{Art Together} Books From Our Bookshelf

{This post is part of the art together series. You can see all the posts in the series here.}

Art Book List at amyhoodarts.com

Books have come up often in the {Art Together} posts and comments, so I decided to pull some of our favorites off my shelf and share them. I ended up with a huge stack. These aren’t meant to represent books someone must have, or a comprehensive list; they’re just books I own and use. Think of them as a jumping-off point—and it will also give you an idea of the types of books that inspire us. I’ve loosely grouped them into categories. Let’s go!

Philosophy-Type Books (with activities too)

Young at Art by Susan Striker: Striker has strong ideas about art-making (see her 10 Cardinal Rules for Teaching Children Creative Art). I’ve broken a couple of these “rules”—take what works for you. Her book is interesting reading to me not only for the ideas she suggests but for the information on developmental progression in art-making.

The Language of Art by Ann Pelo: This book presents inquiry-based provocations in the style of Reggio Emilia educational philosophy. The activities are open-ended, and Pelo includes her own documentation of actual students’ experiences, which is helpful in its own right if you’re trying to document your child’s learning (and not just the finished product). Part One, Studio Investigations, has sections on textures and movement, color, 3-dimensional media, and representational drawing and painting. Part Two, Moving Art from the Studio to the Classroom, gives examples of how to use art-making in long-term project work.

Posts inspired by this book:
Preschool Color-Mixing Activity (II)
Preschool Color-Mixing Activity
Sunflower Study

Beautiful Stuff! Learning With Found Materials, by Cathy Weisman Topal and Lella Gandini: This is another book rooted in Reggio Emilia philosophy, one which explores the use of found materials with a classroom of primarily four-year-olds. In the preface, they explain, “Rather than focusing on the creation of products, this book is based on observation and recording of children’s and teacher’s processes.” Again, this book offers a glimpse into the process and documentation of project work.

Post inspired by this book:
Working With Found Materials

Don’t Move the Muffin Tins, by Bev Bos: After Karen recommended this one in the comments, I discovered it’s out of print, but my library system had a copy. The book itself seems dated, but the ideas do not, and I found myself wondering why we are still struggling so hard to get open-ended, process-oriented art experiences to children when Bev Bos wrote it all so succinctly more than thirty years ago. The subtitle is “a hands-off guide to art for the young child,” and that sums it up. She presents activities, but they are of the sort that involve offering materials and stepping back. Her preface and first chapter, “Getting the Feel of It,” are worthy reads.

Art Project Books (intended for kids)

I’m careful with these. I don’t want crafts; I want open-ended activities that I can modify so all my kids can participate at their own level. We’ve tried activities from all of these, so I include them here.

Art Lab for Kids, by Susan Schwake: I previously reviewed this book here. The book includes techniques organized into projects, but the outcomes aren’t narrowly defined. I used this one with a homeschool co-op class as well; the “labs” I chose were modifiable across a range of ages.

Art Explorers series by Joyce Raimondo: We have What’s the Big Idea, Express Yourself, and Picture This! Raimondo pairs projects with famous artists, using the latter to inspire the former. Again, the projects are suggested, directed techniques that I can modify across the range of my kids’ ages. She includes examples of actual children’s art and they all look different. (That’s a sign of an open-ended project.)

Posts inspired by these books:
O’Keeffe Leaves
Marker + Watercolors
Matisse-Inspired Collage

Art Project/Technique Books (intended for adults, but used by all of us)

Drawing Lab for Mixed Media Artists, by Carla Sonheim: Another in the “lab” series…it has 52 drawing prompts in it. Flip through it, find something interesting, and…go!

Post inspired by this book:
Watercolor Blot Animals

How to be an Explorer of the World, by Keri Smith: Anything by Keri Smith is worthwhile to spark creativity and thinking about things differently.

How to Make Books and Magic Books and Paper Toys, by Esther K. Smith: I love her books. You’ll find lots of ideas in here to make books or other paper things that can be used in open-ended ways or combined with your art ideas or artwork or words…just fabulous books.

Water Paper Paint, by Heather Smith Jones: As I mentioned in the watercolor post, this book is a useful compilation of information on materials and techniques, with different explorations to try. Someone who is interested in going deeper with watercolor work will also find helpful advice here.

Print Workshop, by Christine Schmidt: I am a big fan of printmaking, and this sparked lots of ideas for me. It’s full of information on materials and techniques. It’s also full of very product-oriented projects, which I ignore. I bought it for the methods. There are many books like this out there—on first glance they appear to be very step-by-step, but I’m thinking this is a publisher demand, because they think most people want to know how to re-create something exactly. If you look close, you can tell which ones are also giving you the skills to use the method to create whatever you want. Those are the sorts of books that come home with me.

Posts inspired by this book:
Carving Stamps
(You Can) Carve a Stamp (tutorial)
Labeling the Studio

In addition to these, we like books that show artwork itself, for discussion and inspiration–art history books, books devoted to a specific artist or style…the library is a great source of these. I’d love if you’d share in the comments–do you have favorite books you use for adult/child art inspiration?

10 thoughts on “{Art Together} Books From Our Bookshelf

  1. Lori

    “I found myself wondering why we are still struggling so hard to get open-ended, process-oriented art experiences to children when Bev Bos wrote it all so succinctly more than thirty years ago.” — THIS!!!

    great recommendations!

  2. Francesca

    thanks for the list! I have a wonderful book on creativity and children (by an italian artist, and not translated), and it begins with a very simple project: one piece of paper, one pencil – no special supplies at all. The child is asked to tear up the paper in pieces, then pick a piece, look at it and think of what the irregular shape reminds them off, and make a drawing with it. It’s amazing what kids come up with, and how much fun they have creating drawings out of random, odd shapes.

  3. Dawn Suzette

    Thanks for the great recommendations! My little gal loves to look though the art books we have do have. We have Art Lab but none of the others in your collection. Off to see if our library has some of these!

  4. Karen

    yes yes yes on all of these. beautiful stuff blew my mind when I first saw it – who knew there were enough people who thought like me that they could write a book about it. So many of those books sit on my shelf. no wonder we like each other. the print workshop has been on my wish list for a long time. My library system didn’t have it and I didn’t want to buy it without playing with it. This post reminded me to check the library catalog again, and what do you know! It’s now on hold for me!

    1. amy Post author

      Oh I love that. Of *course* we like each other, we love the same books!! Perfect. I think you’ll love Print Workshop, too.

    1. amy Post author

      Like most of us (I think), I am a bit addicted to creative inspiration books! *cough* I just ordered a series of 3 drawing books from Chronicle using their mother’s day discount code…

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