Tag: Books

Playing with my favourite pen and subject

Claudia Nice is the first artist that inspired me try working with pen and ink with several books, including Drawing in Pen and Ink. I like to engage fully with what I’m doing and ink requires a level of commitment that appeals to my nature. I like detail and I enjoy how tight and clear I can get with ink. Which is probably why it is a common medium for scientific illustrators, especially botanical. But pen and ink can also be very flexible. True, you can’t rub it out once its on the page, but that doesn’t matter if you’re sketching loose drawings for practice or wanting to capture the shape of a species of tree. Ink also plays nice with a lot of other mediums, especially watercolour. Claudia Nice has also written many books on creating texture with pen and ink, and watercolour.

European silver fir – Abies Alba

The Lamy Joy, pictured above, is my favourite tool for sketching in pen and ink. The nib glides smoothly across the paper, depositing ink evenly and the tapered style feels good in the hand. I use fountain pens for 80% of the inked artwork I create. I use an ink converter, with De Atramentis Archival black ink. I have had no problems with it drying it our clogging the pen.

The Art of Looking Sideways, by Alan Fletcher

If you’re looking for a book that is all about visual and creative thinking, but you feel like going on a tour of the unexpected, look no further than Alan Fletcher’s, The Art of Looking Sideways. Unless you’ve already heard of it (it’s been around for almost 20 years) and have one or two copies of your own, in which case I urge you to remove it from its pedestal and appreciate it again. The book is a treasury of artistic expression, a compilation of images, facts, anecdotes, quotes, typology and weirdness, all in one weighty tome. This monster codex should really come with its own lectern and a comfortable chair from which to enjoy it. Its spine is an impressive 6.35 centimetres (2.5 inches) thick, and it contains 72 chapters over 1064 pages. Subjects include everything from creativity to handedness and space-time, and everything in between and besides.

Don’t expect to read it cover to cover over a few days. Expect to spend many sittings, over years, flipping and flicking, reading and pondering, enjoying the fodder that Fletcher gathered for us. These are the kinds of books I love – the catch-all desk companions that require numerous and repeated readings and whose contents renew that sense of wonder for the world, but especially the creative mind. I’ve had my copy for years, yet I still don’t feel as if I’ve finished it.

I love it so much, yet find it hard to describe. Maybe Alan Fletcher can help . . .

On second thought, if you can find a copy, do yourself a favour and grab it. To me, the book is not only a manual for design, but an homage to curiosity, creativity and the pursuit of personal enlightenment.

Fiction with a Twist

By now it might be obvious I am enthusiastic about books, a bibliophile, if you will. As such I have a respectable collection of books. But it became a bit of a burden when I had to move my small office/studio to a slightly bigger room. I had to downsize my collection, even though I was moving to a bigger office. I wasn’t looking forward to the task, because like for many booklovers, each book was like a snapshot of my life. But I knew it I had to do it. I had dozens of novels I’d read in my late teens and early twenties (which was too long for me to even remember some of them that well). They were brown and tattered and I knew I would never read them again. So that became the rule for discarding – unless it had sentimental value, or I could refer to it again, it had to go in the donation box or handed off to friends and family. Let someone else love them.

It wasn’t as hard as I’d imagined it would be and I became less discriminating as I filled box after box. I thanked the books and set them free, liberating them and myself (and a great deal of bookshelf space). Now most of the printed books I own are nonfiction, but I also have a penchant for collecting works of fiction with a difference, especially when they’re illustrated, so I still allow myself the luxury of keeping these. I don’t only mean graphic novels, which are lovely and every bit as worthy as other books on my shelves; I have a passion for genre-bending and hybrid books, those books which go beyond the standard layouts and formats of fiction, illustrated or otherwise. These books are often heavy with illustrations, photos, maps, typography and other images that contribute to the narrative. They might also contain marginalia, footnotes and other documents, sometimes in the form of extra bits of media, which can be removed and read separately. Consider Nick Bantock’s epistolary novels, The Griffin and Sabine Saga, or Dubious Documents. Or Mark Z. Danielewski’s House of Leaves, or Jonathan Safran Foer’s Tree of Codes.

Here is a very short list of similar books you might (or might not) have heard of that I have in my humble collection of fiction with a twist:

  • S, Doug Dorst and J.J Abrams,
  • The Republic of Dreams, G. Garfield Crimmins,
  • The Selected Works of T.S. Spivet, Reif Larsen
  • The Secret History of Twin Peaks: A Novel, Mark Frost.
  • The Strange Library, Huruki Murakami

The only thing these books have in common is their unique format. Though some of them can be defined as ergodic books (in the simplest terms, books that are not designed to be read line after line in the order they were written), none of them fit that comfortably in to any one genre. These books are more than a printed story line and usually require more effort and participation from the reader. They don’t satisfy the reader’s expectations in quite the same way as a linear story in a standard novel. In fact, expectations aren’t that helpful when it comes to reading these types of books, which is why I enjoy them so much. They don’t always obey the fundamentals of narrative fiction and can be a challenge to read. Still, I marvel at the minds that create such books. Such creativity deserves the time it takes to experience them.

For more similar books check out this list of ergodic fiction on Goodreads.

The Sketching from the Imagination series

I like to recommend the books that most inspire me, especially books that can be enjoyed in more than one sitting. This time it’s a whole series of outstanding and highly addictive books from independent publisher 3dtotal: The Sketching from the Imagination series. There are currently six titles in this series, I have two in my library, the original and the fantasy title, but if the quality of the first two is anything to go by the rest will be the same high standard.

Sketching from the Imagination: An Insight into Creative Drawing

The maiden title in the series is Sketching from the Imagination: An Insight into Creative Drawing. This 320 page book showcases the sketchbooks and portfolios of 50 traditional and digital artists. Each artist describes her or his development process, their aims and the materials they use for their sketchbooks. Below is a quick video preview from the publisher.

A preview of Sketching from the Imagination from the publisher
Sketching from the imagination: Fantasy.

The second book in the series again showcases the sketches of 50 traditional and digital artists from the international art community. The book focuses on the art of the make-believe. This one is hard to put down.

Preview of the Fantasy edition

I cannot personally testify for the other titles in the series, but I enjoyed watching the previews from the publisher, so I thought I’d share them here. My only problem now is deciding which one to get next.

Sketching from the Imagination: Sci-fi.

Preview of the Sci-fi edition
Sketching from the Imagination: Characters

Preview of the Characters edition
Sketching from the Imagination: Dark arts

Preview of the Dark arts edition
Sketching from the Imagination: Creatures & Monsters

Preview of the Creatures and monsters edition

Wonderbook by Jeff Vandermeer; A Recommendation

This isn’t a book review, it is a recommendation and a tribute to what might possibly be one of the best books ever imagined for creative people. First published in 2013 and revised in 2018, Jeff Vandermeer’s Wonderbook: The Illustrated Guide to Creating Imaginative Fiction is a must read for anyone interested in creativity.
You don’t have to be a writer to enjoy the book; it is an invaluable resource on any bookshelf as a guide to creativity and the workings of the imagination. But if you are a writer, you will be pleased to know it is packed with instructions for plotting, narrative structure, character creation, world-building and more. The book is fat and heavy with many examples, interviews, essays, and stunning illustrations. It really is a book of wonder – a beautifully crafted work of art that is both an homage to, and a textbook for the imagination.

Book Trailer on Abrams Books
Preview the book on Amazon

Recommended reads: An Illustrated Life by Danny Gregory

If you love illustrated journals, anything by creative superstar and co-founder of Sketchbook Skool, Danny Gregory is a must. A good place to start is his compilation of pages from the sketchbooks and art journals of artists, illustrators and designers. In his own words, Danny Gregory searched for a book just like this since he was a child. Unable to find one, he eventually created one himself and published An Illustrated Life. The book contains interviews of 50 enthusiastic sketchbook keepers, discussing their history, inspiration, methods and materials, along side photographs and/or scans of their private sketchbooks.

I love the unapologetic, raw creativity of the artist’s sketchbooks. Every page is an intimate snapshot in to the minds of the artist that created it, whether they intend it or not. The book is an homage to the brilliance that is the creative mind. At 266 pages long, it is a meaty, and well-organised collection of the eclectic and often messy nature of creativity. It is easily one of my favourite books and I reach for it often, especially when motivation eludes me.

If you’re not already an illustrated journal keeper, I think An Illustrated Life could inspire you to become one. If you’re not convinced, here’s a preview from Danny Gregory himself:

Danny Gregory’s introduction to An Illustrated Life