Free Library of Reference Books for Artists, Illustrators, and Letterers

Free Library of Reference Books for Artists, Illustrators, and Letterers

If you haven’t stumbled upon Archive.org yet, get ready to lose some time sifting through beautiful old books.  Archive.org is a non-profit with a mission of providing universal access to books, so anyone without access to libraries can still view, print, and share the wealth of knowledge stored in the library. 

If you’re like me and you live in a tiny city with a library that basically just has romance novels and kids books, then this resource is a lifesaver. The site is an incredible bank of imagery for artists, designers, and anyone with a penchant for old books, so beware if you have important things to get done today!

Their books in the creative commons are always available for viewing, but newer books require an account to view. If you create a free account you can “Borrow” books for 14 days.  So just like a real library, books can be checked out, and you can join a waitlist for any books that are already checked out by someone else.

One important note for artists and designers using these books as references — books that are 100+ years old are typically in the creative commons and are safe to use as a reference in your work.  However I wouldn’t recommend using anything under 100 years old because it could still be protected by a copyright. Archive.org allows anyone to upload books, so be sure to check the date printed on the book before using anything in your artwork!

A quick tip for searching the site to be sure you look at the oldest books first:

  1. Enter a search term and tap GO (I searched for ‘botanical illustrations’)
  2. Select ‘Search Text Contents’ under the search bar so that you’re only searching books (not videos or single images)
  3. Set the search order to ‘Date Published’
  4. Reverse the sort order by clicking the little arrow by the words ‘Sort By’

I have found so many amazing books on this site, I couldn’t possibly share them all here, but I wanted to share a few examples of the beautiful imagery you can find:

Lettering

Looking for some inspiration for your hand lettering or font making? There is no end to the amount of typography inspiration on this site. Tip: once you find a book you like, scroll down below it to see similar books. I found most of the books listed here that way!

1914, Art Alphabets and Lettering by  John Mauritz Bergling

1906, The Signist’s Book of Modern Alphabets by Freeman Delamotte

1874, Specimens of Chromatic Wood Type, Borders, etc. by Wm. H. Page & Co.

Decorative Elements

If you’ve ever wished you had a go-to resource for borders, flourishes, and illustration ideas, check out these three books for tons of ideas.

1891, The Embroiders Book of Design by John Mauritz Bergling

1902, Progressive Design for Students by James Ward

1916, Painters’ and Decorators’ Work by Henry Dowling

Botanicals

Whether you’re looking for fine line drawing, watercolors, or just composition ideas, you’ll find a seemingly never ending supply of botanical inspiration on Archive.org!

1765 book Yama No Sachi by Ryusui Katsuma

1815 book The Botanical Register by Sydenham Edwards, John Talbot Earl of Sherwsbury

That is just a tiny sampling of some of my personal favorites, but of course you’ll discover tons of books that fit your personal style and interests.  Discover something interesting? Send me a message, I’d love to see it!

Not sure how to use these resources? Check out my class on Art Nouveau Illustration to see how I turn vintage inspiration into modern illustrations.


Create an Illustration Series: From Inspiration to Print

In this class, you’ll learn how to plan and create an illustration series from start to finish.  I’ll show you my whole process from planning the series to printing out the work and evaluating color options.

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Create Beautiful Procreate Texture Brushes: Ink on Paper to Digital Brush

In this class, you’ll learn how to create Procreate texture brushes using some paper, ink, and found objects that you probably already have at home!

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Art Nouveau Illustrations on Your iPad in Procreate + Free Brushes, Stamps, & Textures

Learn how to create three different kinds of Art Nouveau style illustrations on your iPad in Procreate and get all of my art nouveau style stamps and reference images.

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Collages on Your iPad in Procreate + 35 Stamp and Texture Brushes

Learn how to create unique collages in Procreate by combining vintage images, hand drawn elements, and layer effects. When you watch this class, you’ll get all of the Procreate brushes I use to create my collages.  The set includes 25 stamps of flowers, insects, figures, and shapes, plus a set of 8 texture brushes for adding vintage patterns, fading, and scuffs to your collages.

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Geometric Vector Illustration in Affinity Designer + 33 Geometric Vector Assets

Learn how to create vector based geometric illustrations on your iPad in Affinity Designer.  When you take this class, you’ll get all of the vector assets and colors I use in the class, including 33 customizable vector illustrations that you can use for personal or commercial use.

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Society 6 for iPad Artists and Designers: Sizes, Orientations, and Sharable Mockups

In this class, you’ll learn how to create and fill your Society6 shop using your iPad. You’ll learn how to create and prepare work for Society6, and get tons of tips for maximizing the number of products you have for sale and minimizing the amount of time you spend uploading and resizing.

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Folk Illustrations on Your iPad in Procreate + Free Paper Texture & Folk Art Brushes for Procreate

Learn three different ways to create modern folk style illustrations on your iPad in Procreate.