Oops! It appears that you have disabled your Javascript. In order for you to see this page as it is meant to appear, we ask that you please re-enable your Javascript!
Coffee Table Art Books
Get Inspired

Coffee Table Art Books – Is that still a thing?

coffee table art books

I’m such a snob. I don’t mean to be, but there are some things that I feel so strongly about that I can’t be neutral. Heck, I don’t even want to sit in the middle of the road on this one. And coffee table art books are one of my snobby downfalls. So please bear with me as I wax poetic about a subject that is close to my heart.

My mother was an artist. She graduated from Art Center in Pasadena California in the ’40’s. She worked for Gallo vineyards designing their labels and signs, and later for the Phoenix Sun in the days when fashion ads were drawn with bold, assured lines, depicting some delicious new fashion.

The reason I’m telling you this though is not for bragging rights. It’s to tell you that she also collected art books. Lots of them. I would sit for hours and slowly turn the pages of these big, beautiful books. They weren’t known then as coffee table art books, they were used by artists for reference, for inspiration, and just for the sake of perusing.

coffee table art books

As I was a child at the time I can’t attest as to whether people bought them as they seem to now, as a thing that belongs on coffee tables, not as something to be used, valued, and loved. I have to wonder how many times most big, beautiful art coffee table books even get opened, the ones that sit in the place of honor on a coffee table.

As you can probably tell, I’m a bit snarky about these books. I truly don’t mean to be, I just don’t seem to be able to help myself.

Coffee table books – Big and beautiful

My mother and I never really got along. Maybe we were too much alike in some ways. I don’t know, and at this point in my life, don’t really care. But she did engender in me a love of books that has never wavered.

There is nothing like walking into a library, book store or used book store and taking a good whiff. There is a smell associated with books. The binding, the paper, the glue, perhaps even the ink. It always sets me up for the anticipation of finding a gem, because while I do live in a shoe box and have very little space, wait for it, I have a storage unit.”Image result for books

And more to the point, I am hoping to not live here forever. It would be lovely to have room so that all my friends could be displayed instead of being hidden away in plastic bins. I seem to have a problem. Maybe I’m a book hoarder. I can’t pass a used book store without going in and checking out what they have in stock.

Coffee table art books come in all shapes and sizes, and cover a plethora of topics, from cowgirls, to the naked body. From grand landscapes to small, intricate interiors. If ever you need an idea or to jump start your creative process, art books can help.

“How To” books – a way to jump start a project

I also buy books about the “how to” end of any given medium. The wonderful thing is that while technology has progressed, many of the techniques and the thought processes that go into the creation of a specific method may not. There are pearls of information and wisdom that can be picked up by reading through any how to art book.

There have even been times when I will be looking through an old book and find an answer to a question I may have. It’s funny how sometimes specific wording will get through my thick skull when I have been stuck. Even though I may have tried to find an answer in the more modern way, by googling.

Simply the act of pulling a book in front of me and flipping through the pages fills me with satisfaction. Looking at the glossy pages and reading the text that goes with it often leaves me with a feeling of awe that the book even exists. Especially given todays attitude about paper and books in general.

E-books vs books with paper and covers – A personal choice


Now don’t get me wrong. I have a kindle. But googling is right up my alley. I can find answers faster and more efficiently than flipping through art books. And, if I am in a hurry and need specific information, I find it a superior way to find what I need.But to me, looking at images on my computer screen is nowhere near as satisfying as lovingly turning the pages of a book I have bought at the second hand book store.

It fires my imagination and fuels my need to work. It leads me from point A to, well sometimes point B. But more than that, it allows my mind to wander, to wonder and many times it starts the glimmer of an idea for a new series, or how to solve a problem I may be having with one under construction.

Are books even necessary? Will a video do?

If you are not a reader, and I know there are many people who simply feel that reading anything longer than the ingredients on a bottle is as much reading as they want to do, there are always videos.

I love videos. Especially the ones on YouTube. Most of them are not only informative, but you can actually watch the artist creating something which answers a question you may not have even known you had.

Now, there are always the stinkers. The videos where you can’t understand a word that is being said, even if you may be fairly sure the artist is speaking English (or whatever). Or the overall sound quality sucks, or the camera has a vibration or isn’t wholly in focus (which drives me crazy).

There are the ones where the artist rambles and goes on and on about something that has very little to do with what the video is supposedly about. Sigh.

But in that way video is much like books. Some are concise and are easy to follow, and some are only good for the recycle bin. But that is the wonderful thing. You have a choice, many of them actually and can almost always find something to answer questions, to start a new line of thought, to begin a new medium or technique.

Ain’t life grand?

Choices, choices…

I am a bibliophile as well as an artist. It’s in my nature. It doesn’t keep me from using the internet, reading ebooks or watching videos. I do it all. But in the end, because of my love of books, I am a collector and page turner of art books.

To me they are like gold. They hold memories, they spur me forward. Sometimes just the sight of a title reminds me of something that I found interesting or inspiring.

The bottom line is, it doesn’t matter what your choice of inspiration and information is. What matters is that it works for you. If you don’t find yourself waxing poetic about your research tools, try something different.

It may be in your approach or the format of the information presented. Find what works for you and love what you do.

Please let me hear from you. What is your favorite way of finding information and inspiration?






Please follow and like us:


  • Lucy

    I love this post! So much in common… and I love coffee table art books, can’t beat them. I collect them, especially self published artists books, picture books, sketchbooks, graphic novels, and anything else in the visual books sector too unique to be a top seller. These books are not just about the information in them, the form is part of the message. The size and shape of the book, the weight, the type of cover, all add to what the book is about. Its an experience, and you only get that from artists books, where every aspect of the book has been considered and chosen carefully to add just the right feel to the experience. Of course if I’m researching information I’ll use the internet, and reference books, and theory books. But if I want to indulge in a unique experience for a 5 minute break, to enter into a little universe for a bit, I’ll pick up a physical artists book, tactile, different, away from a work screen. Thanks for the post!

    • Candace Mahler

      It was great to read your wonderful reply. I totally agree that everything about an art book make it a very personal experience between the artist and the reader. I’m also glad that there are those of us who actually look at all of the choices, ie. cover, size, paper weight etc. and know that each item was chosen for a reason by the artist. Many times I can just look at the spines and remember what the insides had to offer. Sort of weird, but oddly satisfying.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *