Rex Brandt: Seeing with a Painter’s Eye

Rex Brandt: Seeing with a Painter’s Eye


Seeing with a Painter’s Eye by Rex Brandt is an excellent book. I intentionally begin the article with that statement because if you’re not familiar with Rex Brandt, you may not even want to read further. But I highly recommend that you do so. And I also recommend you to take a look at his work and his books. I only know of Rex Brandt from his work available online, his books and through the stories and experiences of others. I have it on good authority that he was an excellent teacher. And I have to say that Seeing with a Painter’s Eye confirms this to be true. Interestingly enough, his books seem to be forgotten and hardly ever recommended. Yet, Seeing with a Painter’s Eye is definitely in my top 5, if not top 3 books.

The book is no longer in print but a used copy can still be purchased relatively inexpensively. It was published in 1984, and so it may be difficult to get your hands on a good one. The book though really is worth the effort.

I really like the book because it discusses a very practical painting issues and questions to which I had a hard time finding satisfactory answers elsewhere. As excellent as Edgar Whitney’s and Frank Webb’s books are, I have to say that, subjectively, they don’t seem to me as complex as Rex Brandt’s book does. There are certainly overlaps, as should be expected, but the language, demos and overall approach is very different. And very good. Concise and to the point.

There are 5 main parts dividing the contents of the book:

  1. Introduction
  2. Line Drawing
  3. Value
  4. Color and Texture
  5. Composition

The structure itself is very different from the books I discussed before. And I really love this approach. Each chapter further breaks down to a set of issues, which are very well explained and demonstrated.

As I said in the introduction, I think Seeing with a Painter’s Eye by Rex Brandt is an excellent book. But it is for those serious about their work. I seem to be saying that in all of these articles lately, but it’s simply because I try to recommend only the very best books I can. The book provides an excellent array of material to be studied and worked with. The book prompts you to work. The benefits are immense when you’re willing to do so. If you’re wondering if this book is for you, the answer depends on your intentions and aspirations.

I think that one of the reasons why the book is so strong is because the principles explained are not necessarily limited to any one style of painting. They are very universal. If you’re interested in more representational approach or you like working on a more abstract side, you’ll certainly benefit from the book in either case. You don’t have to paint like the author in order to improve and apply what you’ve learned.

Another reason is that the book doesn’t seem to hold anything back. It is a true textbook, a manual. It seems to me that its only goal is to help and educate new painters. Not promote the author, not even showcase his portfolio – just teach. Every and each illustration and painting in the book is there to demonstrate and explain certain topic. This is not a book that leaves you with more questions than answers. What’s more, when I read the book for the first time, I encountered many answers to questions I didn’t even know to ask.

Anyway, I cannot explain any further why you should get the book. I can just say that it’s given me much more understanding than I expected. If you’re interested in expanding your understanding, you should definitely get this book.

Please note this is an article repost.
Original publish date overwritten.
Comments loaded with incorrect timestamps.


  1. My painting teacher asked us to research Rex Brandt, learn his style & the colors he liked mixing together. I have found nothing. I was looking for interviews or explanations of his paint style which is still coming up blank. It’s due by Monday with my painting reflecting his style. Blank. It’s rediculous that I can find videos of Masters painting, Picasso working in his studio, but nothing on Rex. I’d be better off driving down to Corona Del Mar to paint the
    Ocean or the park there. I love that beach!

    1. Hello Jan Lorraine,

      It’s true that it’s very difficult to come by Rex’s teachings. There’s very little on the internet (if at all) as you say. The only resources are his books as far as I know and the teachers who’ve been taught by Rex himself. You may want to try libraries if you’re in the US to get a hold of his books. I only rely on sourcing his books via eBay and Amazon but those are very scarce and expensive too.

      At least there’s a collection of his paintings on the California watercolor website which give some insight to his way of working. Best of luck with our studies.

  2. Russell

    Hi Daniel. As a student of Rex’s, this book came about as a result of the handouts that we used to get in workshops. In essence, this book is a collection of those notes. There are concepts here that are not presented in any other text that I know of, but in saying that I also have to say that a lot of the ideas are not fully explained as they were expanded on during the workshop and by demo. These sheets (pages) were intended to be a reference guide to certain principles and in that sense, and in the context of a workshop, they did their job. The book is a treasure of ideas of the California or “West Coast” approach and is well worth studying. Just be aware that its a collection of class notes that were never intended to become a book when they were first handed out to us by Rex.

    1. Hi Russell. It’s amazing to hear your firsthand experience. Thanks so much for sharing it with us. Also thanks for the additional explanation of how the book came to be.
      Yes, many ideas are not fully explained, I noticed that. However, I find that it provides enough information to introduce the topic. Then if I wish I can look into it more by looking up a more focused resource. It is this variety, even if not depth, that I really appreciate about the book.
      Thanks again!

      1. Russell

        A lot of additional information can be found in Loran’s book on Cezanne, which you’ve mentioned before. A rather unique issue discussed by Rex (only briefly) is one of “picture light” or light that comes from within the design rather than from an outside source (such as the sun). That concept is unique to the California painters. I will say that a lot of the information an ideas have fallen by the wayside over the last 30 years or so. Without this book, most of this would have been lost. Unfortunately, Rex’s students are now becoming scarce as well, so I hope that future generations of painters will take a good look at what we did back then and keep the ideas alive and moving forward.

        1. It took me a while to grasp the concept of inner light. I knew there was something else besides literal painting of light, but I had no guidance as to where to look. But I did it, I figured it out. That was a breakthrough for me. I wish I had this book back then. I managed to get at it by “reading between the lines” of Frank Webb’s work (and Ratindra Das’ works too). I think Frank even mentions this in one of his books briefly. Not as directly though. But it was enough so that it finally confirmed my theory and all fit into place. That’s why I praise Rex’s book, it offers these gems plainly. Not that common, I think.

          1. Russell

            The nearest parallel is a stained glass window. Its a tough concept to grab onto, especially when we have been taught to describe form by using light, shade, and shadow. It might make for an interesting article. You should consider it.

          2. I’ll definitely put something together.

Leave A Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

2 + 4 =