Freelance advice

7 essential books for illustrators

Best illustration books

Muddling through a swamp of recommended books in online shops can be a hassle. If you’re looking for the best books for illustrators, then my list might come in handy. This is a selection of the dozens of books I own on illustration, business and graphic design. I buy a lot of books and some are great and some are absolutely not worth buying. I have carefully selected seven essential books so that you don’t have to buy shitty books and get on track right away!

I have added links of online shops where you can buy the books. If you click the link and make your purchase I get a small percentage for each book bought. This way I hope to invest in new books for you to review!

How To Be An Illustrator

How To Be An Illustrator – Darrel Rees

The most perfect book if you are new in the illustration business and don’t know where to start. But also for the more experienced illustrator: this book might be your new bible.
This was one of the first books I bought when shifted from being a graphic designer to becoming an illustrator, and I found it immensely helpful. It really covers all the basics of being an illustrator, like preparing your portfolio but the author also tackles questions and problems.
My edition is a bit older which you can see by the prices in the book: prices in illustration business have gone down dramatically so €4,000 – €5,000 for an advertising job is just not going to happen any more, more like half of it. I haven’t had a look in this second edition though so maybe they have updated it!

Buy this book: AmazonBookDepository (free worldwide shipping) –

The Animators Survival Kit

The Animator’s Survival Kit – Richard Williams

You might think “what’s a book on animation doing in this list?” but this book has proven to be very useful for me over the years. Like every profession you first need to know how to do it before you can actually work it. This book has thought me a lot about drawing, about posture, movement and how to tell a story visually.

Buy this book: AmazonBookDepository (free shipping worldwide) –

Steal Like An Artist Austin Kleon

Steal Like An Artist – Austin Kleon

There are so many books that are incredibly elaborate, that this book is a breath of fresh air. It’s pocket size and you will read in a jiffy. It gives you more laid back knowledge on how to approach being an artist or illustrator in a few easy steps.

Buy this book: AmazonBookDepository (free shipping worldwide) –

Show Your Work Austin Kleon

Show Your Work – Austin Kleon

Another book of Austin Kleon on this list because this is also a must-have. In this book Austin shows you how you can promote your work (mostly online) and he has some amazing tips on how to do that. I must say, it really changed my online game a bit since reading this book.

Buy this book: AmazonBookDepository (free shipping worldwide) –

Art Inc. Lisa Congdon

Art Inc. – Lisa Congdon

Being a fan of Lisa Congdon’s work I knew I had to get this book. I appreciate the way she approaches her art business and was curious about how she came about so I ordered it. It did not disappoint: Art Inc. is filled with tips and tricks on how to promote your work and how to find different outlets for your artistic pieces. It’s good to know this book is not aimed at illustrators but more on art in general. What I liked about it is that Lisa also covers how you can earn money by selling your art online or start teaching.

Buy this book: AmazonBookDepository (free shipping worldwide) –

Creative Inc.

Creative, inc. – Meg Mateo Ilasco & Joy Deangdeelert Cho

This book is from the same series as Art, Inc. by Lisa Congdon but it’s a bit older. I got it years ago when I just started out. What I like about this book is that it covers the basics on how to start. Where How to be an illustrator dives deeper into illustration, this book is more a general guideline on how to run a creative business. And you really need to know how to run a creative business when you want to be a freelancer.

Buy this book: AmazonBookDepository (free shipping worldwide) –

Illustrating Children's books

Illustrating Children’s Books – Martin Salisbury

This one is especially for those who want to get into children’s books. It’s the most perfect book on how to build up a picture book and how to approach a project. I was lucky enough to be taught by the author Martin Salisbury in Cambridge and I do have most of his books. They’re all worth it but this one stands out for me!

Buy this book: AmazonBookDepository (free shipping worldwide) –


As I am Dutch I also got plenty of books on illustration in my native language but one book stands out for me:
Handboek voor het opzetten van een ontwerppraktijk by Kitty de Jong. I think I bought this book around the same time as I bought Darrel Rees’ book and both of them where the foundation of my illustration business.
So, if you can read Dutch I recommend getting this book without a doubt!

I hope you enjoyed this blog post. Feel free to share it and until next time!

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  • Reply Jackie Diedam at

    What a lovely post Marloes! I just bought 3 of the books you recommended!
    Thank you for sharing!

  • Reply Nathalie Orengo at

    thank you for your recommendation ! I’m likely to purchase some of them 🙂

  • Reply Natascha Zweers at

    Super tof dat je dit deelt….ik ga meteen op zoek.
    Maar je schrijft altijd hele nuttige blogs.
    En tja als je toch veren in de kont moet steken…je illustraties bekijk ik altijd met veel plezier en je dagelijkse beslommeringen zijn zo herkenbaar heerlijk.
    Ga zo door😘

    Groetjes Natascha Zweers

  • Reply Belen at

    Many thanks, I will check the library soon!

    I will suscribe to your newsletter too 🙂

  • Reply Zoë De Kooning at

    ik denk dat die Nieuwjaarscentjes op deze manier snel op zullen zijn 🙂

  • Reply Alexia at

    This is the most expensive blogpost i ever read! About to order five books!! Oh my ! Thanks for sharing.

    • Reply Marloes at

      Hahaha sorry about that! But it will help you towards a more professional attitude so it will make you money after reading it 🙂

  • Reply Alysha at

    Thanks so much for sharing! I find it hard to know which books are good, so thanks for recommending.

  • Reply Sarah at

    Dankjewel voor deze post, Marloes! Ik vind het altijd aartsmoeilijk om te weten of een boek de moeite waard is. Dit helpt geweldig. Een vraagje: is het Nederlandstalige boek ook een aanrader voor mensen uit België? Of geeft het vooral nuttige info voor ontwerpers in Nederland?

    • Reply Marloes at

      Hoi Sarah! Ik weet niet precies hoe het Belgische juridische systeem in elkaar steekt, dus dat durf ik niet precies te zeggen. Ik denk sowieso dat het handig gaat zijn, want de basistips zijn al heel fijn. Maar qua juridische aspecten zou je het altijd zelf even moeten checken 🙂

  • Reply Angelique Desiree at

    Y O U . R O C K !

    big time

    for sharing all your ins and outs

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