The Most Inspiring Books for Artists

I’ve been lucky enough to interview some incredible people from the world of art, and I continue to be blown away by the sheer endless capacity they have to continually create amazing pieces of work.  However, I began to wonder – how do these artists manage to stay so inspired all of the time? We’ve all heard of writer’s block, but what about artist’s block?  Staring at a blank canvas and trying to visualise something spectacular – it’s a daunting prospect, made worse by the fact that I’m about as artistically talented as a fencepost.  What is clear is that a lot of artists find inspiration in books; so I decided it would be fascinating to create a list of the most inspiring books for artists.  I have compiled an expert panel of wonderfully talented people from the world of art and asked them to cast their votes for the most inspiring books for artists.  What we’ve ended up with is an eclectic mix of literature that is sure to blow your mind.  If you’re ready to top up your ‘to-be-read lists’ with a tipple of artistic inspiration, then you’re in the right place.  However, first, we must meet our panel of artists.

ruth oostermanRuth Oosterman

Ruth Oosterman is a Canadian artist currently residing in Toronto. As a self-taught artist, she began exploring her creative side at a young age and now her work can be found at numerous exhibitions and private collections throughout the world. Ruth’s most recent series, “Collaborations with my Toddler” has heavily influenced and inspired her artistic direction after it reached international fame.

Andrew salgadoAndrew Salgado

I first discovered the work of Andrew Salgado when I was reading an article in GQ about the artists you should be investing in now.  I really loved the image of his work so I delved a little further and discovered a wealth of incredible paintings. Andrew has been labelled as one of the most promising young figurative painters working today.  His increasing notoriety is being propelled by a prolific series of solo exhibitions between 2013 and now.

robin EisenbergRobin Eisenberg

Robin Eisenberg is an exciting artist, whose illustrations and designs are capturing the attention of the internet. She combines elements of everyday life and extraterrestrial life, with a wild neon-clad colour palette.  Based in Los Angeles, Robin has been sketching for as long as she can remember, but actually majored in English at college.  After a while, Robin decided to make her hobby a full-time gig, becoming a professional artist.

joseph loughboroughJoseph Loughborough

Joseph Loughborough is a Berlin-based artist fascinated by human nature: sin, desire, fear and existential anxiety over one’s own absurdity. Through the theatre of emotion, sexuality and movement Joseph’s expressive and honest body of work captures revealing and thought-provoking imagery.  Joseph Loughborough has exhibited his solo show all across the world, including Belgium, USA, Germany and more.

dale adcockDale Adcock

Dale Adcock is an artist who received his MA in Fine Art from the Chelsea College of Art & Design, where he graduated in 2015.   Dale Adcock has had his work exhibited both in solo and group exhibitions all around the world, but perhaps most notably at Ratio at the TJ Boulting in London in 2013, and Perfectionism at the Griffin Gallery in also in London 2014, as well as some exhibitions in Los Angeles.

Sabrina TerrenceSabrina Terence

Sabrina Terence is a world famous artist, DJ, model and TV host.  Sabrina’s passion for art was born in 1998 when she had her first painting lesson whilst living in Germany. She attributes her inspiration as an artist to abstract art, and she seeks to utilise a blend of acrylic and oil on canvas. In 2016, Sabrina Terence became the first contemporary abstract artist to send her artwork into space.

You’ve met the expert panel, now – let’s discover the most inspiring books for artists.

The Orchid Thief by Susan Orlean

Andrew Salgado:

This has been at the top of my ‘must-read’ list for over a decade. The book is an informative non-fiction account of journalist Susan Orlean as she covers the true-life ordeal of idiot savant John Laroche, a white man charged with poaching Orchids from Florida Everglades, an activity which is not illegal when done by the area’s local Seminole Indians. However, its wrapped around a stranger-than-fiction historical account of the ‘history of orchids’. Sounds boring. It isn’t – the book becomes a tale of obsession, loss, and tragedy on par with any Shakespearean tragedy. I often return to it when I’m feeling creatively tapped. At one point, Orlean realises she might be the dunce in the proceedings: “I realized what I wanted more than anything else was to want something passionately”… ouch.

‘Call me Ishmael’ is the opening line of Moby Dick. He does not even say that his name is Ishmael, but just that you can call him it. Like the old testament Ishmael, he is a wanderer, but in Melville’s world, a polytheist, or Poly’religionist at home wherever he finds himself with an inclusive relationship to the unknown or unknowable. The book works on many different levels, as a great work of fiction and of the imagination describing the fated voyage of Ishmael aboard the Pequod where Captain Ahab is taking them on a hunt for Moby Dick the famed white whale. In a letter to Hawthorn, Melville wrote that he had written a ‘wicked book, and feel spotless as a lamb’, and he is right. He switches the symbolism of light and dark, white and black, land and sea and captain Ahab and Starbuck are pointed criticisms of monotheism. Melville also went whaling so you know that when he describes an aspect of the ship or procedure, it has that magnetism of practiced experience. The book also works psychologically as a collection of relationships between order and chaos.

Clear Seeing Place by Brian Rutenberg

Ruth Oosterman:

When considering the most inspiring books for artists, I highly recommend Clear Seeing Place because it provides a very raw look at the life of an artist, the good and the bad. Rutenberg uses his firsthand experiences to teach the reader that the essence of art comes from life and different tools you can use in order to succeed. The way the book is written is done so not in a strict how-to manner but almost as if you are sitting down for a drink with the author as he unleashes a lifetime of wisdom from his life in the artistic field, definitely a rare type of book.

Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear by Elizabeth Gilbert

Sabrina Terence:

I have read her book Eat, Pray, Love, so I was curious about Big Magic too – she is very inspiring to me as an author and an artist. The book is truly amazing, especially for new artists who are afraid of going further, this book will definitely help you. If you’re passionate about your writing, your art, or whatever you love doing – I highly recommend Gilbert’s book. Never give up on what you want to do, dream big, be positive!

Black Hole by Charles Burns

Robin Eisenberg:

Not only is the art incredible, but the story and feel of this book leaves you feeling… disturbed, but also enthralled. When I read this for the first time, I couldn’t put it down, and I finished it feeling like I’d just woken up from a strange and beautiful nightmare. This book was really inspirational for me! I love the way he made a world that was dark and grotesque feel so familiar and nostalgic somehow. It’s definitely not inspiring in an uplifting way, but I do think it will make you want to uncover the weirder parts of your brain and take a longer look at them (or even find beauty where you might not be expecting it).

The Radical Eye by Miron Zownir

Joseph Loughborough:

The book by photographer Miron Zownir called The Radical Eye was introduced to me just after I left school. It was shocking then as it is now. The ‘Street’ photos are of people on the fringe of society predominantly in Berlin, Moscow and New York in the 80s and 90s. They have an element of theatre to them despite the suffering captured in many of these black and white portraits. It was one of the first photo books I bought and I would draw from it regularly.

The Gulag Archipelago is about the forced labour camps spread across the Soviet Union like a chain of small islands. Detailing the whole system from arrest, interrogation, torture, journey and forced labour. Solzhenitsyn found himself in a Gulag and instead of blaming those around him or the state, he asked himself what he had done wrong in his life to get there.  The breadth and power of this personal responsibility under the most extreme circumstances led to this book, so powerful that it helped bring down the Soviet state and change the world, a testimony to the power of the creative individual.

in the company of women - most inspiring books for artistsIn The Company Of Women by Grace Bonney

Robin Eisenberg:

This is a gorgeous compilation of interviews/advice. I keep it near my desk and love looking through it. I love the visuals of all these different women in their spaces, and I love reading about what they’ve learned, about their accomplishments and mistakes. Seeing such a diverse group of fellow women makers and artists and business owners makes me feel like I’m part of a really amazing team, and I love that feeling. Reading through these interviews helps me to remember what’s important, and reminds me that everyone feels anxious, stressed, imperfect, etc. – it’s not just me! It reminds me to be proud of what I’ve accomplished even when I feel as though I still have a lot to learn.

Unfinished by Jason Smithers

Ruth Oosterman:

I nominate Unfinished because this book managed to connect all the reasons why I could never finish projects and spread it out in front of me so it made sense. It taught me why I struggle with following through and the tools to overcome the stumbling blocks I had been putting in my own way. This book is the sole reason I have finished more this year than in past and whenever I feel myself falling into old habits I reread it. Creative minds are natural “ideas people” but that character trait often goes hand in hand with an inability to follow through due to so many grand ideas becoming overwhelming, this book gives great insight on the why and how along with valuable knowledge for all artists.

The Flowers Of Evil by Charles Baudelaire

Joseph Loughborough:

I nominate The Flowers of Evil by Charles Baudelaire. It’s all that gothic melancholia that does it for me. I’m a bit of a fanatic about Baudelaire even though my French is only so-so. In fact, its one of the reasons I like it so much as I get to read all the different translations, compare them and re-read them in a different version. In my studio you will find a collection of different version from over the years. I would have to say my favourite is from Francis Scharfe. But even with him, I prefer his older editions as the newer ones have been re-edited for a ‘contemporary reader’, meaning they took out all of those beautiful old words.

Believe In Yourself by Joseph Murphy

Sabrina Terence:

Don’t judge a book by its cover or size. This book has so much to offer. It is incredibly motivational and acted as a guiding light for me. It’s a very easy read for lazy readers I would say. That being said, it’s extremely powerful due to its succinctness, teaching you how harnessing the power of believing in yourself will help you achieve your dreams.

ART/WORK by Heather Bhandari

Andrew Salgado:

This book is a very practical read called ART/WORK by Heather Bhandari; she and a colleague spent years interviewing professionals in the art world and basically came up with the ultimate ‘how to’ and ‘how not to’. It is a critical tome and the most valuable book you can have in your arsenal as a young artist.

visual intelligence - most inspiring books for artistsVisual Intelligence by Amy E. Herman

Ruth Oosterman:

This is hands down one of my favourite all-time books of any genre that has had a lasting impact on my entire life, not just creatively. The book teaches you how to use the study and observation of artistic details to hone your ability to be more effective in all areas of life. It has personally improved my level of empathy and expanded my perspective to allow me to see new opportunities where I would have never seen them before. Although I would recommend this book to anyone, I can definitely say an artist has an incredible amount of wisdom to gain by giving this a read.

Egon Schiele: The Complete Paintings by Tobias G. Natter

Joseph Loughborough:

I would include The Monograph of Egon Schiele found on my Granddad’s bookshelf. That was thirty years ago so sadly I can’t remember the edition but I remember it being big, heavy and filled with pictures. So I will nominate the new Tobias G. Natter complete paintings edition. It’s a whopping great book of images!

The Art Spirit by Robert Henri

Sabrina Terence:

It is a wonderful book, and a great tool to instruct and inspire the artist in everyone. How wonderful it would have been to be able to have sat in on one of Henri’s sessions! He was truly a gifted mentor. Never let this book lie beyond your reach. Dream big !

the strangerThe Outsider by Albert Camus

Andrew Salgado:

This is pretty standard philosophical read in the category of ‘brooding art school must-read’ and there’s a reason for it. Its a simple, matter-of-fact existentialist telling of a French-Algerian man about the woman he pursues and… well, one can’t say much more without giving away the plot. But the book carries two literary wallops and will leave you absolutely gobsmacked. Its a compact, unadorned, brutal telling of a man’s story and the conclusion left me quite literally breathless – contemplating the meaning of life and the nature of misanthropy. It will stick with you for long after you turn the final page. I myself completed a series of 24 works based on the book.

I have just finished Crime and Punishment, and it has haunted me for weeks. The story of a student Rodion Raskolnikov, who plans and carries out the murder of a pawnbroker for her money and to test his theory that murder is permissible by certain people, even a right. However, you never get away with anything and the book really places you next to someone who is in anguish and turmoil after killing a person, it is highly unsettling and almost forces you to confront what lurks in the shadows of your own psyche.

Rookie, Yearbook One by Tavi Gevinson

Robin Eisenberg:

I love these books, and I have a special place in my book-reading heart for this volume in particular. I first bought it when I was just getting started on trying to become a full-time artist/illustrator. It was like an inspiration tonic! Anytime I needed the motivation to be creative again after a slump, I would flip through it and feel excited about making art again. It’s a compilation of articles, interviews, stories, playlists, how-to’s, etc., and reading it feels like you’ve discovered a wonderful secret zine written by all of your best friends. The photography, art, and design throughout the book is so fantastic. The content is both serious and fun and always engaging. It’s written for teenage girls but is universally relevant and relatable.

If you enjoyed this reading list, you may also enjoy the best books for aspiring photographers. If you had to cast your vote for the most inspiring books for artists, which would you pick? Comment below and let us know which books you’d recommend as the most inspiring books for artists.

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