10 Books for the Aspiring Artist


One of my friends has recently taken up art journaling.  The other day we were chatting and she asked which art books would be good to read in order to generate some ideas.  The thought makes me giddy.  Ohhhhhhh books!  I love books.  I am an admitted bibliophile.  Art books.  Fantasy fiction.  Science fiction.  Schmoopy British love stories (the classics, like Pride & Prejudice).  Cookbooks (yes, I love to READ them for fun).  Books on spirituality, faeries, shamanism, hiking, wildflowers... any subject that grabs my attention.  I will preface this list by saying I am certainly no expert... but I thought it might be fun to share with all of you some of the art books that have guided me along the way to becoming an artist.

Ready to be inspired??  Here we go, in no particular order*:

1) The Artist's Way by Julia Cameron


 This book saved me.  Literally, this book is the reason I am an artist today.  I started painting 4 years ago, and was immediately taken in with the process.  I loved getting lost in paint, working hard to improve my skill.  But then, one day, the well dried up.  Every time I went to paint, I told myself these stories about how terrible my paintings were (I was a beginner - of COURSE they had room for improvement).  And I believed them.  Believed I would never be good.  Pretty soon, I couldn't face the blank canvas - it was too painful.  And I stopped painting.  My story could have ended there, but it didn't.  Insert The Artist's Way.  This book had floated around the periphery of my life for many years... I had known people who used it, my mom used it, and it kept coming back up as a really useful tool to get in the creative flow.  I decided to give it a shot... what did I have to lose?  This book broke me free of the chains of my ego-driven mind and got me creating again.  It was a miracle.  I am forever changed by this process and have been writing morning pages (one of the exercises in the book) for two years now.  They have changed my life. Get. this. book.  Especially if you ever get stuck.

2) Brave, Intuitive Painting by Flora Bowley 


Let me save you the decision.  Go buy this book.  Flora's style teaches you how to loosen up while painting, and allow a painting to form naturally in its own time.  While The Artist's Way got me back in to creativity after a drought, Flora's book taught me how to thrive and have fun and really enjoy the process.  Her method for painting allows you to easily step up to a blank canvas and proceed with no fear or worry... it teaches you how to listen to your intuition while painting, be brave enough to act on it, and to keep it all light-hearted.  I recently did the e-course based on this process and it was even more amazing than the book!

3) The Creative Entrepreneur by Lisa Sonora Beam


*Ok, so the first 3 are in order of importance for me... 1) I got un-stuck through The Artist's Way 2) I started having consistent fun painting with Flora's book and 3) I figured out how to make all of my dreams a reality with Lisa's (still a work in progress, but I have a strategic business plan and I'm ACTING on it, which is a huge step forward).  Seriously, I love this woman.  She is a genius.  If you have any desire to turn your creativity into a business OR if you are currently an entrepreneur of a creative business, you need to read this book.  She guides you through all of the strategy of setting up a creative business.  But not in a super dull, left-brained-only kind of way like 99.99% of the business plan books out there.  This book is chock full of art journal prompts and exercises to help you dive deeper into what you want out of your life and business.  It took me a little over a month to work through all of the exercises, and I completely filled one entire journal.  This journal is FULL of ideas that will literally keep me busy for the next few years.  AND I know I could go through this book again in a year, and it will be just as impacting and idea-generating.

01-13-15_completed journal

4) Beautiful Faces by Jane Davenport


I just got this book this week.... Ohhhhh Jane.  This book is hands down THE most beautiful art instruction book I have ever seen.  For real. It's all about drawing and painting faces, which Jane certainly has a niche for.  She is an incredibly talented artist - studied in Paris, was a fashion illustrator, then owned her own gallery, etc.  This book is so beautiful.... just grab a cup of tea and sit with this book.  Seriously, you will spend hours just ooing and ahing over the pages.  It is an excellent reference book for pulling out when you need a refresher on (or learn) how to draw a face!

5) The Art of Whimsical Lettering by Joanne Sharpe

whimsical lettering

Bottom line: if you want to write any words on your art journal pages or paintings, you need this book!  Joanne is THE lettering guru.  She can teach you how to take your regular, ugly (if you're me) handwriting and make it pretty.  The book walks you through creating a composition notebook full of lettering ideas... something you can keep on your shelf and reference often when you want to spice up your lettering.

6) The Painting Workbook by Alena Hennesy


I love Alena's spirited, intuitive style.  Her sense of color and composition are gorgeous.  This book has 52 project prompts... it's great if you need an idea of where to get started.  You can just pull this off of the shelf, find an exercise that calls to you and get an idea flowing.  This book isn't so much an instruction book (so if you need more of the how-to, that is not included in this book) as an idea book.  Definitely better once you have more technique skills under your belt.  

7) Taking Flight by Kelly Rae Roberts


This lady is a ray of freaking sunshine.  Really, she is.  She is such a positive, beautiful force in the world.  What I loved about this book is the inspirational stories that open each chapter that tell you about her path to achieving her dreams along with some journaling questions to help you dig deeper into who you really are and what you want out of life.  She also includes inspirational quotes and interviews with guest artists (each chapter has a different guest artist with a Q&A and a tutorial).  This book is well worth hearing her story and the wisdom shared by the contributing artists.

8) The Collage Workbook by Randel Plowman


Randel outlines the ins and outs of collage in this book... how to find papers, stay inspired, and create a balanced composition that doesn't overdo it.  Making a cohesive, non-overwhelming collage piece seems tricky to me, but Randel teaches you how to do this with simple strategies.  After outlining the basics of how to build a collage, there are fifty creativity exercises to get you going on your own.

9) Art Journal Freedom by Dina Wakley


I never went to art school... so there were basics tenets of creating composition that I missed out on.  Reading Dina's book brought about so many "aha"s! She not only teaches you about composition, but about how to build up colorful background using a variety of techniques. She has such an edgy, free style that I just love. 

10) Journal Spilling by Diana Trout

journal spilling

The techniques in this book are solid and very useful if you are just getting started.  It's all about experimenting in a free and loose way.  She has an easy-going approach to art that should help any beginner gain confidence in their journal practice. 


There you have it!  10 books that have impacted me in some way as an artist.  I know there are so many out there, I have only dipped my toe in the pool of what is available. What are your favorite art books? 



Posted in Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , .


  1. I haven’t read many of the how to books, but I have a very well thumbed copy of both the artists way and the creative entrepreneur. I would add Art and Fear by David Bayles and Ted Orland, and two books by Steven Pressfield, the war of art and do the work. Great post, a wonderful idea to share books that have helped you!

Leave a Reply

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