I love reading books for inspiration in my art-making and in my teaching. These are some of the best books for artists I’ve ever read. I recommend them to my students often, and now I want to share them with you.
The books are listed based on category (my own categories). Some are about how to be a creative person – ways to think about being creative (and being in general). Some are about writing. Some are business books for artists. Some are more about mindfulness and the human experience.
These make great gifts for any artist, illustrator, or designer. I’ll post more as I read them. 🙂
Creativity, Productivity, and Mindfulness
We creatives tend to be a lot alike in the way we think. Different too, but I think there are commonalities. Procrastination, staying on track, being focused – I think a lot of us struggle with these. The books here have helped me a lot in areas of creativity, productivity, and mindfulness. They aren’t all designed for creatives, but they are all helpful books for artists and the creative process.
Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life
by Anne Lamott (Author)
I love this little book. Even if you don’t write very often, it has some wonderful suggestions and ideas to help you improve. It’s a thoughtful book that I return to time and again.
The Creative Act: A Way of Being
by Rick Rubin (Author)
I recommend getting this one as a hardcover. The chapters are short and there are many days I sit down for my morning coffee and thumb to a new chapter for some daily inspiration.
Wherever You Go, There You Are: Mindfulness Meditation in Everyday Life
by Jon Kabat-Zinn (Author)
If you’ve ever been curious about mindfulness and meditation and how it might affect your life and your creative practice, this book is a great place to start.
The War of Art
by Steven Pressfield (Author), Shawn Coyne (Editor)
This is really a book about writing and getting over the fears a lot of writers have and the resistance we can sometimes put up against our own best interests. The authors encourage treating the creative process as a serious job with no excuses. It works just as well for artists, or any creative person who needs a bit of kick in the pants. 🙂
The Business of Art
This group of books for artists is about the business of art – how to think like a business person and how to organize your world and the way you work so you can make a living doing it. Like it or not, the moment anyone decides to be an artist, they have also decided to be in business – the business of being an artist. A few of the books here are about business in general, but the ideas and concepts can be applied to any artist’s business. As an example, one of my favorite Denver-area artists is Thomas Evans, who goes by the artist name Detour. He got an MBA from CU Denver and used the knowledge he gained there to start and run his own art business. Now he is creating amazing works all over the place for big names. He even did some murals on our campus buildings at CU Denver and was the keynote speaker at our graduation ceremony in the spring of ’22. He’s an inspiration!
For some reason, all of the books here have red covers! ???
Art, Inc.: The Essential Guide for Building Your Career as an Artist
by Lisa Congdon (Author), Meg Mateo Ilasco (Editor), Jonathan Fields (Foreword)
I love the way this book is organized. It includes some wonderful advice for artists, particularly those who need some help with the business side of art. The interviews from practicing artists who have been successful “artrepreneurs” are a terrific and inspiring addition.
The 4-Hour Workweek: Expanded and Updated, With Over 100 New Pages of Cutting-Edge Content.
by Timothy Ferriss (Author)
This is the book that introduced the term “passive income” to me and to countless others. I first read this book in 2009 and it completely opened my eyes to a whole new world. I’v been obsessed ever since. Its getting old, but the thoughts and suggestions in this book are still pure gold.
Crucial Conversations: Tools for Talking When Stakes are High, Third Edition
by Joseph Grenny (Author), Kerry Patterson (Author), Ron McMillan (Author), Al Switzler (Author), & 1 more Format: Kindle Edition
We all have high-stakes conversations now and then. Regardless of what type of creative you are, I guarantee the information and lessons in this book will help you. Its a best seller and highly recommended for a reason!
There are tons of design books out there covering all sorts of related topics. These are some of my favorite. I have most of these physical form and lend them out to students now and then.
The Laws of Simplicity (Simplicity: Design, Technology, Business, Life)
by John Maeda (Author)
This little book (it really is a small book!) is one of my absolute favorites. John Maeda has such a wonderful way of getting at the heart of the problems here. Its a little bit dated now, only becase of some of the topics covered (like the iPod click wheel), but all of the thoughts hold true. I recommend this book for any designer out there, and really any person.
Grid systems in graphic design: A visual communication manual for graphic designers, typographers and three dimensional designers
(German and English Edition) Hardcover – October 1, 1996
English Edition by Josef Müller-Brockmann (Author)
Oh my gosh, I love this book! Its one I think every budding designer should own in physical form. It has grid overlays inside and covers everything anyone needs to know about grid systems and lining things up.
Thinking with Type, 3rd revised and expanded edition: A Critical Guide for Designers, Writers, Editors, & Students
by Ellen Lupton (Author) – NEW EDITION MARCH 2024
This is the quintessential book about typography and Ellen Lupton is the queen of type! You’ll learn everything you need to know about letterforms and working with typography. It’s a must have book for all new (and old) designers.
Books are not dead! They live!
So many people were afraid that the printed book would die when e-books became a thing. Boy were they wrong. There is nothing like curing up on your favorite chair and reading while enjoying a nice hot (or adult) beverage. I think this is particularly true of books for artists because we creatives like the feeling of the paper in our hands. Now, having said this, I do have a lot of books as e-books too. The portability of having so many books on your iPad or other e-reader is just amazing. I have some books in both physical form and in digital just so I can have them with me wherever I go.
Disclaimer: Some links that appear in this article allow me to earn money using affiliate advertising programs. I only recommend products I truly believe in. Any advice or instructions given in this article are purely my own and supplied with the very best intentions.