15 Essential Books for Aspiring and Established Illustrators

Author: Bob May 09, 2020 8 min read

Are you keen on illustrations and wish to advance your skills? We have a prepared a series of essential books that every illustrator should read at least once in a lifetime, be it an established children’s book illustrator or a student of illustration and design only starting a career and seeking inspiration and unique style. Any of these books offer numerous constructive insights into the world of illustration and tips for aspiring illustrators, so reading them will never be a waste of time.


  • Angus Hyland “The Picture Book: Contemporary Illustration”


The book of Hyland is an astonishing encyclopedia into the world of contemporary illustration, as its title suggests. The author has collected a realm of excellent illustration samples, provided their creators’ engaging portfolios, and added these illustration masters’ tips for becoming a great professional. Therefore, the work will come in handy both for beginners looking for their own style and wishing to find out what is trending in the world of illustration, and for experienced illustrators in a search of inspiration. Interesting designs, involving success stories, useful practical recommendations – every page of this book is a must-read.


Know more about Angus Hyland "The Picture Book: Contemporary Illustration


  • Darrel Rees “How to Be an Illustrator”


This is the best book to start learning the art of illustration and improving the mastery of an established illustrator. Many experts in this field call the book an illustrator’s Bible, since it covers not only the theory and practice of illustration but also teaches illustrators how to manage it as a job. The author reveals his practical life hacks of crafting an unbeatable portfolio, approaching customers in such a way that secures you the job, and managing time and money as a freelancer. Therefore, the book is highly recommended for beginners who only start to navigate among the complexities of the illustrator profession.


Know more about Darrel Rees "How to Be an Illustrator"



Wigan has created a full and multi-faceted resource for illustrators who wish to enhance their mastery and at the same time get inspired by the contemporary works of other professionals in this area. The book impresses with in-depth insights into illustration techniques and languages – the theory that all skilled illustrators should possess. Moreover, it exemplifies the ways in which former and present illustration students and aspiring illustrators cover their own journey to professionalism and striking designs. With this in mind, the book is a highly recommended piece of reading for those who wish to stay tuned to the novelties in the illustration world and at the same time know the eternal classics and standards of the industry.


Learn more about Mark Wigan "Thinking Visually for Illustrators"



You might wonder why a handbook on animation is on the list of useful resources for illustrators? In fact, this book is very useful for all professionals dealing with visual design, illustration, and animation, as the author’s material is universally interesting and valuable for all creative persons. This resource may serve as inspiring and insightful for beginners in terms of posture, movement, and methods of telling a story visually – that’s what an illustrator should be good at, after all.


Know more about Richard Williams "The Animator’s Survival Kit"



Unlike many other books about illustration theory and practice offering dry facts, techniques, and stories, the work of Kleon offers a completely different perspective on being an artist. The author offered a funny and engaging narrative for artists and about artists that may leave nobody indifferent. Besides speaking a simple language, Kleon also does not over-complicate the profession. Hence, this book may be an amusing piece of light-hearted reading that nonetheless contains many pieces of fruitful advice and wise observations of a practicing illustrator.


Learn more about Austin Kleon "Steal Like an Artist"


  • Martin Salisbury “Illustrating Children’s Books”


If you are a book illustrator, this book is surely for you. A professor in Cambridge, Salisbury is a very experienced illustrator who has much knowledge to share with students and readers. This book is particularly involving numerous helpful tips for illustrating children’s books and telling a story visually. Salisbury teaches readers to render ideas properly and to make a visual project relevant to the imaginative story, understandable for children, and simply sweet. So, if you thought of being a children’s book illustrator or wish to specialize in fairy-like illustrations, the value of reading this book will be immense for you.


Know more about Martin Salisbury "Illustrating Children’s Books"



This book is a true treasure for book illustrators who only start their professional path. It contains a full how-to guide on illustration essentials, such as the quality and variety of lines and the way they look on various illustration media, a complete description of the foreshortening technique, and a manual of shading. The author uses a friendly tone and simple language to show to readers how they can transform plain shapes into beautiful images. Another advantage of this book is much practice, which leads you through the illustration process and gives you much valuable knowledge no matter the background knowledge you possess.


Know more about Catherine V. Holmes "How to Draw Cool Stuff – A Drawing Guide for Teachers and Students"


  • Cartoon Drawing: For The Absolute Beginner by Kevin Gardin



This book is equally suitable for kids and adults willing to get started with mastering cartoon drawing. Being written in a simple language and filled with step-by-step tips, it can become a powerful assistant and a source of inspiration for making the first steps into the world of illustration. The book also dwells on creating 3D shapes. That’s why it can be a starting point if you want to learn the basics of 3D modeling as well.


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



It isn’t a book in a traditional sense of the world. Rather, this is a creative journal and a powerful inspiration source. Dwell on its pages, and you will find a lot of illustrations created by leading artists, capture the way they see the world, and transfer their insights onto the paper. An Illustrated Life can be a creative treasure that is always with you. The book also tells plenty of stories about the ways life can change if you aren’t hesitating to create. 


  • Fundamentals of Character Design: How to Create Engaging Characters for Illustration, Animation & Visual Development



Creating engaging characters the views will love is one of the most essential tasks illustrators and designers face. This book will teach you how to do it with ease. With its help, you will become able to prototype and create characters that will perfectly fit the storyline, will be memorable and adored by the audience.


  • The 15-Minute Artist: The Quick and Easy Way to Draw Almost Anything



Surely, it is impossible to become a high-end artist in only 15 minutes, but it is still possible to create and draw something fascinating in such a short period of time. This book is going to teach you how to do it. It is an excellent coach to get your hands on and learn to draw practically anything and on anything.


  • Picture This: How Pictures Work by Molly Bang



This book is somewhere between art and the psychology of perception. The author asks very logical and consistent questions about what emotions are evoked by images, lines, and colors, and gives clear answers about how you can best use all that artistic arsenal to make the viewer feel what you wanted to convey to them in your illustration. The book was first published over 30 years ago, but it does not lose its relevance to this day.


  • Color by Betty Edwards: A Course in Mastering the Art of Mixing Colors



From the point of view of color psychology in marketing and other areas of visual art perception, color plays a very important role. Illustrations are no exception either. This book will teach you how to work with color on a different, higher, and deeper level, conveying a full palette of emotions through your creative creations.


  • The Shape of Ideas: An Illustrated Exploration of Creativity



This is a universal book for those who want to open their minds to creative insights. If you feel a lack of creative ideas, or your ideas are stumped, opt for this book. This is one solid illustration that visually and unobtrusively helps you organize your ideas, distinguish between winning ideas and not-so-successful ones, and allow your best thoughts to take shape with paper and pencil.


  • How To Draw Modern Florals by Ali Koch



This book is quite specific as it teaches you the art of depicting flowers, leaves, and other elements of wildlife. And the main thing when creating illustrations of this type is to be able to breathe life into the image, show the smallest details, depict an invisible blow of the wind through a naturally bending stem. It’s all challenging and fascinating at the same time, and this book will help you upgrade that skill.


This is the list of truly best books for illustrators, but it is surely not all you can read to sharpen your illustration skills and develop your talent. Stay tuned to our next posts and you will find many more useful resources for furthering your theoretical and practical knowledge.


How useful was this post?

Click on a star to rate it!

Stars 5 / 5. Votes 2

Be the first to rate!


How useful was this post?

Click on a star to rate it!

Stars 5 / 5. Votes 2

Be the first to rate!

Related Stories