As a kid I remember being very impressed by my grandfather’s large and varied collection of books. He had books on everything, from atlases to drug encyclopedias to romance novels. I was impressed by his books because they represented the extent of his curiosity and his love of knowledge. Having a curious mind and a love of knowledge myself, I’ve always wanted to have a great collection of books of my own. I started building my library a few years back. In the process of doing this, I’ve found that the more I collect, the more I grow as a person and as an artist.
As artists, you and I are naturally curious. We have a lot of things we’re interested in and a lot of things we want to do. We create because we love taking things we’ve seen and turning them into something new. We create to understand and redefine the world around us. You know what I’m talking about. It’s that uncontrollable desire you get to make things. Whether it’s a drawing or a sculpture or a painting, you know it’s not enough to make just one. You have to make lots of them! All the time!
Creative people are lifelong learners. For us, learning doesn’t end with school. We always want to know more and make more. There will always be things you won’t know much or anything about. This sounds discouraging, but it’s really not. Think about it. There will always be something new for you to explore. There will always be a new road to take. That’s amazing! Think of all the possibilities! You will never run out of things to learn and make. I love that thought. To me, the moment I run out of things to make will be the moment my life will lose its value.
What does this have to do with books, you say?
Well, whether you like to read or not, if you want to be a good artist, it is essential for you to build your own library. It’s not enough to be curious. You have to feed your curiosity. You have to expand your knowledge to grow as an artist. There is nothing worse than a one-trick pony.
"I like dogs so all I’m ever going to draw are dogs…in a cartoony style.”
Does that sound good to you? It sounds awful to me. It’s okay to draw dogs in the same style forever if you’re just doing art as a pastime or hobby. However, that’s not what a true artist does. A true artist is constantly learning and evolving.
To learn, you have to surround yourself with knowledge and inspiration. It’s important to create your own digital reference library, of course, but nothing takes the place of tangible books.
To be clear, I’m not saying you have to collect encyclopedias. You should collect books that relate to your interests and career goals. Don’t limit yourself to your current interests, though. Learn about lots of things. You never know what will inspire you next.
Here are some examples of the kinds of books you should consider adding to your library:
-Anything with large good-quality images
-Art of… books (i.e. concept art books)
-Books on Creativity (Ex. Steal Like an Artist by Austin Kleon)
-Books on mythology, classic stories, fairy tales, tall tales, etc.
-Reference books (Ex. Asian fashion from the 1800’s, medieval food, circus culture, anything and everything you can think of)
-Comic books/graphic novels
-Illustrated children’s books
-Anything else that piques your interest
You can order your books online or support local bookstores and the book’s author by buying full-price or go to used-book stores like Bookman’s, etc.
Most books with large, good-quality images will be on the pricy side, but they’re worth having. You can spend hours collecting low-resolution images online or buy a beautifully printed book that will always be available to you, even when the power is out.
Another thing you should consider is it’s also valuable to read books. The images are important, of course, but you will also benefit immensely from learning about your favorite artists, what and who they were influenced by, what things were going on during certain art periods, what symbolism objects, colors, and shapes have, etc.
Even if you don’t know it, everything you learn informs your art. To really grow as an artist, you have to keep learning. There is only so much you can learn from drawing alone. That’s why investing in books will help you become a better artist. I guarantee it!