4 Books to Read to Become a Better Artist

Every artist hits a brick wall from time to time. Take the COVID-19 pandemic for instance, which made staying engaged in the arts a challenge as we isolated from classes, galleries, and museums. While the art community is adapting to the digital landscape with the creation of online schools, tours, and exhibitions, sometimes the creative inspiration you need lies in the pages of an old-fashioned book. These four books might help you out of a creative rut and become better at your craft:

1. Art & Fear: Observations on the Perils (and Rewards) of Artmaking by David Bayles and Ted Orland

Written by self-described “working artists” David Bayles and Ted Orland, this book is for creatives who face difficulties in their art form, whether it’s painting, music, or photography. Art & Fear examines the uncertainties and doubts you might have, which prevent you from finding and developing what the authors refer to as magic. This magic is completely unique to you. You can’t model it after geniuses like Mozart, but you can still create great art as an ordinary person — that is, not as a genius. This is a great read for people who think they lack the talent, as Art & Fear dispels the notion that skill is only secondary to it when it is something that you can continue working on.

2. Steal Like An Artist: 10 Things Nobody Told You About Being Creative by Austin Kleon

Steal Like An Artist is a great follow-up read, and it’s written by author Austin Kleon, who expanded the work into a trilogy with Show Your Work and Keep Going. He says, “You don’t need to be a genius, you just need to be yourself.” Art can be a deeply personal exploration of you. You are a combination of your environment, upbringing, and artistic influences, amongst other factors. In the book, Kleon lists down ten principles that can improve your art — from learning to credit other creative works to getting your hands dirty in physical work to following a routine.

3. How to Read Nancy: The Elements of Comics in Three Easy Panels by Mark Newgarden and Paul Karasik

Even non-cartoonists can learn so much from How to Read Nancy, which is arguably the best book to have been written on comics. Mark Newgarden and Paul Karasik wrote a collection of essays that pull apart and examine what the average reader will only take 3 seconds to read: a single Nancy comic strip from 1959. What makes this an essential read—and beneficial to you as an artist—is how the authors, who are cartoonists themselves, teach every creative to deep-read art. This can help you become more critical of other people’s work and your own.


4. Creative Block: Get Unstuck, Discover New Ideas. Advice & Projects from 50 Successful Artists by Danielle Krysa

If you’ve been following The Jealous Curator, you might already be familiar with Danielle Krysa’s book on beating the dreaded creative block. Its pages are filled with interviews on living artists, in which Krysa gathered practical tips on climbing over a creative wall that so many eventually face. They also talk about how to deal with criticism, both solicited and unsolicited, which might be what’s stopping your juices from flowing. This book is also a curation of the work of these artists, along with a profile on each one. Seeing their art on glossy paper might give you the inspiration you need to work on your art.

Sophia Bray is a freelance writer with a passion for art and culture. She believes that everyone has the power to become an artist and hopes her articles encourage more people to try. In her free time she loves to paint watercolors.

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