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The best books for art journalers

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Books are awesome.

I am a massive book nerd. My interior design style is “books and plants”. My love for books is part of the reason I love art journaling – I get to create my own library of art. I get to fill my bookshelves with the tangible containers of my own heart.

My husband is even more of a book person than I am. I’m into non-fiction and chick lit. He’s into sci-fi and fantasy. My books are rainbow coloured and his are any colour except those. We only keep what we love and rehome the rest. We each try and get more of our books on the shelves in our home. It’s the best kind of rivalry – one that leaves a home filled with loved, dog-eared books.

The books below are only the very best of the very best. They’ll give you ideas for making art, techniques to try out, and encouragement to nurture your creative habit.

These are my all-time favourite books that have helped in my art journaling.

Want these as a gorgeous downloadable PDF?

Now, onto the video:

These books will change your (art) life

Art & Fear

David Bayles + Ted Orland

This is my ALL TIME favourite non-fiction book. It’s a wordsy, well-articulated look at art and the practice of art.

“The seed of your next artwork lies embedded in the imperfections of your current piece.”

1000 Artist Journal Pages

Dawn DeVries Sokol

1000 pages of art journal inspiration. Another great book by Dawn is A World of Artist Journal Pages, which will also introduce you to a bunch of your new favourite artists.

Expressive Sketchbooks

Helen Wells

I’ve been art journaling as a hobby and as a job for almost a decade, and Helen still showed me a new way of looking at my sketchbook. Her bright colours and fun mark-making will help you feel freedom in your journal once again.

I fell so deeply in love with Helen’s art, that I invited her into Get Messy. She has a challenge inside the Library called Starting Points.

Bird by Bird

Anne Lamott

The most recommended book on writing, which makes it perfect for articulating the creative process too. How do you tackle a massive creative project? Bit by bit. Bird by bird (you’ll have to read the book to hear the story on its name).

All My Photographs are Made with Pens

Tommy Kane

I discovered Tommy through Sketchbook Skool and he is my all time favourite illustrator. His books and journals are pure eye candy.

Non Adhesive Binding

Keith Smith

Keith’s bookbinding instruction is dedicated, and intense. While I prefer to take a messier approach to my bound books, his books are the original reference guide.

My favourite is Vol. 3: Exposed Spine Sewings, simply because I love that style the most.

Make Your Own Ideabook

Arne & Carlos

Arne & Carlos are sewists who store ideas in tiny books they have bound by hand. Their way of binding is imperfect, easy, and the perfect home for your overflowing ideas lists.

Find Your Voice

Noor Unnahar

I ticked off a bucket list item when Noor agreed to teach for Get Messy. Her work is warm, intimate, and vulnerable.

This book is a guided poetry journal. A collaboration between her art and yours. Throughout the book you are given prompts in the form of questions, art, and poetry. I had to buy two of these – one for adding to messily, and the other to keep for its beauty on its own.


Rae Dunn

You get to peek into the travel journal of an artist here. I love how Rae creates colour palettes of the places she’s visited. By recording the way we see things on a trip, the memories are so much stronger.

Steal Like an Artist

Austin Kleon

The easiest book you’ll ever read (and then you’ll definitely want to read the next books from him too). These are rules for being an artist, and how to “steal” like one.

Radical Compassion

Tara Brach

This is neither directly nor indirectly a creative book, but I have found it very good to process in my art journal. Tara teaches meditation and emotional healing – both of which I find in my journal. This book gave a bit of a roadmap for things to meditate on between pages.

End Papers

Mark Bradford

One of my all-time favourite artists, this book is my all-time favourite collection of his. It’s one of his earliest, too, and draws deeply on his life as a hairdresser – so seemingly unrelated to art that I can’t help but love it. According to him, “I learned my own way of constructing paintings through the End Papers–how to create space, how to use color. And how to provide a new kind of content. They were the beginning for me.”

The ABCs of Journaling

Abbey Sy

This is another artist who made me faint when she agreed to teach for Get Messy. Abbey is a creative who draws, letters, plans, and documents her entire life in a journal. This book is a work of art in itself. PS: I’ll be in her upcoming book, The Art of the Travel Journal.

Big Magic

Elizabeth Gilbert

Considered by anyone who has read the book to be the Artist’s Bible, Big Magic is… magic.

The Dust has Grown Flowers

Firefly Fiphie

Page through the art and the poetry by art journaler,

The True and the Questions: A Journal

Sabrina Ward Harrison

Sabrina is a lifelong art journaler. She has a series of books that allow you to peek into her private journals. This one leaves space for you.

How to be an Artist

Jerry Saltz

This book started as a New York Times article. After making many pages based on his words, I eventually turned them into a journal, bound in a vintage book.

Jerry Saltz is a famous, Pulitzer Prize-winning art critic, but still makes art accessible and available to anyone and for that I’ll love him forever.

The War of Art

Steven Pressfield

This guy is my all time favourite writer on matters of art. We had an entire Get Messy season dedicated to him – The Season of Steven – where we took a non-fiction book and created based on it. I did so with the War of Art, but in the past I’ve turned Do the Work and The Artist’s Journey into art journals too. He articulates the creative process perfectly.

The Collage Workbook

Randel Plowman

If you’re wanting to dig into painting with paper, this is the book.

PS: The partner book is called The Painting Workbook by Alena Hennessy for those wanting to dig into painting with… well, paint.

Art Before Breakfast

Danny Gregory

Danny is the godfather of daily drawing. I have, and love, all of his books. This one in particular helped me come back to myself while I was a new mother. It helped me draw (messily) with one hand while nursing with another).

Danny, and his partner from Sketchbook Skool, Koosje, have also been part of Get Messy. They were the guests for the Season of Play.

26 MORE books for art journalers

* Lisa Solomon : A Field Guide to Color: A Watercolor Workbook
Lisa shared a challenge for Get Messy on her colour explorations.

Dawn DeVries Sokol : A World of Artist Journal Pages

Sarah Simblet & John Davis : Anatomy for the Artist

Daniella Krysa : Collage: Contemporary Artists Hunt and Gather, Cut and Paste, Mash Up and Transform

Samantha Dion Baker : Draw Your Day: An Inspiring Guide to Keeping a Sketch Journal

Walt Stanchfield : Drawn to Life: 20 Golden Years of Disney Master Classes: Volume 1: The Walt Stanchfield Lectures

Danny Gregory : Everyday Matters

Esther K. Smith : How to Make Books: Fold, Cut & Stitch Your Way to a One-of-a-Kind Book

Orly Avineri : In My Bones: A Visual Journal

Emily Neuburger : Journal Sparks: Fire Up Your Creativity with Spontaneous Art, Wild Writing, and Inventive Thinking

Kathleen Adams : Journal to the Self: Twenty-Two Paths to Personal Growth – Open the Door to Self-Understanding by Writing, Reading, and Creating a Journal of Your Life

* Courtney Cerruti : Make Art Where You Are (Guided Sketchbook): A Travel Sketchbook and Guide
Courtney is awesome – she produced the Get Messy Creativebug Daily Art Journal Challenge: 30 Prompts with Get Messy

Kellee Wynne Conrad : Mixed Media Color Studio: Explore Modern Color Theory to Create Unique Palettes and Find Your Creative Voice–Play with Acrylics, Pastels, Inks, Graphite, and More
Kellee has shared loads at Get Messy

Keith A. Smith : Non-Adhesive Binding, Vol. 2: 1- 2- & 3-Section Sewings

* Christina Baldwin : One to One
“A journal makes a good place for tucking away the scraps of daily life.”

Austin Kleon : Show Your Work!: 10 Ways to Share Your Creativity and Get Discovered

Shelley Rhodes : Sketchbook Explorations: for mixed-media and textile artists

Sarah Simblet : Sketchbook for the Artist: An Innovative, Practical Approach to Drawing the World Around You

Sabrina Ward Harrison : Spilling Open: The Art of Becoming Yourself

Ray Campbell Smith : The Artist’s Handbook

* Julia Cameron : The Artist’s Way
My favourite takeaways are Morning Pages and Artist Dates

Danny Gregory : The Creative License: Giving yourself permission to be the artist you truly are

* Tristine Rainer : The New Diary: How to Use a Journal for Self-Guidance and Expanded Creativity
“A personal magic begins to enter the diary through time.”

Adam J. Kurtz : Things Are What You Make of Them: Life Advice for Creatives

* Natalie Goldberg : Writing Down the Bones: Freeing the Writer Within
“Writing is a whole lifetime and a lot of practice.”

* Janet Conner: Writing Down Your Soul: How to Activate and Listen to the Extraordinary Voice Within

Daniella Krysa & Martha Rich : Your Inner Critic Is a Big Jerk: And Other Truths About Being Creative

Want even more book recommendations?

Go to Get Messy’s Amazon storefront.

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Caylee Grey

Caylee Grey is a South African artist who fills her journals with loads of mediocre art. Imperfect, heart-led, gloriously mediocre art. Caylee's the Fairy Artmother of Get Messy Art, the kindest art journaling community on the internet, and author of the book by the same name.