Disclaimer: whilst I'm doing my utmost to read every book on this planet, I still have some way to go. Therefore, this list is not exhaustive and simply compiles the top ten on my bookshelf at this time.
1. Looking at London by Ronald Searle and Kaye west
A gorgeous record of London's history and the people living there at this time. Searle is most famous as a cartoonist and graphic artist, but it's his reportage illustration and it's simplicity of capturing life on a page that most attracts me. This book feels like a precious historical resource and fixates me with the colourful people it shows in simple ink lines.
Watch this wonderful interview with him from 2010: https://youtu.be/CAphPpFa-sc . This book is no longer in print but original copies can be found online.
2. Words and pictures by Quentin Blake
Quentin Blake is arguably one of the most significant living artists of our time, a household name but also a remarkable illustrator who began his career in the age of illustration. This book talks about about his early days and work with notable authors. I still use a lot of techniques gained from this book when I first took it out of the Library and poured over it for days.
You can watch Quentin Blake's recent documentary on BBC IPlayer.
3. A Life Drawing by Shirley Hughes
What happens when you spend your life drawing? You end up with an illustrated visual record of the highs, lows, and small forgotten moments. I can't recommend this book enough and the contents greatly inspire my own work as I persevere with my own sketchbooks and foray into the world of illustration.
4. Dinotopia by James Gurney
A new find, this is the work of a modern master. James Gurney's way with light and composition combined with masterful renderings of breathtaking landscapes, dynamic people, and dinosaurs is more than impressive. I particularly love the added details of plant studies and diagrams. This book appeals to the story teller in me and my childhood delight in Dinosaurs. James Gurney is a regular contributor to National Geographic magazine and started off as an archaeological illustrator.
Watch his video about Dinotopia here: https://youtu.be/MrZ9GA-hiPI About James Gurney: https://jamesgurney.com/pages/about-james-gurney
5. Hegelian Harvest, a year's journal by Sue Lewington
I've had the pleasure of meeting Sue at one if her workshops in Cornwall. This book is a wonderful example of her style and way with light. The quiet progress of growing things in all weather is recorded in this book for all to see and enjoy. People working in the walled garden, sunlight in the greenhouse, and a page of brightly coloured beans are among many other illustrations in these pages. You can look at
Sue's new website here: https://www.suelewington.net/about
6. The Harry potter series illustrated by Jim Kay
As a young teenager, I was given a copy of the first illustrated Potter book. A dedicated fan of the story and aspiring artist at the time, this was huge and I delighted in those pages. I decided to become an illustrator. What better recommendation can I give these books? Jim's style mixes great skill and draftsmanship with gorgeous illustrations and, of course, a fantastic story. He comes across as approachable and personable in his interviews as he battles on with this marathon series.
Watch this discussion between him and Dapo Adeola: https://www.instagram.com/tv/CBTdqnFAQ9G/
7. John William Waterhouse by Peter Trippi
When discussing illustration, one cannot miss out mention of the Pre-raphaelites. The narrative and composition of Waterhouse's paintings are undeniably illustrative, telling the story greek myths and legends. This book was purchased for me following an exhibition at the National Gallery. It includes stunning reproductions of notable paintings and the sketches that proceed them in full jewel-like colours as well as recent discoveries about the artist.
8. How to draw by Jake Spicer
I won't need to write a book about drawing because Jake Spicer has already said everything I would, and more. I was compelled to buy this book after a few seconds of flicking through it, by the wonderful surplus of hand drawn elements. It takes a lot of time and effort to illustrate a book, throwing in 3 times the amount of necessary images takes a special kind of artist. In addition to this, it's clear, well written, and inspiring; I would recommend it to any beginner.
You can also read his most recent book on figure drawing. http://www.jakespicerart.co.uk/books.html
9. How to draw the Human Figure by Victor Ambrose
Life drawing is the root of traditional drawing, and if you know me you'll know that I bang on about this constantly. There are very few places that teach traditional life drawing any more, even within universities, so in my search for a self eduction, I ordered this book on Ebay and was delighted when an original sketch fell out of the pages, signed by the artist himself. Quite aside from this, it's a brilliant and inspiring book that covers all the main principles of capturing the human form.
Victor Ambrose had a long and successful career, working on over 200 books in his lifetime. He won the Kate Greenway Medal in 1965 for his book: The Three Poor Tailors.
10. Drawn to Life: 20 Golden Years of Disney Master Classes By Walt Stanchfield
Cartoons are probably the most common thing to draw young people into the arts so why not learn from the best? Before digital work, all Disney animations were painstakingly and masterfully hand drawn... with 24 frames per second. This book is like a text book for mastering drawing in general as well as cartoons and should be read with a great deal of awe. It is an undertaking but a phenomenal resource
As always I hope you've enjoyed this blog post and are inspired to delve into all these magnificent books.
Ms Emma Leyfield currently trading as 'Valerian'. The copyright to all images and graphics used within this website are owned by Valerian, or Valerian has sought the appropriate permissions to use them.
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