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Lifelong Learning, Art and Architecture

What Inspires You? A Book List of the Creative Process


Artists are always asked about what inspires them, what they were looking at (reading, eating, drinking, feeling, etc.) when they made this or that piece of art. They often remain coy, not wanting to divulge too much of the creative process, for fear of its ruining the mystery, or muddying the individual's personal interpretation of a work. In spite of their best efforts, the creative process, that window into the unique mind of the artist, remains a fascination for most of us. So, when we received a new title a few months ago, Nomad by Sibella Court, I was delighted to find a designer's travel guide full of color and whimsy detailing the objects that touched the author/artist's senses. And, it motivated me to collect a list of other books that illustrate what inspires and influences the artistic practice. 

Listed below are titles in the subjects of Graphic Design, Interior Design, Fashion, Drawing and Painting, Photography and Literature that seek to satiate the curious, and perhaps stroke the ego of the artists, by divulging what has influenced and inspired creativity.

Graphic Design

Influences: a Lexicon of Contemporary Graphic Design. Anna Gerber. Berlin: Gestalten Verlag, 2006.
A dictionary of every passing thought that influences graphic design.

Never Use White Type on a Black Background: and 50 Other Ridiculous Design Rules. Amsterdam: BIS, 2009.
You can follow these ideas, or to rebel against them, but these "rules" provoke thought and ridicule.

Sketchbook: Conceptual Drawings from the World's Most Influential Designers. Timothy O'Donnell. Beverly, MA: Rockport, 2009.
Every designer's first medium, the sketchbook. These doodles let us a peek into ideas in their early stages of creation. 

Eva Zeisel on Design: the Magic Language of Things. Eva Zeisel. Woodstock, NY: Overlook Press, 2004.
A discussion of the dialogue Zeisel has with the everyday world about the design and appreciation of objects.


Hussein Chalayan. New York: Rizzoli, 2011.
We are guided through Chalayan's repertoire with essays, interviews, sketches, photographs and a handy synopsis at the end of the book of what the designer was referencing while producing his fashion collections from 1993-2011.

Influence. Mary-Kate Olsen. New York: Razorbill, 2008.
A joint effort between Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen, the actresses/fashionistas illustrate where they get their style.

The Sartorialist. Scott Schuman. New York: Penguin, 2009.
An on the street collection of fashion photography that exemplifies making it your own.

Interior Design

Terence Conran's Inspiration. Stafford Cliff. London: Conran Octopus, 2008.
Beginning with Conran's home, this book builds a museum of ephemera and objects that reflect his creative output.

The Way We Live: In the City. Stafford Cliff. New York: Rizzoli, 2007.
Cliff has authored a series of The Way We Live titles, including In the Country and With the Things We Love, all providing visual examples of personal and public spaces.


Nomad: a Global Approach to Interior Style. Sibella Court. San Francisco: Chronicle Books, 2011.
Adaptations of the author's globetrotting journeys brought to the home ready to spark your imagination.

Inspiration. Trisha Guild. London: Quadrille, 2006.
From food, to gardens, to early Italian frescos, this colorful display drives the designer's ideas.

Drawing and Painting

1,000 Ideas by 100 Manga Artists. Cristian Campos. Beverly, Mass.: Rockport, 2011.
A collection of interviews with Manga artists about their practice.

Picasso Looks at Degas. Elizabeth Cowling. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2010.
Focusing on Picasso's obsession with Degas, this title analyses the relationship of one major artist's influence on another.

The Artist's Eye. Peter Jenny. New York: Princeton Architectural Press, 2012.
This book encourages you to find inspiration wherever you look — like clouds, wood, and coffee stains.

To Myself: Notes on Life, Art, and Artists. Odilon Redon. Translated by Mira Jacob and Jeanne L. Wasserman. New York: G. Braziller, 1986.
A journal of the artist's thoughts about his life and preferences in art.

Drawn In: a Peek into the Inspiring Sketchbooks of 44 Fine Artists, Illustrators, Graphic Designers, and Cartoonists. Julia Rothman. Beverly: Quarry Books, 2011.
That boy you see on the subway scribbling in a Moleskine notebook, well, these are his doodles (and 43 of his contemporaries). This book is an insightful look at how ideas begin and are recorded for later use by the artists.

The Studio Reader: On the Space of Artists. Edited by Mary Jane Jacob and Michelle Grabner. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2010.
Reflect on the spaces that artists work in as a window into their creativity. 


Louise Dahl-Wolfe: A Photographer's Scrapbook. New York: St. Martin's/Marek, 1984.
A collection of the photographs and people Dahl-Wolfe was enthusiastic about.

The Artist Within: Portraits of Cartoonists, Comic Book Artists, Animators, and Others. Greg Preston. Milwaukie, OR: Dark Horse Books, 2007.
We can meet artists on their home turf through photographs of their studio spaces.

Things: a Spectrum of Photography, 1850-2001. London: J. Cape in association with the Victoria and Albert Museum, 2004.
Objects were photography's first subjects, and these are the types of objects or things we attach feeling and significance to.


The Infinity of Lists. Umberto Eco. Translation by Alastair McEwan. New York: Rizzoli, 2009.
This collection of lists from Aristotle to Warhol, reflect their eras as well as inspire their creators.

The Books in My Life. Henry Miller. New York: New Directions, c1969.
One can wonder, "If I read these books, will I begin to see the world as Miller did?" Probably not, but you'll begin to get an idea of it.

Unpacking My Library: Writers and Their Books. Edited by Leah Price. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2011.
This title offers a glimpse into the personal libraries of thirteen authors who also give a list of their top ten favorite books.

Please tease, encourage, and surprise us by sharing what inspires your creativity.


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NYPL has an ebook of Austin

NYPL has an ebook of Austin Kleon's quick read <a href=""><em>Steal Like an Artist</em></a> but there is a waitlist. You can see his 10 tips on his <a href="">blog</a> though!

NYPL has an ebook of Austin

Thank you Lauren! A lovely how-to book for creativity.

Great Post, Here's a Video on Creativity

Must be something going around because I just watched this amazing speech John Cleese did on Creativity yesterday! Long but worth it.

John Cleese Video on Creativity

Generate random connections like cheese and motorcycles - this is excellent Shawn!

creative process

Though always coy in regards to divulging information, David Lynch does discuss creativity and his creative process in Catching the Big Fish: Meditation, Consciousness, and Creativity

creative process

fantastic suggestion- thanks!

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