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  • Writer's pictureSue Halstead

My top ten art and design books

If you are in need of some inspiration for the art lover in your life, or are wondering what to put on your own christmas list, here's a run down of my top ten favourite books from my own bookshelves.




This little book takes a focussed look at the design work of Bawden, rather than his drawing, painting and fine art printmaking. Having said that, there's lots of lovely examples of his joyous lino prints used for design projects, throughout this book. Heres some of his early work, when still a student, and experimenting with lino printing for wall paper designs.



Bawden, unlike many of his contemporaries, would happily turn his hand to any kind of commercial work, from designing a beer mat to a sales catalogue, with as much care and attention as his own more personal projects. I have always enjoyed these easter chickens he completed for Fortnum and Masons.


and here's some designs for beer labels, and ceramic plates and menus for a shipping line.



This book is really well illustrated and detailed for its size. There is a whole series of these books, each focussing on a different artist and designer, usually from the mid century. If you have been following me for a while, you won't be surprised to learn another of my favourites from this series is on John Piper.


pub: ACC Artbooks.


Another little gem of a book, this is also well illustratesd and detailed, and includes Piper's fabric designs, programs, brochures, book covers and other illustration work, and his theatre sets and stained glass designs. It demonstrats his enormous versatility as an artist / designer.


One of things I have always enjoyed about Piper is his extraordinary mark making and use of materials and mixed media. Here you can see illustrations for various commercial projects, using a varierty of pen and ink techniques combined with monochrome collage work. The results are always dramatic and atmospheric.


As a fabric designer , I also love Piper's fabric designs, many of which have a very painterly feel. While this one takes a more graphic, modernist approach, than is typical, it was nevertheless derived from an initial painting, which you can also see below.



pub: Van Nostrand Reinhold 1969



I was lucky enough to 'inherit' an original edition of this book from a predecessor, when I was teaching A level Textile Design in college. It was been reprinted since and is still available to buy. Due to its age, all of its illustrations are in Black and white, but as it is mostly discussing different pattern networks and layouts, I think this adds clarity.

Here, Mr Proctor is discussing the diamond network.



This book is full is of illustrations and examples of each major pattern layout, ranging from antiquity, to examples of World Art, to the work of his own students. In doing so, he demonstrates that these pattern structures are used and recognised universally, in all periods of history and all cultures. Here is a discussion of the Ogee network.



pub: Mills & Boon, 1968


Before Mills & Boon became synonymous with a certain brand of romatic fiction they also published art books. Who knew?



This is another book I have 'inherited' and another that I keep, love and refer to often for it's use of mark making. Mason is partcularly interested in drawing and how that drawing is then translated to stitch, so her marks are designed to represent hand or machine embroidery.

While all of the drawings in this book are also monochrome, each page is printed in a different colour, which must have made it more expesive to purchase at the time.






While these designs themselves may look very dated now, the principles of drawing for embroidery really haven't changed, and I often used this book to demonstrate to students how they might approach drawing for stitched surfaces.


pub: St Judes



Mark Hearld is, as the title suggests, an extraordinary prolific and versatile artist. And designer. And craftsman. And art historian. This lavishly illustrated book covers all aspects of his work, and also includes snapshots of his eclectic home, daily life and working methods.

Here's a peak inside his stairwell, for example.



I particularly enjoy studying his linocuts, which seem to have a freedom and spontaneity that belies the process. The result, as with all of his work, are lively and energetic images of real character.


I also enjoy his pattern work for fabric and wallpapers, which also use a linoprint method.



And who doesn't enjoy a glimpse at an artist's working practise and works in progress?



pub: V&A



This weighty book cover the huge output from the ultimate master of pattern. It's really detailed and I do confess I haven't read all of the text, but I pore over the images and marvel at the intricacies of the design work.


This books covers the work of some of his Arts & Crafts peers as well, so there is furniture designs, ceramic tiles, tapestries, glassware, book covers and illustrations, paintings, interior design as well as the marvellous wallpapers and fabrics he is so loved and well known for.



pub:Stash books


While Morris was a master, for those just starting out on their fabric designing journey, I always recommend this book. Kim Kight is part of the wonderful Ruby Star Society, a collective of fabric designers in the US. This book really covers everything you need to know to get started, including how to design a repeat pattern entirely by hand, how to design in Photoshop, and in Adobe Illustrator. She also covers the basics of block printing and screen printing directly on to fabric, and has some great interviews with a variety of professional fabric designers. Here, Kight is exploring how a cohesive collection comes together for the quiting industry using a real life example.



pub: Simon & Schuster Paperbacks



This is one of the most referred to books on my bookshelf. As you can probably tell, from the state of the cover and the post-it notes sticking out of the top! Tharp is a reknown choreographer. I know very little about dance, but that doesn't really matter as the lessons in this book really apply to any creative disipline. And it's about exactly that. Creative Disipline. About what to do when you get stuck. When you feel not good enough, when you can't find a way forward with your work. If I ever write a top ten of my favourite self-help books (they are a bit of a guilty pleasure of mine) I will no doubt feature this again. A manual for creative living. And very readable.


Pub: Phaidon


This was a much treasured gift from a dear friend. It' a really comphrehensive review of what we consider to be Modernism. I like that it starts earlier than you would perhaps expect - with the our friend William Morris, with the Arts & Crafts movement, with Art Nouveau, as a means of putting what came next into context.

Again,as a designer, I especially enjoy the graphic works. Heres some examples by Edward Wadsworth and Nevinson from around WW1



And of course as a fabric designer, I enjoy the works of the hugely influential Annie Albers and here , Gunta Stotlz, a weaver, and the only female member of staff at the Bauhaus.



pub: V&A



We end where we began, with Edward Bawden. This is my latest accquisition, and I'm enjoying it a great deal. It pieces together the lives of what became an artist's community in the village of Great Bardfield in Essex, begun by Bawden and Ravillious. It attracted a diverse but prolific and creative assortment of artists, many of whom had trained together or taught at the Royal Academy. Like all my favourite art books it's really well ilustrated. Here's a double-page spread of a linoprint by Bawden


And here are examples by some of the later, and female, members of this artistic enclave.

These gorgeous saturated illustrations are by Sheila Robinson



And here, woven fabrics designed by Marianne Straub, the prolific and hugely talented weaver who produced designs for upholstery for the London Underground, BAE aircraft, Heals and many other commercial ventures. She was a relative latecomer to this artistic community, having already enjoyed huge commercial sucess, she moved to Great Bardfield in 1953.



I hope you've found my dig through my booksleves interesting, and inspiring. Maybe it's given you some ideas for christmas gifts? If you have a favourite art book that you think is a must have, please leave your recommendation in the comments. I'd love to hear from you.


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Thanks for reading!

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