In college I studied creative advertising rather than pursue a BFA in graphic design or fine arts. The focus of my education was creating exceptional ideas that told stories and moved people. Unfortunately, there were very few options for students in my program to try and hone their art and design skills in order to bring those ideas to life. Seeking to rectify this, I bought countless art and design books during my time in college. However, years later I find myself re-reading and referencing the same eight books.
Today I'm sharing them with you, dear reader, so that you can learn from my experience and choose books that will enhance your skills rather than presenting you with design to reference from (equally important, but not as helpful, in my opinion).
1. Andrew Loomis FREE!
Loomis was a commercial artist and illustrator in mid-century America and to this day his books, immortalized by the internet and in free in the public domain, are still hugely helpful to reference when drawing. You can download his books and I like to look at them on my iPad while drawing.
I've had this book since I was in high school. Drawing clothes is very difficult and sometimes I still have problems getting folds just right. This book has a lot of helpful tips that helped me when I had very little experience drawing the human figure.
3. Geometry of Design $18
I absolutely love how this book approaches geometry and how the golden square/ratio (and Fibonacci sequence) can be used to enhance composition and make design appealing to the eye. It includes several case studies, breaking down the composition and design of everything from famous paintings to industrial design.
James Gurney (Author and Illustrator of Dinotopia) and this book offers many detailed techniques on how to meticulously capture a moment in time and space where it's impossible to find a perfect reference to draw from.
5. Animator's Survivor Kit $25
Confession: I'm terrible at animating things, I have SO much respect for animators out there. Whenever I have to animate something, I reference this book first.
6. Understanding Comics/Making Comics $18/17
When I first got into making comics in college, the fabulous editor recommended I read both of these books. This book covers everything from designing good characters, to how to convey time and space through a strictly visual medium.
7. Art Spirit $16
I picked up my copy at a second hand bookstore in Santa Fe, New Mexico when I looked at it and knew I had to have it. It's quite an inspirational take on the theory and spirit of the artist, so beautiful and moving I shed a few tears while reading it in my backyard. This book doesn't have any photos, diagrams or a lot of technical instruction, but focuses on how to nourish the very important creative heart of the artist.
There are lots of books on Typography, but this book is one of the first books on lettering that I've seen that combines the typical type knowledge as well as offer practical and technical instruction on lettering. It covers customizing and modifying type to make your designs unique, and includes interviews with typographers and letterers.