Top 5 illustration books


Following on from my top 5 art books post, I thought I’d also share some more of my favourite art books focus more on illustration rather than design and typography. All these books contain art by some of my favourite illustrators and I could happily sit down with any of these of an afternoon and devour each and every page.

Charley Harper: An Illustrated Life - Todd Oldham

The first book I’m sharing has been in my collection the longest, and I knew I had to buy this book when I discovered his work. Charley Harper is an amazing illustrator and I’m sure you’ll recognise his style if you don’t recognise his name. I adore his use of colour and texture – he painted primarily in gouache and often used dry brush strokes to add dimension to his work. With a prolific 60-year career, he illustrated various books, posters and for magazine, as well as school textbooks (The Giant Golden Book of Biology would definitely have helped my interest in science). I can’t remember how I came across his work but it’s definitely something I take inspiration from, particularly his use of colour and shape. I love the movement he creates in his pictures, and there is a lovely interview in the book with Todd Oldham in which he sounds like a really lovely, kind man.

This is Rome - M Sasek

The second book I actually picked up in it’s name sake when I visited Rome in 2014. You’ll probably recognise his work too – Miroslav Sasek was a Czech illustrator who created several titles in the ‘This is’ series, including New York, Paris and London. His style is very bright and clean, with blocks of colour and details that add a lot of movement and life to his illustrations. Though quite simple in terms of detail, Sasek’s work is so full of character and humour I can see why his books have, and continue to be, adored by all ages. It has quite an old-fashioned style to it – possible the colour palette, but either way it feels very nostalgic and comforting.

Jane, the Fox and Me - Fanny Britt, illustrated by Isabelle Arsenault

This, and the following book, are recent purchases and a discovery of an extremely talented illustrator. I saw Fran (Frannerd) talking about this book on YouTube and thought it sounded like just my thing. It’s hard to get a feel of a book through video and it’s absolutely mesmerising when I actually have it in my hands. I can pour over the illustrations for hours – the facial expressions Isabelle Arsenault manages are wonderful, the gorgeous handwritten text, the use of colour and sketchy pencil lines for texture – everything about this is perfect. In ‘Jane, the fox and me’, Arsenault uses colour in a fascinating way – the story (written by Fanny Britt) is about a girl who is struggling with loneliness and a lack of friendship, and so immerses herself in the book Jane Eyre. There are two narratives in the story, with the pages depicting scenes from Jane Eyre painted in colour – a huge contrast to the other narration of Hélène’s life, which is illustrated in greyscale. I love the idea and communication behind this simple decision – that Hélène sees her world without colour, but when she is reading, she’s transported to another world and everything is different, vibrant and alive. I can totally relate to that, and it’s one of the main reasons I love reading – I adore the escapism. Though it sounds like a gloomy book, it has positive ending and is a really sweet tale – beautifully executed and absolutely stunning in its delivery.

Cloth Lullaby - Amy Novesky, illustrated by Isabelle Arsenault

Cloth Lullaby is Arsenault’s most recent offering and is an illustrated story written by Amy Novesky. In contrast to the previous book, this one is full of colour and vibrancy but still the same loose, sketchy style that is so clearly Arsenault’s. It is less like a graphic novel in comparison, with no comic book style grid layouts, but more full page images with text dotted here and there. Again, the hand drawn text adds a sensitive, personal feel to the story, which tells the life of Louise Bourgeois – an artist I ashamedly knew nothing about! The matte stock and cloth bound spine is just another reason as to why this is a valued addition to my collection.

Home - Carson Ellis

Carson Ellis has been on my illustration radar for a very long time. I discovered The Decemberists through her work (fronted by her husband, Colin Meloy) as she has created all their gorgeous album art, as well as illustrating countless books including many of her own. Using watercolour, Ellis has a simple style in terms of shadow and form but the details she paints are what really inspire me. I love her use of colour and the thin lines and patterns she adds on top of her base shapes. She has an excellent understanding of colour and uses a muted colour palette in a perfect way, I love seeing both her greyscale and coloured pieces. ‘House’ is a gorgeous children’s book that reminds me of a fairy tale – though there is no story as such, it documents various different abodes in a sweet rhyme. The artwork is immersive and the detail is incredible – I love her portrayal of people and plants, there is a real sense of depth in her illustrations and I am enthralled by the whole word she creates in a single painting.