50 of the latest art, crafts, design and photography books to inspire you

When you can't wait to return to the regular routine this Christmas, and you're itching to get creative, the following recommended creative books will keep you happy, and more importantly, sane.

Image licensed via Adobe Stock

Image licensed via Adobe Stock

From art and crafts to design, illustration and photography, our comprehensive list covers some of the best new titles that can help boost your skills or inspire you for the New Year. Grab a cup of hot chocolate and curl up on the sofa with any of these beautiful books.


1. Unspoken Spaces: Studio Olafur Eliasson by Olafur Eliasson

Unspoken Spaces is a richly illustrated journey through spheres, tunnels, towers, walkways and archways, as well as pavilions and larger buildings realised by artist Olafur Eliasson and his studio since the late 1990s.

2. 100 Works of Art That Will Define Our Age by Kelly Grovier

Just as Picasso’s Guernica or Géricault’s Raft of the Medusa survive as powerful cultural documents of their time, there will be works from our own era that will endure for generations to come. But which ones? This bold and engaging book, written by one of the freshest and most exciting voices in cultural criticism, predicts which artists and artworks from the past two decades will come to define our age through their power to question, provoke and inspire.

3. A History of Pictures: From the Cave to the Computer Screen by David Hockney & Martin Gayford

The making of pictures has a history going back perhaps 100,000 years to an African shell used as a paint palette. Two-thirds of it is irrevocably lost since the earliest images known to us are from about 40,000 years ago. But what 40,000 years, explored here by David Hockney and Martin Gayford in a brilliantly original book.

4. Ballpoint Art by Trent Morse

This stunning book is the first compendium of art made with ballpoint pens. It features 30 artists from around the world who are currently creating masterpieces with ballpoint and discusses their methods, the messages in their work, and their connections to the pen.

5. The Secret Lives of Colour by Kassia St Clair

The Secret Lives of Colour tells the unusual stories of the 75 most fascinating shades, dyes and hues. From blonde to ginger, the brown that changed the way battles were fought to the white that protected against the plague, Picasso's blue period to the charcoal on the cave walls at Lascaux, acid yellow to kelly green, and from scarlet women to imperial purple; these surprising stories run like a bright thread throughout history.

6. What Are You Looking At? – 150 Years of Modern Art in the Blink of an Eye by Will Gompertz

What is modern art? Why do we either love it or loathe it? And why is it worth so much damn money? Join Will Gompertz on a dazzling tour that will change the way you look at modern art forever. From Monet's water lilies to Van Gogh's sunflowers, from Warhol's soup cans to Hirst's pickled shark, hear the stories behind the masterpieces, meet the artists as they really were, and discover the real point of modern art.

7. Think Like an Artist and Lead a More Creative, Productive Life by Will Gompertz

After spending years getting up close and personal with some of the world's greatest creative thinkers, the BBC's Arts Editor Will Gompertz has discovered a handful of traits that are common to them all. Basic practices and processes that allow their talents to flourish, and which we can adopt – no matter what we do – to help us achieve extraordinary things too. He shares them all in this fascinating book.

8. Shit Happens!: Swear Words and Mantras to Colour Your Stress Away by James Alexander

Sometimes you just need to chill the fuck out. This is a grownup colouring book with over 35 new intricate and meditative zentagle designs that feature classic and delightfully unique sweary words and mantras to help you relax, calm down and let go of all your stress and anxiety.

9. Art: The Whole Story by Stephen Farthing

If you've ever found yourself transfixed by a Renaissance painting, fascinated by an Inca textile, or filled with wonder by an exquisite piece of Ming porcelain, this is the book for you. Venture inside its pages and discover precisely what the significant artistic periods and movements of the world were all about — written by an experienced international team of artists, art historians and curators.

10. The Art Book

The Art Book is the first-ever fully-illustrated art dictionary. It presents an abundance of famous, varied and colourful images by 500 of the greatest artists from the Middle Ages to the present day. Arranged in alphabetical order by artist, it is amazingly easy to use. With one full-page, representative image per artist and an informative text that discusses the work in detail as well as offers information about its creator, The Art Book is both educational and fun.


11. Clay: Contemporary Ceramic Artisans by Amber Creswell Bell & Keith Brymer Jones

Once upon a time pottery schools saw an increase in enrolments whenever the film Ghost aired on television. Today it is all year round. Not since the 1970s has there been this level of interest and appreciation for pottery and ceramics. Our increasingly digital lives have driven the return to the handmade, and there are now more makers, sellers and collectors than ever.

There is also a new desire for unique objects made by hand and the imperfections associated with the marks of the maker. Pottery is the vehicle that most aptly captures this authenticity. From decorative pieces to the primarily functional to sculptural works pushing the boundaries of the medium, Clay is a new book that surveys the richly creative output of over 50 studio potters from around the world. It's a celebration of a new generation of artisans working in clay, a snapshot not necessarily of what is happening at the elite gallery level, but rather a behind-the-scenes look at the unique and eclectic offerings from small studios around the world.

12. Rubber Stamping: Get creative with stamps, rollers and other printmaking techniques by Stephen Fowler

This beautiful book provides a complete guide to printing with rubber stamps. Beginning with a foreword by the artist Rob Ryan and a short history of rubber stamping, it then explains the technical basics: how to cut your stamp, mask prints, make your own printing pads, clean your stamps (making more artwork as you do so!) and what equipment to use.

At the heart of the book are 40 inventive projects that will inspire you to create your own rubber stamp art. These include making typefaces and repeat patterns, mail art, creating stickers and labels, printing on t-shirts, making portraits, and translucent and 3D prints.

13. Crafting with Cat Hair: Cute Handicrafts to Make with Your Cat by Kaori Tsutaya

Are your favourite sweaters covered with cat hair? Are there fur balls piled up in every corner of your home? And do you love to make quirky and one-of-a-kind crafting projects? If so, it's time to throw away your lint roller and curl up with your kitty! Crafting with Cat Hair shows you how to transform stray clumps of fur into soft and adorable handicrafts.

From kitty tote bags and finger puppets to fluffy cat toys, picture frames, and more, these projects are cat-friendly, eco-friendly, and require no special equipment or training. You can make most of these projects in under an hour – with a little help, of course, from your feline friends.

14. Crafting Textiles in the Digital Age by Faith Kane and Kerry Walton Nithikul Nimkulrat

In an era of increasingly available digital resources, many textile designers and makers find themselves at an interesting juncture between traditional craft processes and newer digital technologies. This fascinating book explores the transition and looks at current challenges relating to sustainable development, globalisation, and economic constraints, and how these might be addressed using established and emerging technologies in future.

15. No Patterns Needed: DIY Couture from Simple Shapes by Rosie Martin

If you want to sew your own clothes but are put off by the idea of cutting out pattern pieces covered with dotted lines and symbols, this is the book for you. Using Rosie Martin's innovative method, you begin with nothing but a rectangle, circle or triangle of fabric and some basic body measurements. Next, follow the detailed step-by-step photographs and diagrams to complete your garment. You'll need a sewing machine, but no special equipment or expensive fabrics. With plenty of variations suggested for each garment, there's lots of room for your own creative touches, too.

16. Sewing Happiness: A Year of Simple Projects for Living Well by Sanae Ishida

When Sanae Ishida was diagnosed with a chronic illness and lost her corporate job, she thought her life was over. But these challenges ended up being the best thing that ever happened to her because they forced her to take stock of her life and focus on the important stuff, and enabled her to rediscover sewing – her true passion. Inspired to succeed at just one thing, Ishida vowed to sew all of her daughter's clothes (and most of her own) for one year.

Her book Sewing Happiness includes 20 projects, plus variations (including Japanese-inspired home goods and children's and women's clothing) organised by season and stitched together with her charming personal story.

17. The Great British Sewing Bee: From Stitch to Style by Wendy Gardiner

With over 25 garment designs for women, men and children, plus a wealth of sewing techniques, tips and tricks from the expert seamstresses and tailors that contribute to the series, The Great British Sewing Bee: From Stitch to Style is more than a project book; it is also an indispensable reference that will elevate your sewing to a professional level.

18. Craft : Techniques & Projects (Dk Crafts)

From textile crafts to beadwork and soap making to glasswork, Craft is the most comprehensive compendium on the market crammed with more than 50 contemporary projects and over 300 techniques for crafters of all abilities.

19. Paper Craft (Dk)

Do you want to create bespoke wedding invites? Or impress your friends with personalised birthday cards and wrapping paper? Paper Craft contains absolutely everything you need to know, from the necessary equipment to techniques and materials, with 50 projects to get you crafting. Whether you're a total novice or already familiar with handmade crafts, you'll soon be cutting, folding, glueing and printing your way to papercraft heaven.

20. Simply Stitched: Beautiful Embroidery Motifs and Projects with Wool and Cotton by Yumiko Higuchi

Through her unique combination of wool and cotton thread, designer Yumiko Higuchi reinvents traditional embroidery for modern makers. Simply Stitched includes 20 beautiful embroidery motifs, plus project and instructions. Use these stunning designs to create accessories, clothing, and home decor.


21. Children's Picturebooks: The Art of Visual Storytelling by Martin Salisbury

Children's picturebooks are the very first books we encounter, and they form an important, constantly evolving and dynamic sector of the publishing industry. But what does it take to create a successful picture book for children? In seven chapters, this book covers the key stages of conceiving a narrative, creating a visual language and developing storyboards and design of a picturebook.

22. Fifty Years of Illustration by Lawrence Zeegen

This book charts contemporary illustration’s rich history: the rampant idealism of the 1960s, the bleak realism of the 1970s, the over-blown consumerism of the 1980s, the digital explosion of the 1990s, followed by the increasing diversification of illustration in the early twenty-first century. It explores the contexts in which the discipline has operated and looks historically, sociologically, politically and culturally at the key factors at play across each decade. In contrast, artworks by key illustrators bring the decade to life.

23. The Complete Book of Chalk Lettering by Valerie McKeehan

In over 60 lessons, learn the ABCs of lettering (literally) and basic styles: serif, sans serif, and script. Next, how to layout a design, combine various styles into one cohesive piece, add shadows and dimension. Master more advanced letter styles, from faceted to ribbon to "vintage circus". Use banners, borders, flourishes. And finally, 12 projects to show off your newfound skills: including a Winter Wonderland Snow Globe; a smartphone-themed birthday card to text friends and family; a one-of-a-kind party invitation to create, photograph, and mail; and a bake sale sign guaranteed to put everyone who sees it in the mood for a cupcake.

24. 100 Great Children's Picture Books by Martin Salisbury

This unashamed visual feast celebrates the best designed and illustrated picturebooks from around the world over the past one hundred years. Each book is a creation of genius and inventiveness, and their design and illustration represent such diverse trends as the Russian Constructivists, Italian Futurists and Postwar Neo-romantics. They are also mirrors of their times reflecting social concerns from a child's and family's perspectives throughout the twentieth and into the 21st century. Fearlessly confronting the frontiers between a child's picturebook and art, this is a collection of books that anyone with an interest in design, illustration or simply children's literature should know about.

25. Drawn from the Archive: Hidden Histories of Illustration by Inc. Seven Stories Press

Offering you a unique, behind-the-scenes look at sketches, storyboards, drafts and re-drafts from some of the finest picture book creators past and present – from Edward Ardizzone and Judith Kerr to Nick Sharratt and Polly Dunbar – this collection is for anyone with a love of children's books.

26. How to be an Illustrator by Darrel Rees

This book offers practical help and guidance to aspiring illustrators. From creating a portfolio and approaching potential clients to preparing for meetings and negotiating contracts – it covers everything you need to know to become an illustrator that means business.

27. Drawing and Painting: Materials and Techniques for Contemporary Artists by Kate Wilson

Bursting with practical techniques, engaging artist profiles and inspirational galleries, Drawing & Painting combines an authoritative category killer approach with a contemporary aesthetic guaranteed to appeal to all artists.

28. An Illustrated Life: Drawing Inspiration from the Private Sketchbooks of Artists, Illustrators and Designers by Danny Gregory

The private worlds of these visual journals are exactly what you'll find inside An Illustrated Life. This book offers a sneak peek into the wildly creative imaginations of 50 top illustrators, designers and artists. Included are sketchbook pages from R. Crumb, Chris Ware, James Jean, James Kochalka, and many others. Also, author Danny Gregory has interviewed each artist and shares their thoughts on living the artistic life through journaling.

29. The Complete Book of Drawing by Barrington Barber

With a little persistence and patience, anyone can learn to draw, and with the help of this book, they can learn to draw very well. The subjects covered make it entirely comprehensive, and the informative and helpful text works very well with Barrington Barber's specially devised and inspirational illustrations.

30. How to Draw What You See (Practical Art Books) by Rudy De Reyna

"I believe that you must be able to draw things as you see them, realistically," wrote Rudy de Reyna in his introduction to this timeless book. Today, generations of artists have learned to draw what they see, to truly capture the world around them, using de Reyna's methods. This book shows you how to recognise the basic shape of an object – cube, cylinder, cone, or sphere – and use that shape to draw the object, no matter how much detail it contains.

Graphic Design

31. Let's Talk Type: An Essential Lexicon of Type Terms by Tony Seddon

Why is Helvetica used for airport signs – and who designed Arial? What exactly is hand lettering? Which fonts tend to work best for emails, and what font is used on New York street signs? Let’s Talk Type answers all of these questions and more in one easy-to-use typography primer. With a clear and comprehensive ‘What Is’ or ‘Why Use It’ approach to the subject, it will help you to identify fonts with ease and to choose the perfect type treatment for your message, whether you are writing and designing for the web, print or personal correspondence.

32. Editorial Design: Digital and Print by Cath Caldwell

Editorial Design: Digital and Print is a comprehensive guide to the traditional and digital skills that a designer will need for a future career in visual journalism. Generously illustrated, including case studies, practical exercises and tips, examples of best practices and profiles of individual designers including Mark Porter, Scott Dadich and Janet Froelich, the book explains the fundamentals of editorial design and layout. With insider advice, the book is a practical reference and learning resource that will teach you everything you need to know to reach the top of your profession.

33. A Smile in the Mind - Revised and Expanded Edition: Witty Thinking in Graphic Design

First published in 1996, A Smile in the Mind rapidly became one of the most influential books in graphic design – a rich sourcebook of design ideas and an entertaining guide to the techniques behind witty thinking. Now extensively revised and updated, this book explores the powerful role of wit in graphic design, making a case for humour, as the magical element that builds the world’s biggest brands and engages people with messages that matter.

34. Branding: In Five and a Half Steps by Michael Johnson

Michael Johnson is one of the world's leading graphic designers and brand consultants. His studio, johnson banks, is responsible for the rebranding of many notable clients, including Virgin Atlantic, Think London, BFI, Christian Aid, and MORE TH>N, and he has garnered a plethora of awards in the process. In Branding, Johnson strips everyday brands down to their basic components, with case studies that enable us to understand why we select one product or service over another and allow us to comprehend how seemingly subtle influences can affect key life decisions.

35. Charm, Belligerence & Perversity: The Incomplete Works of GBH by Jason Gregory & Peter Hale

Charm, Belligerence & Perversity: The Incomplete Works of GBH showcases the ground-breaking work of the award-winning creative agency GBH. The story of this London-based team is one of the diverse yet complementary personalities, approaches and skills. The small but highly-successful partnership has worked with some of the world's leading brands, including Virgin Galactic, Eurostar and Puma, in addition to collaborating with other highly regarded design professionals such as Philippe Starck. The book thoughtfully and provocatively takes you through GBH's entire body of work to date, offering an incredible degree of insight into the field of design.

36. Graphic Design Visionaries by Caroline Roberts

Featuring 75 of the world's most influential designers, this book presents the story of graphic design through the fascinating personal stories and significant works that have shaped the field. Arranged in chronological order, it shows the development of design, from early innovators such as Edward McKnight Kauffer and Alexey Brodovitch to key figures of mid-century Swiss Design and American corporate branding.

It also profiles masters of typography, such as Wim Crouwel; visionary magazine designers, such as Leo Lionni and Cipe Pineles; designers who influenced the world of film, such as Saul Bass and Robert Brownjohn; and the creators of iconic poster work, such as Armin Hofmann, Rogério Duarte and Yusaku Kamekura. Combining insightful text and key visual examples, this is a dynamic and richly illustrated guide to the individuals whose vision has defined the world of graphic design.

37. The typography idea book: Inspiration from 50 masters by Steven Heller & Gail Anderson

This book serves as an introduction to the key elements of good typographic design. Broken into sections covering the fundamentals of typography, it features inspiring works by acclaimed typographic designers from across the world. Each section illustrates technical points and encourages you to try out new ideas of your own.

38. Creative Lettering and Beyond by various authors

Creative Lettering & Beyond combines the artistic talents and inspirational tips and tutorials of several professional hand letterers and calligraphers for a dynamic and interactive learning experience. After a brief introduction to the various tools and materials, artists and lettering enthusiasts will learn how to master the art of hand lettering and typography through engaging, easy-to-follow step-by-step projects, prompts, and exercises.

39. London: The Information Capital: 100 maps and graphics that will change how you view the city by James Cheshire & Oliver Uberti

In London: The Information Capital, geographer James Cheshire and designer Oliver Uberti join forces to bring you a series of new maps and graphics charting life in London like never before. When do police helicopters catch criminals? Which borough of London is the happiest? Is 'czesc' becoming a more common greeting than 'salaam'? The duo could tell you, but they'd rather show you. By combining millions of data points with stunning design, they investigate how flights stack over Heathrow, who lives longest, and where Londoners love to tweet. The result? One hundred portraits of an old city in a very new way.

40. Chartography: The Weird and Wonderful World of Infographics by Stephen Wildish

This is the super-stylish book you didn’t know you needed until you saw it. Packed with weird and wonderful visual information, it is guaranteed to entertain and help you look at things in a completely new way.


41. The Street Photographers Manual by David Gibson

Whether dark, edgy or humorous, street photography shows us that daily life can be a little surreal but also gently poignant. Photo sharing on Flickr and Facebook has rejuvenated the genre, and its spirit has been reborn. This book is about the possibilities of street photography and how it can be approached tangibly. Including highlights from twenty of the most acclaimed international street photographers, among them Bruce Gilden, Alex Webb, Nils Jorgensen and Saul Leiter.

42. Experimental Photography: A Handbook of Techniques by Luca Bendandi

Photography has always been about experimentation, and anyone who thinks the advent of digital imaging might have stopped photographers from inventing new ways to impress their film is in for a big surprise. Experimental Photography presents the most interesting and creative modifications for low-cost film cameras, manual printing techniques and unconventional use of the medium.

43. Use This if You Want to Take Great Photographs: A Photo Journal Diary by Henry Carroll

Discover a whole new way of seeing the world while honing your photography skills across composition, exposure, lighting, lenses and observation. Use This Journal if You Want to Take Great Photographs is packed with fun photography prompts and inspiring images by master photographers so you can get creative with your camera. Create your own highly personal photobook by sticking in your pictures with the adhesive corners provided or simply dip in and out when you’re stuck for ideas. Whatever your specific interests – street, studio, still life, landscape or portrait photography – you’re free to interpret the prompts in any way you want.

44. Hold Still: A Memoir with Photographs Paperback by Sally Mann

In this groundbreaking book, a unique interplay of narrative and image, Sally Mann's preoccupation with family, race, mortality, and the storied landscape of the American South are revealed as almost genetically predetermined, written into her DNA by the family history that precedes her.

45. Photography: The Definitive Visual History by Tom Ang

Photography is a beautiful lavishly illustrated reference book tracing the history of photography from its origins in the 1800s to the global phenomenon of digital photography.

46. Vanity Fair 100 Years: From the Jazz Age to Our Age by Graydon Carter

In this sumptuous 384-page coffee table book, the editors of Vanity Fair have created the definitive history of the most talked-about magazine of our day. From its inception in 1913, through the Jazz Age and the Depression, to its reincarnation in the boom-boom Reagan years (after a 47-year hiatus), to the image-saturated Information Age, Vanity Fair has presented the modern era as it has unfolded, using wit, imagination, peerless literary narrative and bold, groundbreaking imagery.

47. The Art of Photography: An Approach to Personal Expression by Bruce Barnbaum

This is a newly revised edition of the classic book The Art of Photography (first published in 1994), which has often been described as the most readable, understandable, and comprehensive textbook on photography. In his accessible style, Barnbaum presents how-to techniques for both traditional and digital approaches. Yet he goes well beyond the technical as he delves deeply into the philosophical, expressive, and creative aspects of photography. This book is geared toward every level of photographer who seeks to make a personal statement through their chosen medium.

48. Mastering Composition by Richard Garvey-Williams

What makes a great photo? Flicking through the pages of most popular photography magazines you might get the impression that there's only one rule of importance: the rule of thirds. Indeed it appears that some will judge the merit of a photograph based almost solely on this. Rarely do you hear a discussion about visual weight, balance, negative space, depth and so on. Author and professional photographer Richard Garvey-Williams argues that success lies in a combination of four elements: an impactful subject; dynamic composition; effective use of lighting; and, perhaps the most crucial, ability to invoke an emotional response in the viewer.

Citing examples gleaned from a study of history (the Ancient Greeks' Golden Rule, Fibonacci's mathematical ratio, and the principles known as the Gestalt theory) the author analyses the concepts, rules and guidelines that define successful composition in photography and offers practical guidance to achieving great results.

49. Mastering Portrait Photography by Paul Wilkinson & Sarah Plater

Sarah Plater and Paul Wilkinson present a modern, fresh and vibrant approach to portraiture that aims to capture a moment in the lifestyle of the person or persons in the picture. This authoritative guide contains clear, concise and jargon-busting text that discusses the essential technical aspects of photography from choosing a camera and equipment to an appreciation of exposure, aperture, metering, shutter speed, depth of field and white balance settings, in addition to how natural light, colour and movement affect a photograph.

50. Studio Anywhere: A Photographer's Guide to Shooting in Unconventional Locations by Nick Fancher

Studio Anywhere is a resource for photographers to learn through behind-the-scenes photos and lighting diagrams from a range of photoshoots–but it doesn’t stop there. Because directing a photo shoot involves more than merely knowing how to wield a camera or process a raw file, Nick also lets you in on the aesthetic decisions he makes in his signature photos, inspiring you to develop your vision. And, finally, he describes his Lightroom and Photoshop workflow so you can learn how to navigate post-processing deftly.


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