20 Books That Will Breathe Life Into Your Creative Side, Because Anyone Can Be Inspired

BOZHOU, CHINA - JULY 02: (CHINA OUT) Art teachers paint cartoon characters on stones in front of a shopping mall on July 2, 2015 in Bozhou, China. Five art teachers from a children's studio painted cartoon characters to make the city beautiful and promote their studio. (Photo by ChinaFotoPress/ChinaFotoPress via Getty Images)
Source: ChinaFotoPress/Getty Images News/Getty Images

Pinterest may have revitalized DIY culture, but that doesn't mean everyone is in on the game. Let's face it: some of us just aren't that creatively inclined. Expectations vs. Reality posts abound online, the most recent of which — that absymal Elsa cake — proves even professionals aren't up to today's DIY standards.

Creativity and talent are two different things — that's why idea people and design people aren't always one and the same. Just because you don't think you're creative doesn't mean you can't be, however, and even if you failed arts & crafts at summer camp, the painting party success shows you can still have fun creating something that doesn't turn out as planned.

If you haven't gotten artsy in a while, clear some space on your calendar for creative time. Whether you like to sew, draw, paint, write... whatever makes your creative side happy, I found 20 books here that will inspire your next project.

I'd like to think I've covered all the bases here, but please don't be offended if I've left out your favorite medium. As I've said before, I think cross-pollination in the art world is vital. So, who knows? Maybe a book on typography will inspire a sculptor, or a book on fashion will inspire a writer. No matter your medium, I hope these books inspire your creative side.

'Japanese Street Style' by Pat Lyttle

If you’re into quirky fashion, you know Japanese youth and South Korean popstars have spent the last several years at the forefront of amazingly cool clothing choices. Pat Lyttle’s Japanese Street Style catalogs the Harajuku and Shibuya Districts’ major fashion movements. Flip through it to find inspiration for your next clothing DIY.

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'Wonderbook: The Illustrative Guide to Creating Imaginative Fiction' by Jeff VanderMeer

Wonderbook is a Hugo-nominated creative guidebook from award-winning author Jeff VanderMeer. Although it’s geared toward writers, the book’s lush illustrations will inspire anyone, regardless of medium. Fantasy and sci-fi fans contemplating composing their own novels will benefit from VanderMeer’s strategies and advice.

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'Unbored: The Essential Field Guide to Serious Fun' by Joshua Glenn and Elizabeth Foy Larsen

Unbored is meant for children, but that’s no reason for you to pass it over. I mean, how long has it been since you did a science experiment, went geocaching, or tried to invent a new gadget? Keep this book on-hand for the days when you’ve got nothing to do and your Netflix queue is just too intimidating.

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'The Knot Ultimate Wedding Lookbook' by Carley Roney

OK, before you roll your eyes and click away, just hear me out: this book is great even if you aren’t planning a wedding. Sure, it’s probably more useful if you are, but there’s nothing to say you can’t use wedding photography to inspire other projects. The Knot Ultimate Wedding Lookbook is chock-full of color palettes, flower arrangements, food, decor, and table settings to inspire your next home improvement project.

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'Graffiti World' by Nicholas Ganz

Since graffiti is probably illegal in your area, I am in no way encouraging you to get out and spray paint some public property. (I’m not discouraging you, either.) Graffiti and its artists are misunderstood and mislabeled as miscreant, even though its as valid and interpretative an artform as any other. Graffiti World will give you a look at street art from around the globe, primed for your inspirational pleasure.

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'The Repurposed Library: 33 Craft Projects That Give Old Books New Life' by Lisa Occhipinti

I’ve done it, but I’m still not entirely comfortable turning books into arts & crafts projects. It unsettles me; books are friends, not — artistic — food. However, books do fall into disrepair. When that happens, Lisa Occhipinti’s The Repurposed Library is there to help. From a book lamp to a Kindle case, this is a title full of great projects that will help you turn your home into a bookish paradise.

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'Kaleidoscope: Ideas & Projects to Spark Your Creativity' by Suzanne Simanaitis

Kaleidoscope is an eclectic collection of ideas, projects, and strategies for kindling — or rekindling — your creative flame. Simanaitis’ book is designed to get you working in new media, but feel free to try out the familiar first. So long as you draw, write, or craft your way toward a creative breakthrough, nothing else matters.

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'Simple Scrapbooks: Step-by-Step Decorative Journals' by Donna Downey

We’re in the middle of a personalized planner renaissance. Coupled with this craze, the mounting evidence that journaling is good for you should inspire anyone to take up some form of daily writing practice. If you decide to do it, Donna Downey’s got your back. Simple Scrapbooks has plenty of projects for scrapbooking and journaling beginners to get into the habit.

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'Lotta Prints: How to Print with Anything, from Potatoes to Linoleum' by Lotta Jansdotter and Jenny Hallengren

Remember when you were a little kid and you made paint stamps from apples, potatoes, and other fruits and veggies? Lotta Prints is basically the grown-up version of that. Artist Lotta Jansdotter has projects for anyone at any level of experience, from stamping wrapping paper to stenciling your walls. 

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'Domino: The Book of Decorating' by Deborah Needleman, et al.

Every so often, I get a wild hair and want to redecorate my house, often in ways bigger than my budget will allow. When you need interior design inspiration, turn to Domino. Deborah Needleman has strategies for decorating every room and space in your home, including idea boards you can mine for ideas.

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'642 Things to Write About' by San Francisco Writers' Grotto

Need to bust your writer’s block, or want to try your hand at some flash fiction? Check out 642 Things to Write About. Packed with short and mid-length writing prompts, this book is the perfect way to ease — or dive — into the writing life. 

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'Where Women Create: Inspiring Workspaces of Creative Women' by Jo Packham and Brad Mee

Now that the she-shed craze has renewed interest in women’s spaces and ateliers, it’s the perfect time to pick up Where Women Create. Even if you aren’t looking to design your own creative space, looking at the places where other creatives work may inspire you to rework a ritual or revitalize your own work in some way.

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'1,000 Steampunk Creations: Neo-Victorian Fashion, Gear, and Art' by Grymm, et al.

Speculative fiction fans know it doesn’t get much better than steampunk. Whether you’re already a fan or haven’t yet experienced the hype, Grymm’s 1,000 Steampunk Creations will inject your generative spirit with brass cogs and leather. Trust me, you’re going to love it.

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'The Art of Video Games: From Pacman to Mass Effect' by Chris Melissinos and Patrick O'Rourke

It’s a microhistory! It’s an art book! It’s your next source of inspiration! It’s… The Art of Video Games! Author Chris Melissinos digs into the heart of the industry’s graphic design landmarks and presents screen caps as art prints. If you’ve never thought of video game art as, well, art, now is the time to start.

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'Schott's Original Miscellany' by Ben Schott

Unlike the other books on this list, Schott’s Original Miscellany isn’t a creative book per se. But by giving you a wide array of informative lists and stories you can use as inspirational seeds, any miscellany — and especially Ben Schott’s — is an indispensable book for creative people’s bookshelves.

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'Creative Lettering and Beyond' by Walter Foster Creative Team

Everyone loves typography, but not everyone can replicate the gorgeous signage and hipster iconography you see on Pinterest. Seriously, I’ve tried. Thankfully, Creative Lettering and Beyond is here to help. The Walter Foster Creative Team have assembled tutorials and tips suitable for artists at any level. You’ll learn about tools and techniques for almost any typography project, and find plenty of exercises to help you get started.

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'1000 Ideas for Creative Reuse: Remake, Restyle, Recycle, Renew' by Garth Johnson

When I first picked up 1000 Ideas for Creative Reuse, I thought it was going to be the best how-to DIY book ever. I was wrong. The book is absolutely fantastic, but it’s not an instruction manual; it’s a lookbook. Inside, you’ll find detailed images of art made from refuse, including fashion, installation, and home decor, complete with the artists’ names and locations. This book might not tell you how to do anything, but it’s certain to get your creative juices flowing.

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'Digital Art Wonderland: Creative Techniques for Inspirational Journaling & Beautiful Blogging' by Angi Sullins and Silas Toball

If you already know how to use Photoshop, but you aren’t great at it, Digital Art Wonderland can take your skills to the next level. Angi Sullins and Silas Toball’s book is tailored for bloggers looking to use their digital manipulation skills to increase web presence and success, but anyone interested in digital art will benefit from reading it.

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'How to Make Books: Fold, Cut & Stitch Your Way to a One-of-a-Kind Book' by Esther K. Smith

I used to love making books, but — having grown up between the zine craze and its revival — I never had much use for the skill. As any creative knows, however, not having a use for a craft is no excuse to not have fun with it. For anyone who enjoyed stapling together paper and felt as a kid, How to Make Books is here to help you recapture the magic of your childhood.

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'Urgent 2nd Class: Creating Curious Collage, Dubious Documents, and Other Art for Ephemera' by Nick Bantock

Mixed-media artists will undoubtedly be familiar with Nick Bantock’s work. For them — and everyone else — there’s Urgent 2nd Class, the author’s guide to his own signature style. This isn’t a book for serious artists, in that it doesn’t call for the purchase of expensive materials or lengthy amounts of time. All you need is a copy machine, some old documents, and a little imagination.

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