Passionate about illustration? Want to hone your skills further or simply make a start? No matter your experience or skill level, you need the best illustration books!
In this post, we round up the must-read books for illustrators, whether beginner or professional. We've scoured the web to find titles that give an overview of the history of illustration, instructional books to enable you to master the fundamentals of the craft, and books to inspire you. There's something for everyone here, no matter what it is you're looking for.
Every book here is essential reading, guaranteed to teach you something new. If you want more art lessons, check out our list of the best how to draw tutorials. Want something more general? Here are the best drawing books and best coloured pencils to help you grow as an artist.
Best illustration book overall
+ Real-life scenarios
+ Conversational tone
- Not for beginners
Artist Adebanji Alade is caught up in the joys of his creative adventure, and in The Addictive Sketcher, he wants you to join him. An artist, teacher and TV-presenter, Alade covers the sketching basics, starting with the tools he uses before going on to mark-making techniques such as contours, angles and ghosting. It's accompanied by unfussy photography and short walkthroughs, WIPs and finished art.
Best for every day
+ Encourages creative thinking
+ Includes tips
- Too basic for some
365 Days of Art: A Creative Exercise for Every Day of the Year is an illustration book by Lorna Scobie. It collects together a whole bunch of different artistic mini-challenges with the aim of pushing the user to think outside of the box and nurture their artistic skills and thinking. Tasks range from simple things such as creating a pattern on a grid to trickier challenges like exploring calligraphy. It may be a little basic for some, though.
Best artwork examples
+ Practical tips
+ Advice from pros
+ Different specialisms covered
Becoming a Successful Illustrator is invaluable for anyone thinking of a career in illustration (or looking for a boost in their existing career) – and this is the second edition, so it's bang up to date. There's plenty of advice from practising illustrators (and those that commission them), practical tips on finding work, how to market yourself and run your illustration business, plus lots of inspiring artwork.
Best book on sketching
+ Insight into Loish's sketch process
+ Two detailed tutorials
+ Lots of tips
Celebrated illustrator Loish created this illustration book to offer a deep dive into her process. The Sketchbook of Loish: Art in progress reveals how her initial sketches graduate into her stunning final work, showing you her speedpaints, studies and first drafts. She also offers some invaluable tips for illustrators and aspiring illustrators.
Best book on composition
+ Leading book
+ A must-read for any illustrator
First published in 1991, Molly Bang's short, beautiful, slightly strange book is one of the best ever written on composition for illustrators. Picture This: How Pictures Work explores the mechanics; the nuts and bolt of picture design. But she also asks abstract questions too: Why are diagonals dramatic? Why are curves calming? Why does red feel hot and blue feel cold? And at just 96 pages, you could easily read this in one.
Best book for realism
+ Leading book on colour and light
+ No jargon
We had to include the legendary artist James Gurney in our list of essential books for illustrators. We could easily have picked his first book, Imaginative Realism, in which he tells you how to paint what doesn't exist. But his second book, Color and Light: A Guide for the Realist Painter, is arguably the best, most exhaustive book ever written on colour and light.
Best book for beginners
+ Great foundation info
+ Explores key principles
Andrew Loomis is one of those artists who transcends art. If you don't know the name, you will know the work – he is the master of figure drawing. In Figure Drawing for All it's Worth, Loomis encourages you not to imitate his very distinct style, but instead to understand the principles that prop it up. This is as good a place as any to master the fundamental building blocks of illustration, but there's more than enough here for old pros to learn a thing a two.
Best book for business
+ Covers core business principles
+ Interviews with industry pros
The realities of being a working artist mean that as well as being able to draw, you need to know how the industry works. A good one for beginners, How to be an Illustrator covers the basics of the business of being a professional illustrator, including putting together a portfolio, approaching clients, preparing for contract meetings, and managing your time and money.
Best book for networking
+ Learn how to use your network
+ Tips for getting discovered
Austin Kleon's Steal Like An Artist is a modern classic for anyone who wants to do anything creative. But once you've started making things, what next? You have to show what you've made. And this is often the most terrifying, frustrating part. In Show Your Work: 10 Ways to Share your Creativity and get Discovered, Kleon – 'a writer who draws' – explains the difference between networking and using the network, including how you become 'findable'.