ten books every artist should read

1
The Creative Habit

Summary: DO THE WORK. The entire book comes down to that. You can’t find your voice unless you speak… all. the. time. There is no such things as waiting for the muse to speak. You do the work.

“After so many years, I’ve learned that being creative is a full-time job with its own daily patterns.  …The real secret i that they do this every day. In other words, they are disciplined. …In order to be creative you have to know how to prepare to be creative.”

2
Art and Fear

I think I have a good 3/4ths of this book highlighted. It speaks so clearly to the reasons we don’t just get to it and make the art. It’s been truly helpful to me in shifting my paradigm from one of “what if they don’t like me/my art” to “just DO THE WORK.”

“The lesson here is simply that courting approval, even that of peers, puts a dangerous amount of power in the hands of the audience. Worse yet, the audience is seldom in a position to grant (or withhold) approval on the one issue that really counts – namely, whether or not you are making progress in your work.”

 

3
Steal Like an Artist

This book is a quick, light, and inspiring read. It’s another iteration of “do the work and don’t worry about other things.” Nothing is original. That was a lightbulb moment for me. Everything builds on something else.

“What a good artist understands is that nothing comes from nowhere. All creative work builds on what came before. Some people find this idea depressing, but it fills me with hope. If we’re free from the burden of trying to be completely original, we can stop trying to make something out of nothing, and we can embrace influence instead of running away from it.”

 

4
Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain

Hands down my favorite book for beginners learning to draw. She sings my song on every page. Learning to draw is like learning to do addition, to drive a car, or to play a scale on a piano. A good teacher doesn’t expect you to know how to draw before you come to art class – she teaches you how to do it.

“Ability to draw depends on ability to see the way an artist sees, and this kind of seeing can marvelously enrich your life. You will soon discover that drawing is a skill that can be learned by every normal person with average eyesight and average eye-hand coordination.”

 

5
The Natural Way to Draw

If you really, really, really want to learn to draw, really, really, really well. You have to do the work. This book is a college text – deep, dense, and amazingly wonderful if you are serious. He is so clear and detailed about every exercise. Blind contour drawing is one of my favorite ways to truly SEE what it is I’m looking at. His exercises have probably done most to further any small skill I have in sketching, but most importantly, have helped me SEE like an artist.

“.. a contour study is not a thing that can be ‘finished.’ It is having a particular type of experience, which can continues as long as you have the patience to look.”

6
The Artist’s Way

I had heard about this book for years before I cracked it open and took a look for myself. I was thinking it was going to by much to schmarmy for my taste. I was wrong. It is but the series of exercises here help you to clarify and solidify who you are and what you want as an artist are truly helpful. 

“As blocked creatives, we often sit on the sidelines critiquing those in the game…. We may be able to defer to true genius, but if it’s merely a genius for self-promotion we’re witnessing, our resentment runs high. This is not just jealousy. It is a stalling technique that reinforces our staying stuck.”

 

7
The War of Art

 

Let me just say that this is in the  same category as Art and Fear, although a little easier to get through. He reiterates another of my favorite soapbox issues… EVERYONE can be creative. That thing where people say “I’m not creative” can be squashed if you buy into the ideas in this book. The minute you say can’t you’ve given up.

“The amateur believes he must first overcome his fear, then he can do his work. The professional knows that fear can never be overcome. He knows there’s no such thing as a fearless warrior or a dread-free artist. What Henry Fonda does, after puking into the toilet in his dressing room, is to clean up and march out onstage. He’s still terrified but he forces himself forward in spite of his terror. He knows that once he gets out into the action, his fear will recede and he’ll be okay.”

 

8
Zen Pencils

Gavin’s graphic illustrations of inspirational quotes have inspired me and helped me keep going during those inevitable days of self-doubt. I actually bought two copies of this book so I could tear out pages and post them all over our walls. I also adore Gavin’s other books, Creative Struggles, and Dream the Impossible Dream.

“The most difficult thing is the decision to act. The rest is merely tenacity. The fears are paper tigers. You can do anything you decide to do. You can act to change and control your life and the procedure. The process is its own reward.” – Amelia Earhart

9
Color and Light

I’ve loved everything James Gurney has done for years and years. His amazingly educational and entertaining blog, the hours and hours my children and I have spent with all of his Dinotopia books, Imaginative Realism, just – everything.

“Your paintings can be true to nature but emphasize different aspects of visual truth compared to another artist. The way you paint is a record of how you see.”

 

10
The Little Spark

This book is sweet, and rich with photos that have that beautiful instagram feeling. But it also has a lot of meaty inspiration in there. She touches on all my hot button issues: do the work, make space to do the work, make time to do the work, give yourself permission to do the work, forget about whether it is a masterpiece or not, that creating makes the world a better place.

“The Spark is your creativity, and you were born with it. We all were. Humans have always felt its pull. …your desire to make things is bigger than you. It comes from our human desire to make things beautiful and meaningful – not for the sake of beauty, but because each decorative mark on that cake or that pot celebrates our existence.”

 

(In the interest of full disclosure – if you buy these books through these links I get a tiny little kickback. I hope you find the list worthwhile.)

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