Books and Tools I Recommend
If I had to just include one item on this page it would be Imaginative Realism, by James Gurney. Hands down, the best book on illustration I have. I have learned more from this book than any other. Color and Light is another great book, I consider it a supplement to Imaginative Realism.
Charles Bargue's Drawing Course was developed at the request of the French Government in the 19th century to raise the level of art in France. It is comprised primarily of a series of drawings done by Bargue and Jean-Leon Gerome. The student is intended to make exact copies of them, training the hand and eye to accurate observation and idealized beauty. The course take discipline and patience, but rewards the effort.
I love Norman Rockwell. The first book, Norman Rockwell: Illustrator is my second favorite book. At the end of the book Rockwell walks through his process. Norman Rockwell: Behind the Camera is an excellent book to show how photographic reference can be used by the artist and not control the artist. You get to see how Rockwell interpreted the information provided by the photo. My Adventures as an Illustrator is a wonderful account, in Rockwell's own words, of his life. You see much humor, but also sadness and hardship. He had doubts and personal struggles. I think it adds a layer of depth to his work knowing more about the man behind the paintings.
William Bouguereau: His Life and Works is actually part 1 of a two volume set. The printing and images in this book are excellent. It contains and excellent biography and discusses the working methods of this remarkable artist. John William Waterhouse is one of my favorite artists. I find his brushwork and storytelling feed my own creative energies. This excellent Phaidon Press book is full of inspiration. This Lawrence Alma-Tadema book below is very well priced and contains great information about the man and many wonderful reproductions.
Rosemary and Co. brushes are the best out there. The Ivory and Master's Choice lines are wonderful. Both are durable and have excellent handling. The New Wave Art Palette is a new addition to my studio, specifically the Expressionist Confidant model. It is light, has plenty of room for paint and mixing. The more I use it, the more I love it.
I use my iPad to display reference and mount it on a tripod. The case listed here is perfect for that, with a standard tripod thread on the back.
Clean air is important in a studio and the Austin Healthmate Air Purifier is perfect. It uses charcoal to filter the air and does a great job. It has three speeds and can really move the air through my studio.
Rosemary and Co. Brushes and Artist Supplies
I love the little sketch bag below. It can hold two large Moleskine books. I like to have a plain reporter style book as well as a watercolor book. I can add in my favorite pencils, sharpeners and erasers and still have room for a little watercolor set. It is made out of tough canvas and has held up great for a couple years now.
The Windsor Newton set below is a good cheap little set of colors perfect for little sketches at a restaurant or on a plane, or anywhere on the go. The Kaweco Special 2.0mm lead holder is my favorite sketching pencil. I purchased some black lead (not graphite, but more like colored pencil lead) on ebay. The lead is a little waxy and has great tack with the paper. Having a good eraser is always nice and I like this little fine eraser, as well as the all purpose kneaded eraser. All this gear and more fits nicely in the sketchbag listed above.
I recently switched to some LED bulbs for my kit. They work very well. I just dial the white balance on my camera to match the 4000k temp of the bulbs and I get great skin tones
A good Wacom tablet is a must if you want to use the computer to do some sketching or painting. I do illustration work on the computer, but also use it to do preliminary studies. Almost all of my digital work is done in Corel Painter. I have been using the program since version 2 and can't imagine painting on the computer without it. Blender is another wonderful program, and it is free! It is a very powerful program, though I don't use all the features, just some simple modeling and lighting to establish perspective and shapes with some of the more complex paintings I have done.