Here are some of my favourite tech, tools, books, reference and general resources that have helped me along my creative journey. Many of these are affiliate links (marked with a *), which means I make a small commission if you click on the link to purchase a product. These are all products I stand behind and wholeheartedly endorse and that I myself use on a regular basis in my business and creative work.
Table of Contents
- Books on Creative Mindset
- Books on General Mindset
- Books on Art Techniques and Reference
- Reference Material
- Apps & Software
- Traditional Art Supplies
- What Brushes do You Use?
Books on Creative Mindset
I read a ton of books and there are too many for me to share them all, but here are some of the most meaningful ones that have helped me on my journey. Please realize that none of these books will magically “fix” anything and suddenly turn you into an artist, but they can help feed a healthier mindset and perspective to combat all the limiting beliefs and romantic ideals that tend to get in the way of making art.
The most pivotal book I have ever read on creativity. This book first introduced me to the idea that resistance and fear are completely normal parts of the creative process and not a sign that I am doing anything wrong. It was the first step in dismantling a romanticized version of creativity I had internalized and helping me realize that creativity is often just plain hard work, but that the work is so worth it.
One of the best practical books on cultivating creativity. Tons of exercises to explore and feed your creativity as well as overcome blocks, self-doubt and fear. There is quite a big spiritual angle to this book and I often fall off the wagon when I get to bits that are heavy on it, but nontheless this is a powerful book that for example originated the now common practice of Morning Pages. Highly recommend even though funnily enough I’ve never made it all the way to the end. Still a book I revisit frequently to this day
I pretty much love every single book Danny Gregory has ever written and they are beautifully illustrated and a work of art in and of themselves, but this book was another that was really powerful in giving myself permission to embrace creativity as a daily part of life and to let go of the need of perfection in art, to focus more on the regular process than on the individual pieces.
Danny Gregory’s learned to cope with a devastating tragedy in his life by teaching himself to draw and bringing himself back to the beauty that surrounds us all in even the most everyday things. This book is a powerful tribute to the healing and life-changing transformative powers of art.
His memoir “Every Day Matters” (equally beautifully illustrated) is also a powerful read.
Art Before Breakfast: A Zillion Ways to Be More Creative, No Matter How Busy You Are – Danny Gregory*
This is for anyone looking to bring more creativity into their life but struggling to find the time. Practical advice and techniques for always finding the space to be creative.
I love every single one of Austin Kleon’s books to pieces. His newsletters are a good, thoughtful read too.
Austin Kleon poses the theory that nothing is original and teaches us to embrace influence, school ourselves through the work of others, remix and reimagine to discover our own path.
His books are smart, funny and have great bite-sized chapters with fun and poignant illustrations. Some pretty deep thoughts in a very easily digestible format.
Austin Kleon’s second book, Show Your Work focuses more on the process of putting your work out into the world. Being generous with your work, your process, your knowledge, and treating sharing your work as self-discovery rather than self-promotion and building a community around your work by letting others see behind the scenes of your creativity.
He gives practical advice for embracing community around creativity, as well as offering broader life lessons about work (you can’t find your voice if you don’t use it), the etiquette of sharing online, and the practical elements of Internet life (domains, giving credit, etc.). A great manifesto for succeeding as an artist or entrepreneur in the digital age.
As with his other work his book is a great collage of illustrations, quotes, stories and cartoons that bring his ideas across in great bite-sized portions.
Yes, another one by Austin Kleon, seriously I do a happy dance every time I see he has a new book out, they are ALL just so good.
All Austin’s work are current and applicable to our digital age, but this one in particular offers simple, practical and ethical rules and principles for how to stay creative, focused, and true to yourself even with the distractions of the digital age.
A really fascinating read on how to create anything, from a functional kitchen to a computer program, to a work of art, the steps that go into any creation, the importance of creating work we love and how to bridge the gap from where we are to where we want to be.
Some great insights into self sabotage, the ways that we tend to undercut our ability to succeed and what we can do differently.
I also loved the idea of escaping from the oscillating movement in our lives between reacting and responding to stimulus and instead of problem solving, actually creating something entirely new. Super interesting philosophy and model for a creative life.
I’ve followed Elise’s work for years and love consuming her content no matter what she writes about. A creative powerhouse (with her own business and two kids), in this book she shares her guide to establishing healthy habits so that it’s easy and fun to accomplish your long-term goals.
Applicable to our creative as well as our everyday lives, Elise’s realistic and totally doable steps encourage a simple and achievable productivity practice that helps you escape your endless to-do lists, overcome procrastination and finally find time for the things you love while also being gentle and kind to yourself and acknowledging that you’re only human and the struggle is real.
It’s also beautifully designed with lots of fun illustrations, so a feast of the eyes as well as being super practical.
Filled with practical steps for building creative habits as well as inspiration for why this matters from an amazing life-long creative.
This fun comic-style book teaches you how to care for your most important instrument in your creative work – yourself!
Books on General Mindset
This is not strictly a book on creativity, but I can highly recommend it regardless because the principle still applies. Basically the compounding power of tiny daily steps and how small, simple disciplines can totally revolutionize your life and be the difference between massive success and staying stuck or failure. This books was super powerful in getting into the right mindset to create better habits in my life and creativity.
One of best books I have ever read on habits. Habit building is often time a massively crucial element of living a fulfilling creative life. This book explains why we act out habits the way we do, how to build them, how to change them.
Another absolutely amazing book about mindset, and how some people thrive and continue to experiement and learn new things while others stay stuck because of the way they think about their talents abilities.
People with a fixed mindset—those who believe that their abilities are unchangable—are less likely to flourish than those with a growth mindset—those who believe that abilities can be learned and developed. The good news? You can totally develop a growth mindset if you were previously stuck in a fixed one!
So much of struggling or thriving as an artist boils down to mindset and internalized unconscious assumptions about art, artists and artmaking, so I think this is an incredibly important topic.
Because the intro of the book really says it best:
“This is a book about making art. Ordinary art. Ordinary art means something like: all art not made by Mozart. After all, art is rarely made by Mozart-like people; essentially—statistically speaking—there aren’t any people like that. Geniuses get made once-a-century or so, yet good art gets made all the time, so to equate the making of art with the workings of genius removes this intimately human activity to a strangely unreachable and unknowable place. For all practical purposes making art can be examined in great detail without ever getting entangled in the very remote problems of genius.”
Another one relating more to a general attitude to life rather than just creativity, but one that was very impactful for me and was formative during the time I was thinking of starting my own business. Basically the title says it all, but the book goes into a lot more depth with more concrete strategies for actually doing it.
This may seem like an odd book to have on a list of resources around creativity, BUT in my experience, both my own and from observing others, many creatives carry a host of limiting beliefs around money and why they will never make any as an artist. (Starving artist myth anyone?) This book really helps you take a close look at your habits and stories around money and start building a stronger money mindset.
Books on Art Techniques/Reference
If you want to actually learn to draw, this is pretty much the one book that really does a good job of teaching it – IF you put in the work of course. I read this long after I’d learned to draw and still found it a fascinating read as it helped me understand some of the strategies I employ without even knowing it when it comes to art-making.
Hard to pick my favourite from his books, they’re all amazing, but this is probably the best.
Perspective, volume, size, composition, light and shadow, Loomis covers pretty much every topic with extremely helpful tips when it comes to drawing the human figure, with a vast variety of poses of humans of all ages. Advice on how to do movement studies, draw faces, hands, etc.
Other books of his are Drawing the Head and Hands*, Fun with a pencil, Anyone Can Learn to Draw*, Creative Illustration* and Successful Drawing*. These books are pure gold and I know of nothing comparable despite them being a bit old-fashioned the information has aged well and is still true and helpful. You won’t regret adding any of these to your artists library.
Pretty much ANY book by Burne Hogarth is an amazing reference work, but this is probably the most important one for me and was helpful to get better at drawing figures in motion.
The book doesn’t explain a load, but you can learn a ton from observing and mimicking how Hogarth creates his figures.
Actually a whole series of books, not just one, these books are worth buying for the artwork alone. Stephanie’s wonderfully whimsical and highly detailed fantasy worlds are a feast for the eyes. You don’t need to buy them in order, they don’t really build on each other, just pick the topic that most interests you.
Her books won’t actually teach you to draw, but if you can already draw adequately they are chock full of step-by-step creations of her images that go into a lot of detail for how to create amazing watercolour pieces with a lot of explanation of technique.
Books in this series:
- Dreamscapes: Creating Magical Angel, Faery & Mermaid Worlds In Watercolor*
- DreamScapes Myth & Magic: Create Legendary Creatures and Characters in Watercolor*
- Dreamscapes Magical Menagerie: Creating Fantasy Creatures and Animals with Watercolor*
- Dreamscapes Fantasy Worlds: Create Engaging Scenes and Landscapes in Watercolor*
I recommend against buying “Magical Fantasy” – which is just a compilation work from several of the other books, unless that’s the only one you’re planning to buy, though it seems in most places it’s not available anymore anyway. But just so you know.
For drawing references I will often use Google Images first as a quick overview of my subject matter, but it will often show up the most generic version of an image possible, so fairly boring. I will usually combine it with other reference for more interest.
Pinterest often has a much more diverse, creative and artistic selection of images. Remember never to copy an image, or even elements of an image exactly (unless it’s purely for practice, particularly not if it is for sale later). Use reference images to understand your subject matter better, but then try and come up with your own interpretation of it.
A great site with amazing free photography for you to use as inspiration, reference or on your website.
There are lots of fun ways to generate palettes online. Here are a few sites that either offer pre-made colour schemes, or allow you to automatically generate harmonious colour schemes, some even from photos you like. Super fun to play around with.
I have a 9.7″ iPad Pro with 128 GB and it is absolutely perfect for portable art. I have considered getting a bigger iPad for at home, but for traveling I think it would be too awkward and I’d be too afraid of damaging the iPad. This size isn’t too heavy, it’s comfortable to draw on and works great for more cramped situations like buses or trains. I am actually not a big Apple fan, but this tablet really is SO good.
If you go to the trouble of investing in an iPad Pro, please don’t skimp on the pencil. A lot of people ask if there are good alternative styluses, and truth is… not really. ProCreate was specifically developed to work with iPad Pro and the Apple Pencil, and you are not going to find a better combination. Save up if you can and invest in the Apple Pencil or you may end up spending the same amount of money on multiple sub-par styluses instead.
Apps and Software
I got an iPad Pro for Christmas 2018 and started using it intensely on our South East Asia trip from January 2019 when I started doing the Making Art Everyday Challenge. I have since been using this software daily and it is absolutely amazing and dirt cheap, no recurring costs. I feel they really take into consideration how artists work, it is fairly easy to learn and super powerful.
I use Splice to edit all my exported ProCreate Timelapses. I generally just use it to edit the length of the video to Instagram’s 1 minute format, then add some music with a fade out at the end. It takes me like all of two minutes to edit a video in this way, and it’s 100% free.
I mostly use DropBox for backing up my files and for sharing big files with clients. I purchased the business version for our trip and have never looked back.
Instagram scheduler. I don’t use this currently but have done in the past and love how easy they make it to save hashtag lists and layout your posts in a grid preview. May get back to this when I get more serious about using IG professionally, it’s definitely a huge time-saver.
iPads are freaking expensive. Do yourself a favour and give it as much protection as you can, it is worth the peace of mind. My iPad slid out of our Packsafe while we were traveling onto a tiled floor and I dinked the corner and it almost gave me a heart attack. I invested in a protective plastic case when we were stopping over in Germany and am so grateful I did. Can’t find my exact cover on their site anymore, just make sure you get one the right size for your iPad model and I think they may be called Otterbox or something now?
More iPad protection. I use this magnetic flip cover to keep my screen safe from scratches and dirt. It also functions as a handy stand if you want to watch some Netflix instead. Make sure you get the right size for your model iPad.
Anker Matte Screen Protector
Yes, more iPad protection. This device was crucial to my work while traveling and I wasn’t taking ANY chances. A big plus is that using a matte protector makes drawing on the iPad feel much more like drawing on paper as it offers a little bit of resistance which feels much more natural to me than drawing on a slippery screen. If that doesn’t interest you, just get a tempered glass screen protector. This brand is cheap, comes in a pack of two and I’ve been using the first one for over 15 months now and it’s still holding up strong. I have not experienced any obvious wear and tear on my Apple Pencil as some people report when using matte protectors and have no issue with vibrancy or colour. Do make sure to adjust your pressure sensitivity settings so you don’t have to press too hard which can also lead to hand and wrist injury and will decrease the life of your pencil. I can’t find this specific model on amazon.com, but there should be plenty of others. Paperlike is a fairly popular, though more pricey brand.
If you are using a newer generation pencil this doesn’t apply. But the 1st generation pencil came with some tiny bits and pieces (pencil cap and a lightning cable adapter) that I was freaking out about loosing. These little gadgets will solve that problem once and for all and you’ll never have to worry again as they attach the cap to the body of the pencil and the adapter to the lightning cable. I promise you, these will save your sanity, I am still grateful everytime I see that little adapter dangling off my lightning cable.
This one is mostly a matter of taste, though it also offers some protection. I love it because it is magnetic so my pencil clips to my iPad. Mine also has an edge as seen in the image, so the pencil can’t roll and I feel I can grip the pencil better and my hand and wrist stay more relaxed for it, limiting the chance of injury. The rubber casing could also cushion the pen if you drop it. I’m afraid I can’t find my exact model. Mine is by the company FRTMA, that I can’t seem to find on amazon.com.
Traditional Art Supplies
Pretty much the only watercolours I use. Love the colours and super easy to work with, last me a long time.
Hahnemühle BAMBOO-Mixed-Media, 265g, 30 x 40 cm (25 Sheets)
Reasonably priced, good quality, not too rough, perfect for all my watercolour needs.
I love these pencils. Include an eraser and are super durable and hard to break even after dropping several times. My forever pencil love.
For Design Work and some illustration work I use the Creative Design Suite by Adobe. Mostly I use InDesign for Layouting, Photoshop for Image Editing and Webdesign Layouts, Illustrator for Logo design and other vector based design elements. It’s super powerful, but also pretty expensive. I’m still on the older CS6, most people now would sign up for the Creative Cloud, though I’m not a fan of the subscription model. I hear Affinity is starting to give Adobe a run for their money for a fraction of a price, so if you’re looking for a cheaper alternative to get your feet wet, might be worth checking out Affinity’s products.
Creative Market is my go to plattform for all things design. I purchase fonts and design elements here for myself and client projects all the time and absolutely love them. If you’re looking for some fun fonts to import into ProCreate, this is a site I would recommend particularly for hand-written style stuff.
I use mostly the ProCreate preset brushes Nikko Rull for painting, Splatter for texture and Chalk for highlights. I also have Lisa Bardot’s Marker set and love Abbie Nurse’s brushes for amazing texture, I have most of her sets.
I’ve talked a lot about this topic, but please realize that there is no “right brush” for anything. It depends on you, your technique, your style of working and expression. Find brushes that work for you and make sure you spend enough time with each brush instead of leaping from brush to brush. Lack of technique will not be saved by good tools.