Books that artists love

Books that artists love

By Caroline Fraser

Inspiring books chosen by artists for artists

Developing as an artist means undertaking a long journey, on an unknown road.....
The road is full of blind bends and pot holes, but leads to exciting and potentially life changing places.

Sometimes we, as artists, get stuck on the road. Family problems, work difficulties, a lack of inspiration, time or the necessary skills to fulfil a vision; the reasons for getting stuck are as many as there are artists.

So what helps?

How do artists get back on the creative road?

This week I decided to ask artists to tell me about books that have helped them in their creative practice.

The answers were as varied as their art. A surprising number of novels were on the list. Words stirring visual images and acting as a springboard for creativity.

Subject: Discovering your creative self
The Artist's Way by Julia Cameron

The Artist's Way by Julia Cameron

First on the list, and one that is often recommended is Julia Cameron's 'The Artist Way'. She is known for her 'morning pages' - a cathartic writing practice performed soon after waking on a daily basis. I have tried this, and found it to be variable in its helpfulness. Whilst on a writing workshop where this was recommended, I wrote a lot about the uncomfortable springs in my bed......

Also she encourages 'artist dates'. A date with yourself, once a week. For FUN. This could be something as simple as visiting a favourite art shop, baking a cake, or making a drawing of something that feels frivolous or childish. Having fun is a way to revitalise, spark ideas, and be willing to take risks.

Subject: Colour
Chromatopia by David Coles

Chromatopia by David Coles

Next up is a visual feast of a book about the history of pigments by David Coles. Learn the stories behind the origins of different colours. Find out about the stories behind 'lamp black', 'lead white', and 'YinMn blue'....

You can read a review of this book on the Jackson's Art blog. As the blog says 'Chromatopia is bound to draw you into the intricate details of each colour it describes, make you lust after bygone colours and have you sharing colour trivia to everyone you can.'

The images alone are enticing, and there are recipes for creating historic colours. A feast for those who love colour.

Subject: Sketchbook ideas
Sketchbook explorations by Shelley Rhodes

Sketchbook explorations by Shelley Rhodes

For those looking for practical inspiration, and following on from last months post on sketchbooks comes the recommendation 'Sketchbook Explorations' by Shelley Rhodes. Shelley says of her sketchbook drawings.

'Whenever I travel, I carry a sketchbook and a ‘little pack of materials’, so that I can record my journey. I have learned that what I have not drawn I have never really seen, and that when I start drawing an ordinary thing, I realize how extraordinary it is, sheer miracle'.

Subject: Art history
The Shock of the New by Robert Hughes

The Shock of the New by Robert Hughes

For those more interested in art history and politics, the 1980's book of the BBC TV series 'The Shock of the New' is still relevant today, and is used as a source of inspiration by artists.

The series, according to Wikipedia, 'addressed the development of modern art since the Impressionists ....... its combination of insight, wit and accessibility are still widely praised'.

Hughes remembers being directed by Pegram with her saying, "It's a clever argument, Bob dear, but what are we supposed to be looking at"

How often have I heard that said!

Subject: Motivation
The Practice by Seth Godin

The Practice by Seth Godin

The Practice, by Seth Godin is a powerful argument for getting on with the 'work' of being an artist.

Rather than sitting around waiting for inspiration, Seth argues for the power of action over inaction; action being the fuel for ideas and new directions.

The path forward is found using curiosity, generosity and connection.

Seth argues that 'the magic is that there is no magic..... start where you are.... don't stop...... go make a ruckus'.

He certainly made me think.....

Subject: Mindfulness
Looking at Mindfulness by Christopher Andre

Looking at Mindfulness by Christopher Andre

Looking for something gentler then a book on art and mindfulness is perfect, and Christopher Andre's book on mindfulness and art is loved by many.

"A poetic, compassionate guide to mindfulness, offering a fresh and thoughtful path."—Publisher's Weekly

Subject: Ecology and the sea
The Sea Around Us by Rachel Carson

The Sea Around Us by Rachel Carson

On a more ecological note comes the suggestion for Rachel Carson's 'The Sea around us'.

'The Sea Around Us is a survey of what we know about the seas of the Earth that also filled with art and wonder of discovery'.

This prize winning book combines natural history with a poetic vision.

A must for lovers of the oceans and a thirst for knowledge.

Subject: The land and words
Books by Robert Macfarlane

Books by Robert Macfarlane

Lastly I am going to mention the books of Robert Macfarlane; the most popular author in my recent survey of artists, myself included.

For those that love the land, words, and the possibility to travel in the mind, I cannot recommend his books highly enough.

The choice of one would be too difficult, so I give you a selection to choose from.

I am particularly taken with his beautiful book for children on 'The Lost Words'. These are words that have been removed from the Oxford Junior Dictionary because they are no longer 'used' enough.

Words such as dandelion and acorn. Words that have been supplanted by others such as 'broadband and voice-mail. A reflection of the times.

Macfarlane celebrates these lost words in an illustrated book of their own, with poems alongside. A book of great beauty, that will help these words to live on.


The importance of words in art cannot be overestimated. The inspiration that comes from reading the poetry of Mary Oliver springs to mind.

I will leave you with a video of Mary Oliver reading her poem 'Wild Geese'.

Food for the soul......

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