Steal Like an Artist by Austin Kleon

Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.orgIf fear of being unoriginal has you struggling in your creative endeavors, Austin Kleon’s Steal Like an Artist: 10 Things Nobody Told You about Being Creative is the perfect piece of encouragement. A fun and concise read, Steal Like an Artist, will help you push past roadblocks and focus more on doing what you love.

Regardless of what kind of creative work you do —or want to do—hesitation may stem from believing your work needs to be 100% original. Kleon quickly reminds readers that nothing is completely original: “All creative work builds on what came before.” Knowing you no longer have to hold your work up to an impossible standard of originality is liberating.

Steal Like an Artist by Austin KleonNow, don’t think this book advocates for plagiarism. Kleon clearly describes the differences between “good theft” and “bad theft.” There’s a big difference between a remix and a rip-off, as illustrated by a nifty, hand-drawn chart. While Steal Like an Artist doesn’t delve into the nuances of copyright law, it succinctly describes right and wrong ways to get ideas. It even includes quotes from famous creatives, showing that even the great ones don’t magically pull brilliant ideas out of nowhere; they cull from what’s worked before.

The book also delivers suggestions for tapping into imagination. Kleon encourages readers to have side projects and hobbies, to share their work, and to get away from their screens and use their hands. While these general tips may seem tangential, they all serve to help readers find new ways of coming up with ideas so as to avoid the desperation that can lead to bad theft.

No matter your creative field, no one should expect you to render something out of nothing. If you’re feeling stuck or suffering from impostor syndrome, Steal Like an Artist is just the creative pep talk you need.

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Hand-Lettering Ledger by Mary Kate McDevitt

Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.orgWhether you’re a graphic designer in need of an alternative to typography or an artist seeking a new creative skill, hand lettering is fun option for making words come to life. Hand-Lettering Ledger by Mary Kate McDevitt is a solid introduction to this craft, providing basic rules plus loads of samples in various styles from sans serif to script and black letter.

More than a reference material, Hand Lettering Ledger is also a workbook packed with space to practice your own lettering. Some pages are mostly blank, prompting readers with samples from categories such as ligatures and apexes. Other pages feature the alphabet written once in a specific style followed by ruled spaces for your own alphabet, enabling the type of repetition necessary for honing lettering skills.

Hand Lettering Ledger by Mary Kate McDevitt

The book could, however, be heavier on instruction. While it starts with helpful fundamentals, the bulk of the content is light on nuance. The instructional text of the step-by-step sections are largely copied and pasted with specific tips here and there. I would have loved more notes on unique details to consider while constructing certain types of pieces.


Hand Lettering Ledger by Mary Kate McDevitt
I’m getting there.

Nevertheless, what this book lacks in instructional text, it makes up for with strong samples. McDevitt’s show-don’t-tell approach effectively provides the basics of lettering alongside fun examples. Hand Lettering Ledger is a useful and enjoyable starting point for those taking on this new artistic skill.

Dive deeper into hand lettering by taking Mary Kate’s classes on Skillshare.

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Thinking with Type by Ellen Lupton

Thinking With Type by Ellen Lupton - Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.orgTypography is everywhere yet people rarely pay attention to exactly how it works. And that’s how it’s supposed to be. The average person should be able to read a headline, a body of text, or a logotype quickly and clearly. It’s the role of the designer to obsess over size, alignment, and numerous other features that make type work properly. If you fall into that meticulous latter category, Ellen Lupton’s Thinking with Type: A Critical Guide for Designers, Writers, Editors, & Students should be considered required reading. In fact, in some classrooms, it already is.

Lupton offers readers a concise but thorough guide to typography’s long history and its best practices. Thinking With Type explains essential terminology while giving readers an appreciation for the craftsmanship typesetting necessitated in the pre-computer age. Of course, modern software doesn’t mean today’s designers can ditch care and creativity. Lupton packs this book with rules and tips along with strong examples from a variety of designers throughout the ages. She also demonstrates what not to do by providing “type crimes,” poor decisions such as mistaking prime marks for quotation marks.

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A textbook of this nature risks of dryness, but Lupton does a tremendous job of keeping Thinking With Type engaging yet informative, thanks in large part to the visuals. Showcasing beautiful samples makes this book heavy with inspiration as well as instruction. And the dynamic layout makes it an enjoyable read, as even the type crime examples are set in a visually interesting way.

Thinking With Type is a must-read for any newcomer to the design world. More experienced designers would also do well to keep this on their shelves, ready for any kerning conundrum. Kudos to Lupton for finding a compelling way to share her type mastery with the world.

Show Your Work! by Austin Kleon

Show Your Work! by Austin Kleon - design, creativity book reviewA frustrating reality of creative work is getting that work out in the world. Despite an array of free ways to do that, most creative people would rather spend their time – you know – creating rather than talking about it. Show Your Work!: 10 Ways to Share Your Creativity and Get Discovered by Austin Kleon offers realistic advice about how to promote your work in authentic ways that don’t rob you of precious creative time.

Like Kleon’s previous book Steal Like an Artist, Show Your Work! is a quick, easily digestible read. The brief chapters get to the point with content bolstered by quotes from famous creatives and simple but effective visuals. He provides practical tips on talking about your work, connecting to your audience by revealing the process, and learning to take a punch.

Show Your Work by Austin KleonThis book is not, however, a social media how-to, telling you exactly which platforms to use and how to navigate them. Though Kleon makes brief references to specific sites, he doesn’t walk readers through them. With social media specifications constantly in flux, providing them in print form would have caused the book to be dated quickly. Find up-to-date social media cheat sheets online, and let Show Your Work! stay on your shelf, ready for any time you need general tips and inspiration.

Show Your Work! is a perfect counter to the numerous online articles telling you how to get more followers. Kleon wants creatives to get discovered without shortcuts. He encourages readers to be honest and authentic, to use what they know to teach others, and to avoid becoming “human spam.” This book is a welcome reminder that you don’t have to spend tons of money or sell your soul to get noticed. Just do good work, and share it.

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Pretty Much Everything by Aaron James Draplin

Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.orgAaron Draplin’s larger-than-life yet down-to-earth personality, blue collar work ethic, and serious design chops have made him something of a living legend in the graphic design world. Designers from across the nation pack auditoriums to witness his speaking engagements (“fiascoes,” as he calls them) and snap a selfie with the Draplin Design Company founder. In 2016, the aptly titled Pretty Much Everything allowed Draplin to add “author” to his impressively lengthy resume while giving fans a hearty glimpse into the life of one of their design heroes.

Pretty Much Everything showcases plenty of Draplin’s work from the past two decades, from Burton Snowboards, to Field Notes, all the way to the Obama Administration. While this book provides plenty for logo fans to nerd out over, it’s way more than a portfolio. Pretty Much Everything chronicles Draplin’s early days in Traverse City, MI, his design college experience, his summers in Alaska, and his eventual move to Portland, OR. Each autobiographical section is packed with hilarious anecdotes, all while helping readers understand the path that led to his becoming an industry giant.

The book also serves as a bit of a design reference guide. One spread in the “Logos, Logos, Logos” chapter walks us through his process of refining the Action Caps mark, emphasizing the ever-important logo exploration tip: copy before making edits. We even get a useful File Hand-Off Checklist, worth reviewing anytime you’re about to send a finished product to a client.

What truly sets Pretty Much Everything apart from every other design book is Draplin’s perspectives on design and life in general. Along with showcasing his work for major clients, he dedicates space to logos that didn’t make him a dime – fun projects or work he did to help a buddy. He acknowledges the divisiveness of the unpaid design work topic but firmly and convincingly states his take on the matter. The chapter on junkin’ proves that hunting down old logos at tag sales isn’t just some weird hobby; it’s a way to resurrect forgotten pieces of the American landscape. And with touching tributes to his parents as well as a page discussing the incomprehensible vastness of the universe, Draplin takes time to remind us that good design is really important … and at the same time, completely insignificant.

Perfectly blending autobiography, portfolio, and inspiration, Aaron Draplin’s Pretty Much Everything packs, well, pretty much everything into an entertaining read on one of graphic design’s hardest workers.

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