive course in landscape painting. Content in the book begins with helpful advice for new painters that covers everything from composition to how to use shade, light and perspective. What follows are six step-by-step lessons that walk the beginner through the watercolor process in an accessible manner.
Praising the author’s ability to break down techniques into digestible pieces, many people have used this volume as an introduction to watercolor. If this book has a drawback, it’s that there’s little instruction for drawing.
For the absolute beginner, this is an excellent resource.
To add if you are looking for sketchbooks we have a list with the best watercolor sketchbooks for artists.
7. Jean Haines’ World of Watercolour
There are many books on watercolor painting techniques, but few of them are as worthwhile as this one. Jean Haines is renowned for her artistic abilities, and she honed these skills in places like China where she studied brush control and Pakistan, which encouraged her use of vibrant colors.
This volume brings all of this learning and much more to readers across the globe. It excels at encouraging developing artists to create their own style. In fact, many readers call it inspiring, saying that the author’s passion for the subject matter shines through.
Still, critics wish that there was more step-by-step instruction. Those who are excited about not having to follow a lot of rules or who want to develop their own style are likely to enjoy learning from this volume.
8. Watercolor Painting: A Comprehensive Approach
This aquarelle book by artist Tom Hoffman is geared toward serious beginners and advanced painters. Accordingly, it offers thorough explanations coupled with step-by-step examples that make it easier for anyone to complete a watercolor.
Throughout the volume, readers are inspired by the works of painters past and present as they learn more about strokes, washes and layers. Hoffman further encourages readers to find a personal balance between risk-taking and restraint.
Saying that the book contains worthy insights on every page, many readers are fans of this book. They like the author’s wry humor and the personal touch that comes through in his writing. Complaints about this work suggest that it’s not set up for absolute beginners who need more of a basic approach.
If you find yourself getting serious about watercolor, give this book a try.
9. The Watercolor Flower Artist’s Bible
This hardcover, wire-o bound book is built for constant use. It’s packed with diagrams, illustrations and photographs so that every technique is captured in intense detail. Painting theory books sometimes struggle to make things easy to understand, but this one excels at making complex concepts simple.
Divided into three sections, this book covers practical advice concerning tools and equipment, watercolor techniques and tutorials with an excess of 100 step-by-step instructions.
Readers appreciate that this book covers both tips and techniques as well as examples for painting specific items. However, some people wish that there was a greater diversity of subject matter.
Artists who are interested in painting floral subjects are likely to fall in love with this beautiful volume.
10. Breaking the Rules of Watercolour
Artist painting books frequently try to instill the basics of technique. However, this volume is for the artist who chafes under rules. Author Shirley Trevena is one of these artists, and she has written an indispensable guide for anyone who also wants to break the rules.
Within the covers of this hardcover book, Trevena goes in-depth with 10 of her works, showing readers how she uses unusual compositions, perspectives and textures to arrive at unexpected results. Accordingly, readers are inspired to break rules so that they can achieve their creative personal best.
Some readers don’t like the fact that this book doesn’t go over basics like which paintbrush to use and color theory. However, the focus of this volume is not the typical introductory subject matter. Its focus is placed on developing your own creative style by learning from another rebel artist.
If you’re looking for a watercolor instruction book that strays from the basics, this is the perfect choice.
Tips for Choosing the Best Watercolor Book
What qualifies as the best watercolor tutorial in print will vary from reader to reader. Some people have never picked up a paintbrush while others may have years of experience in many mediums. This level of experience will largely determine what kind of watercolor book should be chosen.
For instance, someone who has never painted watercolor or who has only limited experience likely will benefit from a comprehensive volume that covers subjects such as the selection of paper, paint and paintbrushes as well as color theory. Novices also may enjoy basic theory concerning perspective, light and shadow.
When it comes to how to teach watercolor painting to beginners, a book that includes plenty of step-by-step guidance also is recommended. Ideally, this instruction manual would provide insights into layering and washes in addition to basic brush control.
After introducing some of these techniques, the book should move on to exercises that let new artists put their learning into play.
Books that feature large, colorful diagrams are highly recommended. The best examples have multiple views of the
same painting so that readers can see the work in progress as each layer is applied.
If you already have some experience with regard to how to color with watercolor, then you might be more interested in a book that skips over some of the basic tips and techniques. Instead, you may be attracted to a book that lets you fully explore your creative side.
After all, you have a handle on the basics, and now is the time for you to break free from the rules so that you can develop your own unique style.
Nonetheless, you still may benefit from books that cover basic techniques, as another artist’s perspective may provide fresh inspiration.
Making the Decision
While this list contains many of the best watercolor books, our top pick is 15-Minute Watercolor Masterpieces. We love the variety of subject matter and the examples of work in progress. Plus, there are 50 projects in this book, plenty to keep any artist occupied for some time.
Also worth noting is the 15-minute time frame for each of the lessons. If you’re pressed for time, you probably can still fit painting into your schedule.
However, if you’re looking for something more advanced, then give The Complete Watercolorist’s Essential Notebook a try. It’s a beautiful volume with useful instruction. Including two of artist Gordon MacKenzie’s most popular works, this notebook covers a variety of subjects and offers a solid collection of principles.
Choose one of these books or another from this list to enhance your watercolor skills.