Book Review: 5 Art Books you should have on your Bookshelf

Hi everyone, welcome back to another week on the Christine Murphy Designs blog.   This week I have a book review (of sorts) to share with you. This isn’t going to be a traditional book review though… you know one of those reviews where I read a book, and then I run through all the good and bad parts with you and then I let you know if you should buy it or not.


No, this is going to be a book “recommendation” instead. And not just one book, but 5!  These are the books I believe you should have on your bookshelf as an artist.  And by artist, I mean someone who’s into lettering, calligraphy and illustration.  These are 5 of my favourite books for inspiration and instruction, so let’s get into it.

Book Review: 5 Art Books you should have on your Bookshelf

The Grammar of Ornament – A  unique collection of more than 2350 classic patterns” by Owen Jones

I’m going to begin by recommending one of the very first books I bought when I started drawing.  This book is a reference book, and it’s old!  It was first published in 1856.  Owen Jones was a pioneering architect and designer, and he spent a lot of time observing and recording different patterns and architectural designs throughout various countries. The end result is this book.

Book Review: 5 Art Books you should have on your BookshelfBook Review: 5 Art Books you should have on your Bookshelf

It’s broken down into a number of different areas, so to give you an example; he talks about the ornament of Savage tribes, and Egyptian ornament, all the way through, to things like Turkish ornament, Roman ornament the Renaissance ornament.  He then explores how leaves and flowers from nature were used as inspiration for ornament.

I’ve shared some pictures above, so you get a bit of an idea about what to expect from this book.   I am very fond of it and I find it really inspiring when it comes to working on anything with patterns.

Book Review: 5 Art Books you should have on your Bookshelf

Hand Lettering Ledger” by Mary Kate McDevitt

Before I go any further, if you are into lettering, particularly lettering with a vintage style, go and do some of Mary Kate McDevitt‘s courses on Skillshare.  Here’s 2 I recommend:

You will have to subscribe to Skillshare and you also might need to pay a fee to do the courses, but they are really worth the money.  Mary is an excellent teacher, she has a lovely way about her work that’s friendly, personable and visually pleasing to many.  So yeah, go and check out her course.

Book Review: 5 Art Books you should have on your Bookshelf

In her book, she begins with the basics.  Mary explains the terminology in relation to lettering, she explains the difference between Serif and Sans Serif lettering, she also looks into ornate lettering and scripts.  There’s more examples that I haven’t mentioned, but she provides lots of different space for you to be able to practice putting some lettering designs together yourself.

This is a book you need in your arsenal, it’s even more beneficial if you can add the Skillshare course to your bag of tricks as well.

Book Review: 5 Art Books you should have on your Bookshelf

“Modern Calligraphy” by Molly Suber Thorpe

Okay, this book is fantastic because Molly provides just that little bit more in relation to calligraphy styles, compared with other books and online courses. Generally speaking, when you do a calligraphy course online, you focus on mastering one particular style.  But what Molly has done is provide you with a number of different styles.  So, if you want to work on a letter S, she provides you with many different ways you can write it.

Book Review: 5 Art Books you should have on your Bookshelf

The other thing that she does in this book, which I really love, is talk you through how you can use calligraphy in everyday life.   Molly has included a number of different projects that you can do.  Things like addressing envelopes to your friends, making some place cards for a dinner party or even creating cupcake toppers and greeting cards.  The book is full of ideas and inspiration for how to use calligraphy.  It’s a must-have book if you want to take your calligraphy to the next level and begin selling it.

Book Review: 5 Art Books you should have on your Bookshelf

“Botanical Drawing; a step-by-step guide to drawing flowers, vegetables, fruit and other plant life” by Penny Brown

This is my most recent purchase.  Penny takes you through drawing different botanical elements step-by-step.   Penny works entirely in pencil, so all the step outs in this book are done using pencil.  I guess the same principles could apply to pen and ink and you could try translating, although I haven’t as of yet.  Penny covers most of the common botanicals in this book, from drawing a daisy, to mushrooms and poppyseed heads, to half a head of cabbage.

Book Review: 5 Art Books you should have on your Bookshelf

Her range of items to draw is really quite extensive, so if you’re looking at getting into botanical drawing, I really recommend you have a look at this book.

Book Review: 5 Art Books you should have on your Bookshelf

“The Bible of Illuminated Letters – A treasury of decorative calligraphy” by Margaret Morgan

I absolutely love this book, I use it a lot and think it’s absolutely beautiful.  Margaret goes into incredible detail about all of the different styles of illuminated lettering, from Celtic lettering through to Gothic lettering, Renaissance and Romanesque lettering.  She covers every form of illuminated lettering (since time began), through to where we are today, and she provides instructions about how to put them together.

Book Review: 5 Art Books you should have on your Bookshelf

Margaret also explains the gilding process, for applying gold or silver leaf to your letters.  I’ve never actually done the gilding component, however all the information is in this book, for you to be able to give it a try yourself.

At the end of the book, Margaret has compiled a gallery.  She has a number of different images from around the world of illuminated lettering and calligraphy.  It’s very inspiring.

Book Review of 5 Art Books you should have on your Bookshelf

Well, that’s it for today.  As you can probably tell, I could keep going, but I have to restrain myself or this post will be too long!

These are the books that have made an impact in my life, in relation to drawing, lettering and calligraphy.  And I think they can impact your art journey as well. I’m always keen to hear of other books recommendations, so if there’s a book you really think I should check out, leave me a comment down below.  

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Until next time, listen to your heart and sharpen your coloured pencils. A masterpiece awaits!

Bless you my friend

Chrissie xx

2 thoughts on “Book Review: 5 Art Books you should have on your Bookshelf

  1. Nice choices Chrissie. The Illuminated manuscript book looks really intriguing!

    1. Yeah it’s my fave. It’s such a visually beautiful book 💕

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