My Library: Lettering, Reference, and Business Books


I’m sharing my favorite offline resources!


Every serious artist should develop a resource library of their own!

It’s so important to be able to go offline for inspiration. Plus, it feels great to have a real, physical connection to the source you’re learning from.

Here are some of my favorite books that I’ve collected over time…

*Most of the links below are affiliate links. I’ve carefully curated this list and own every single one of these books—I wouldn’t recommend them otherwise!


In the Company of Women: Inspiration and Advice from over 100 Makers, Artists, and Entrepreneurs by Grace Bonney : If you’re familiar with Design Sponge, you’ll know Grace Bonney as the delightful woman behind the blog. She’s gone on to do SO much for the design community, but one of my favorite resources she’s put into the world is this book. It’s a collection of 100+ short interviews with women makers and entrepreneurs, and it’s filled with gorgeous photography of the ladies in their workspaces. So much inspiration in here!

Graphic Artists Guild Handbook: Pricing & Ethical Guidelines, 15th Edition by the Graphic Artists Guild : This book is a super helpful tool for freelance graphic designers, web designers, letterers, surface designers, and more! It’s got standard pricing information for all types of design (including art licensing and surface pattern design) and offers some good insight into the different industries. While it’s notorious for having wide ranges of pricing examples, it still gives you a great starting place and helps you understand what ballpark you should be looking at when quoting for your projects!

Art, Money & Success by Maria Brophy : This is a great resource for anyone interested in licensing art or learning how to apply marketing strategies to their art business! Maria works as agent/strategist/CMO for her husband, artist Drew Brophy, and has grown his art sales to multiple six-figures annually. She shares real life licensing deals and marketing ideas that I found really helpful. Her in-person selling style is honestly a little pushy for me, but it works for her, obviously…and that’s just a small portion of the book. I still really recommend this read!


Freelance and Business and Stuff by Amy Hood & Jennifer Hood of Hoodzpah : If you’re a freelance designer, you should get this book. There’s also an e-book for $10 if you prefer. These gals are super knowledgable and have a nice sense of humor. They cover just about everything, including money and pricing, pitching, making a business plan, marketing, contracts, workflow, taxes, etc…. Such a valuable resource!


A Visual History of Typefaces and Graphic Styles Vol. 1 (1628–1900) Edited by Cees W. de Jong : I want to scream at you to GET THIS BOOK but I don’t want to be rude. It’s 1 of 2 amazing volumes that take you through type specimens and ephemera throughout history. It’s a big boy, at 360 pages. DID I MENTION YOU SHOULD BUY THIS AND KEEP IT FOREVER?

A Visual History of Typefaces and Graphic Styles Vol. 2 (1901–1938) Edited by Cees W. de Jong : This is Part 2 of the Visual History of Typefaces. It’s also great! If you feel that you have to pick just one of the 2 volumes, I’d pick the other one, because it covers more time and, in my option, includes more interesting art periods.

Shadow Type by Steven Heller and Louise Fili : This is an amazing book full of dimensional type pulled from vintage signs, packaging, advertising, movies, etc…. It’s organized by country, which is cool!

Scripts by Steven Heller and Louise Fili : Another hit from the dream team! Flip through tons of gorgeous examples of scripts of all styles from several different countries. This is such an amazing book!

The Calligrapher’s Bible by David Harris : This book breaks a ton of various calligraphic styles into individual parts and strokes. This is really helpful for understanding the way letters are constructed.

In Progress by Jessica Hische : See Jessica Hische’s process, from start to finish, and learn tips about everything from letter construction to vectoring with the pen tool. It’s a great book with beautiful work (cause, duh, Jessica Hische).


While it’s super tempting to scour Pinterest and Instagram for inspiration, a pattern of only looking at those resources is going to limit you in the long run. It also makes it easy to inadvertently copy trends and modern artists’ styles. I love looking at art and ornaments from my favorite historical periods (like Art Nouveau) and keeping lots of offline resources around to insure I’m exposing myself to influences that will lead to unique work.

Art Nouveau

Treasury of Authentic Art Nouveau: Alphabets, Decorative Initials, Monograms, Frames and Ornaments Edited by Ludwig Petzendorfer : This is my favorite Art Nouveau lettering resource ever! It features pages upon pages of gorgeous full alphabets, with and without ornaments. If you’re at all interested in this style, get this amazing book!

Art Nouveau Designs in Color Alphonse Mucha, Maurice Verneuil, and Georges Auriol : This book is full of small spot illustrations, ornaments, and borders. It’s great for detail inspiration.

Alphonse Mucha Masterworks by Rosalind Ormiston : It’s no secret that I’m obsessed with Alphonse Mucha. Mucha had a huge role in pioneering Art Nouveau and is known for creating gorgeous lithographs featuring beautiful images of women with lots of organic and floral ornaments. He famously created art to advertise for actress Sarah Bernhardt’s plays and worked with companies like Moet and Chandon and Job cigarette papers to create advertising and packaging. His style is incredibly intricate and truly blows me away. This book is absolute eye candy.

Art Nouveau, The Essential Reference by Carol Belanger Grafton : This book is almost all images. It offers a good overview of Nouveau patterns, ornaments, borders, and even a few pages of lettering. The images are organized by country.

Masterpieces of Art Nouveau Stained Glass Design by Arnold Lyongrun : This is a pretty tiny (30 pages) all-image book, but it has gorgeous examples of Nouveau stained glass. It’s small but packs a punch.

Arts & Crafts Movement

William Morris, Full-Color Patterns & Designs William Morris : This is another short image-only book. It features some gorgeous patterns created by Arts & Crafts artist William Morris via tapestries, wallpapers, and illustrations.

Textiles of the Arts & Crafts Movement by Linda Parry : This is a hearty resource with images and text. It offers an examination of Arts and Crafts textiles and features a ton of patterns.

Art Deco

Italian Art Deco by Steven Heller & Louise Fili : I love pretty much everything Louise Fili touches. If you’re not familiar with her work, go check it out right now. The books she and her husband create are all excellent resources. This one is obviously focused on Italian Deco lettering & illustration. It’s mostly image-focused with an introduction on the period and influences.

Islamic Art

Islamic Art of Illumination by Sema Onat : This gorgeous book breaks down the ornate and beautiful art of islamic illumination into easily understandable pieces. I highly recommend it for anyone who loves detail and appreciates intricate design.

Arabic Art in Color Edited by Prisse D’Avennes : This is an all-images resource for Arabic patterns, borders, ornaments, and color palettes. Another small but mighty book!

Ornament - Various

The Grammar of Ornament by Owen Jones : This is a massive resource for anyone interested in ornaments. Owen Jones (1809–1874) spent a ton of time researching and re-drawing motifs and patterns from various cultures and time periods. This book is a collection of all his findings, and is truly incredible to look at. It’s also very helpful that it’s split up by culture (some examples include Persian Ornament, Indian and Burmese Ornament, Celtic Ornament, Renaissance Ornament, etc…).

1100 Decorative French Ironwork Designs by Denonvilliers Company : This is a really cool, really specific book with tons of hand-drawn examples of French ironwork. Think fancy, decorative gates, knobs, pipes, etc… It might seem oddly niche, but I love finding inspiration in these kinds of places!

Pictorial Archive of Lace Designs Selected and Arranged by Carol Belanger Grafton : I love this gorgeous collection of real, historical lace patterns. It’s honestly mouth-watering stuff.

Illustration Books

I’m not technically an illustrator, but I do still include a lot of illustration in my lettering work. Plus, it’s fun to get inspired by other art forms!

The Art of Spirited Away by Hayao Miyazaki : If you’re not familiar with this movie, or with Miyazaki, I’d 1000% recommend you grab a seat and some popcorn and check it out. It’s one of the most beautiful animated movies I’ve ever seen, and the story is also incredibly unique and interesting. This book collects the art and process drawings from the movie, and is just SO inspirational to me.

Cabinet of Natural Curiosities by Albertus Seba : This book is giant and full of beautiful and often super weird animal, plant, and insect specimens. It’s a real delight to have around.

Hope you find some exciting new books to add to your library! Be sure to share your favorite books in the comments so we can all keep expanding our resources.

Katie JohnsonComment