What's on your bookshelf?

I get asked a bunch of questions every month. Some of them are easy to answer and others are quite challenging. Then there are those for which it would simply take to long to answer people individually. That question is: “What Books would you recommend?”

You can imagine how this question can be particularly hard to answer. There are so many categories and sub-categories, that the whole thing gets very complicated. So I’ve decided to put up my “Must Have” books and maybe some others that I highly recommend. I’ll give you my quick overview of the book and why I think you need to have it. I hope you’ve been saving up your Gift Certificates, because there’s going to be quite a few books on these lists.

Lets start with the easiest and most frequently asked list. Anatomy Books. When it comes to anatomy, I’m quite the stickler. Having studied it extensively, and sculpted three ecorches, I can honestly say that I’ve come to know my anatomy books rather well. Let’s start with my must have book. “Human Anatomy for Artists: the elements of form” by Elliot Goldfinger. Anybody who wishes to have a better understanding of the human muscle structure has to have this book. Not only do you get each muscle individually, you also get how it fits in with the other muscles and my favorite thing about this book, the cross-sections. The cross-sections in this book really help you to understand the true shape of these muscles. Where other books show you the muscle as it appears on the surface, this book shows the depth of the muscles. A small thing, but vitally important in your understanding of what the muscles are doing. If you’re only going to get one book, I say it should be this one.

My other recommendations in anatomy books  are “Atlas of the Human Anatomy for Artists” by Stephen Peck, and “Anatomy for the Artist” by Sarah Simblet. These two books come highly recommended and each has its unique qualities. Peck’s book is a bit more clinical, but it has great illustrations and explanations of the muscles and their groups. Simblet’s book is more modern and stylish. It’s the coffee table book of anatomy books. It has great photographs of real people (including the several pages of just crotch shots) and the illustrations are very stylish, although a bit sketchy for my taste. They’re great as stand alone drawings, but when you’re trying to learn, they can be a bit too much.

For those of you wishing to see what the anatomy of a body builder might look like, then you must have “Strength Training Anatomy” by Frederic Delavier. There’s also a female version of this book, which I also recommend. These books are great at showing what these muscles look like when pushed to their max. Are you sculpting a super hero and want to get the anatomy right? This is the book for you.

Finally when it comes to anatomy I’ll give you the books that I think every artist should have. The entire collection of George Bridgman’s books on drawing anatomy. “The Human Machine”, “Constructive Anatomy”, “Beginning Life Drawing”, “The Book of A Hundred Hands”, “Heads, Features and Faces”. These five books are essential to building an innate knowledge of anatomy and form that translates directly into your work. While they are designed for drawing (2 dimensional work), George Bridgman’s knowledge and explanations come from a sculptors point of view. Flip through any of the books once, and you’ll see that George draws like a sculptor. I’ve had my books since I was in college (many, many years ago), and they still find their way to my work table.

Now let’s talk about reference books. Not anatomy reference, but sculptural reference. This is another category that has it’s many sub categories. I’ll try to be thorough, without boring you. Let’s start with some of my favorites. The book simply titled “Bernini”. Not only one of the great masters of baroque sculpture, but this book is one of the great books of sculpture. You get an up close and personal feel to these works. See Bernini's progress from young man to master. Each work more impressive than the last. If you want to see what drapery looks like when sculpted well, then look no further than this book. You want to see stone turned into soft flesh, look no further than this book. This book always stays very close to me. I like to look through it, even when I’m not working on something.

Then of course you have the great Michelangelo. There are so many great books about him. Some have just his paintings, others have just his sculptures and some have both. For the purpose of this blog I will recommend “Michelangelo: Sculptor”. A great book with lots of pictures and detailed descriptions of the pieces and how they came to be. Pick up any book on this great master and I imagine you won’t be disappointed.

One of my other favorite sculptors is Daniel Chester French, an American sculptor during the time of the American Renaissance. A brilliant sculptor, responsible for the Lincoln Memorial and other great works. It can be a bit tricky to find books on him, but I would recommend “Daniel Chester French , an American Sculptor”.

When it comes to reference, there is also the kind that we use for visual inspiration. Here is where it can get tricky, because the books that I like aren’t always in print, or they’ve been revised. So I’ll say this. Head to your favorite large chain bookstore (if they’re still open), and as you walk through the doors, look for their bargain book section. This is a treasure trove of reference material. Everything from nature books to weapons throughout history, to anatomy books and even a collection of renaissance sculpture. Never ignore the bargain section as you’ll find some of the best books out there for artist reference, and you’ll get them at a great price! If any of you ever feel like getting me a gift…

Oh!! There’s one more in the visual reference section. “Facial Expressions” by Mark Simon. This is a great reference guide for any of you wanting to add a little variety into the faces you’re sculpting. This book is set up from youngest to oldest, with men and women interspersed throughout. You get skinny ones, fat ones, attractive and ugly – all making faces and photographed from several angles. The other great thing is that they are all copyright free, so you can use their faces as is. Definitely think about getting this one.

Finally, I’ll end with How-to’s and technique books. While this is the slimmest shelf in my personal library, there are a few gems that I think you should consider. “Modeling the Figure in Clay” by Bruno Lucchesi. A classical approach to sculpting the figure with some old world techniques that are still valuable today. Brunno actually still teaches to this day and I’ve heard his techniques are still similar to those he describes in the book. Another classic is  “Modeling and Sculpting the Human Figure” by Edouard Lanteri. Again, this is a classical approach to sculpture, but for those interested in our rich history, I think it’s important to know how things were sculpted long ago and what lessons we can take from those who came before us. There are a number of other classical sculpting technique books out there, but there is only one modern sculpting book that I would recommend to any of you trying to get started in the commercial sculpting world. “Pop Sculpture: How to Create Action Figures and Collectible Statues”. If only this book had existed 15 years ago… hell, if it would’ve existed 10 or even 5 years ago. Those of you young sculptors out there, who are just starting to get into sculpture… you have no idea what an indispensable tool you have at your fingertips. This book illustrates everything you need to know to become a good commercial sculptor. The techniques described and illustrated in this book can be used by beginner and professional alike. I’ve had the book for a couple months now and I can’t tell you how many times I’ve flipped through it, or have just had it open to a section while it sits on my work table. The very talented gentlemen involved in the making of this book (two of which have done interviews for this blog), have given a gift to the entire sculpting community. Don’t be a fool!!! Get this book. You won’t regret it.

Well that’s all the time I have for this post. There’s so much information out there and so many great books and DVDs (far more than I could've included in this post), that I hope you do pick some up. Don’t fall under that tired old excuse “I’m self taught, so I don’t read how-tos”. PLEASE!! Get over yourself and stop doing things the hard way. There’s nothing wrong with learning from those that came before us. And as far as visual reference… don’t forget you always have your trusty camera or cell phone. Take a picture of something that inspires you. Don’t be afraid to ask a stranger if you can take their picture, because you want to create a sculpture inspired by them. Open your studio door some time and step outside. Nature has the best reference you’ll find and it’s almost always free. And one last thing… Don’t just listen to whatever I have to say. Go out and flip through some books and decide for yourself. If you have some suggestions, post them in the comments below so that others (and myself) can find these great treasures. I hope to see lots more suggestions below over the next two weeks.


Cheers for now!!