What’s in my Art Library (and how I found it)

Happy Spring! I’m so glad to have longer days filled with more sunshine.All the Vitamin D (plus the absence of my annual winter blues) is giving me a lot more energy to create.

Something else that I always find inspiring is my collection of art-related books. Looking at other artists’ work on Pinterest and Instagram is great, but enjoying art in a screen-free way really relaxes and rejuvenates me to create. I thought I’d use this space to share how I’ve put together my art library, and to give you ideas for starting your own collection of artistic books.

At first, the idea of starting your own art library can be daunting; full-price art books can be pricey. But there are several low-cost places to find good quality resources. You just have to know where to look.

Where to find great art books:

  • Used bookstores and thrift shops: Most used bookstores have an art section that is full of gently (or not-so-gently) used books. If, like me, you live in a town that doesn’t have a used bookstore, websites like Thriftbooks have a great selection and low shipping costs.
  • Library book sales: Another opportunity to shout out to public libraries! Most libraries will have periodic used book sales on their events calendar, and many have dedicated spaces for selling secondhand books year-round. A hot tip here is that sometimes libraries include art books in their coffee table book section: I recently scored a book of Pre-Raphaelite paintings for $2!
  • Garage/yard sales: Another great place to find art books that are in disguise as coffee table books!
  • Gifts: This last one is a bit shameless, but whenever someone asks what I’d like for my birthday or another gift-giving holiday, I always have my book wish list ready to share.

Which books to look for:

When I’m visiting different places on the hunt for new art books, I keep an eye out for things that are in decent condition (although I don’t mind a little secondhand schmutz), and relatively recent. Due to the high cost of printing full-color photos or illustrations, many older books only have black and white artwork. I think full-color, high quality artwork is really essential for understanding other people’s work, so the images in a book can be a dealbreaker for me.

My art library generally consists of books in a few distinct categories:

Scholarly Works: Art History Studies and Museum Guides

These can provide an in-depth look at historical heroes of art, or a snapshot of a museum exhibition that happened in the past. Copying the masters is a great way to understand their techniques and build foundational skills.

“Art Of” Books for Film and TV

If there’s a movie or TV show I love, I try to find an “art of” book that goes along with it. These are most frequent for animation, but many live-action productions will also collect their concept and costume sketches.

“How-To” or Instructional Books

I love books that introduce me to a new medium (like watercolor or collage), or a new way to practice my art (like sketchbook challenges or drawing new subjects). My favorite instructional books have step-by-step projects that allow you to practice a skill, but ultimately leave you with confidence to apply that skill on your own.

Illustrator Collections

There are so many great collections of artwork by great illustrators like my heroes Ezra Jack Keats, Gyo Fujikawa, and Quentin Blake. Many more modern illustration collections include valuable insight from the artists themselves.

Picture Books

This section of my collection has my heart: my favorite picture books. I’ve purchased a few of my childhood favorites, plus recent works from artists I admire. Reading a picture book is such a clear way to see how art tells a story.

Let’s brainstorm in the comments: What are some of your favorite art-related books? How have you scored a secondhand gem? Are there any book sources or categories that I should add to this list?

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