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5 Inspiring Art and Design Reference Books

I grew up in a house full of art and design books. With a creative Dad, who often worked from his home studio there were always plenty of books to peruse (or look up to - the best ones were kept out of reach on the top shelf - which I have now successfully "borrowed" and taken them to live with me at my home studio). As I started to take an interest in art and design myself, my Dad bought me my first books on fashion, illustration, abstract design and artists & designers for most birthdays and Christmas' throughout my teenage years. My love for these beautifully put together books began. As did a love for collecting Vogue magazines. So you can imagine the collections I have now!

I've continued to be gifted some beautiful books over the years and often take note of books that print studios and other designers are using and quickly add them to my Amazon wishlist (which I make public around Christmas time and casually drop into conversations). You shouldn't judge a book by it's cover but when it comes to art and design books you most definitely can, and should!

Reference books are one of the first tools I use to gain inspiration for a new design or collection. Whether it's a trusty floral book to draw from, a book from a recently visited exhibition or an artist or designer. What's great about books full of visual references like these is that you'll always find something to be inspired by and can use a long side a current trend or mood board to make it relevant. It could be a flash of colour as you flick through, a tiny section of a painting, a composition of a photograph or a drawing style you're yet to experiment with.

If I rounded up all my favourite reference books this would be an agonisingly long blog post. So, I've made some cuts and chosen a few of my current go-to's and books I've used for recent print design projects.

Celia Birtwell

First up, my forever favourite book for colour and vintage inspiration and really where a lot of my own style has developed from over the last couple of years. A much loved reference book has well thumbed pages and hundreds of sticky notes and scraps of paper to mark the most inspiring pieces. I gave up marking this book, because every page was just as inspiring to me as the last! It lives on my desk, right next to my computer and I flick through it on a regular basis. If I ever created a book of my own- this is what I would want it look like.

This book is a scrapbook of Celia's bohemian life. Featuring original sketches, home and fashion prints and a look into her collaboration with Ossie Clarke and life as David Hockney's muse.

Dries Van Noten

Dries has been one of my favourite designers for many years and this is one of the best designer books. A pretty hefty book, filled with photos of his collections, details of embroidery and printed garments and most inspiring of all, photos from his home and garden. Where much of his inpiration is drawn from.

If you are a fellow fan I highly recommend watching the "Dries" 2017 documentary which follows the designers life and creative world for a year as he creates four collections.


I was gifted this book recently after seeing a fellow designer post about it on Instagram. It celebrates contemporary floral designers and their personal styles within their work. Floral designs created for music videos, fashion shows, created as fine art pieces and photography subjects. Just the most beautiful floral imagery.

"Together, these floral creatives are reinvigorating the world of floristry...Not your grandmother's florist." - Victoria Clarke, Commissioning Editor.

Fashioned from Nature

As part of the V&A exhibition Fashioned from Nature, which highlighted the importance of knowing where and how our clothes are made, whilst celebrating the beauty in textiles and fashion. The exhibition explored textiles from the V&A archive spanning 400 years. From traditional uses of materials such as silk and cotton to the new techniques of cellulose fibres, hand embroidery techniques including the mesmerising beetle wings dress, hand painted prints and many sustainable practices both old and new.

This book beautifully presents vintage textile print and colour swatches, illustrations, inspiring hand craft techniques and detail shots of incredibly decorated and embellished garments. Whilst reminding us all to create and buy sustainably.

Flower Colour Guide

A floral book from Darroch and Michael Putnam, whose floral design studio Putnam & Putnam is New York's go-to for fashion shows, installations, parties and weddings. This book has been organised by colour and aims to help the reader experiment in creating the perfect floral arrangment.

The simple cut flower shots with their names handily written beside them, are also great if you paint or draw a lot of flowers! As much as I love drawing from fresh flowers, this isn't always do-able or affordable. The nice ones are expensive (especially when you've already spent all your money on books...)!! So when asked to create that floral print featuring a 'Ranunculus Asiaticus' you've got it right there. No blurry google searches or expensive florist trips. Although the occasional florist trip is recommended-nothing beats a freshly bloomed flower.

That's it, for now, but comment below if you have any favourites of your own to share. I have an Amazon wishlist just longing to be added to.

P.s Amazon is great but some of the best books are discovered in charity shops, independent retailers and artists exhibitions too!


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