The best books on art of the imagination

Who am I?

As a fantasy and science fiction artist, or imaginative realist, I have always gravitated toward works of imagination and own many books on artists in this field, and love them all. Having met many of my artistic heroes this was a tough call so I picked the five that books that resonated with me during my early life and exploration of this most fantastic form of expression. I hope they fill you with the same wonder as they did with me.


I wrote...

The Sci-Fi & Fantasy Art of Patrick J. Jones

By Patrick J. Jones,

Book cover of The Sci-Fi & Fantasy Art of Patrick J. Jones

What is my book about?

This book is a collection of my fantasy and science fiction art over a period of ten years. Each painting chronicles my place in the world of art at the time and includes anecdotes on how each painting evolved, along with the trials and tribulations of my years as an illustrator transitioning into fine art. The book is also a testament to the pursuit of quality by Korero Press who indulged me by printing the biggest images possible in the highest quality.

Shepherd is reader supported. When you buy books, we may earn an affiliate commission

The books I picked & why

Book cover of Icon: A Retrospective by the Grand Master of Fantastic Art

Why did I love this book?

This was the first book compiled by Cathy and Arnie Fenner on the art of grandmaster fantasy artist Frank Frazetta. My first thought was to choose the Ballantine collection of his work because of its nostalgic quality (I was fifteen when I bought it), but this much later Underwood collection went way beyond a simple collection of art due to the care and love put into the production by the Fenner’s, who knew frank personally and admired his art. It's a big art book and the images fill the pages. If I have one gripe about art books in general it’s that the images are nearly always too small, not so here, this is a beautiful showcase that I have treasured and re-read hundreds of times.

By Frank Frazetta,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Icon as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

This volume follows the work of fantasy artist, Frank Frazetta. Born in Brooklyn in 1928, he absorbed the colourful pulp adventures of Tarzan and Flash Gordon, and in the 50s he excited the next generation of fantasy lovers with his illustrations of Vampirella and Conan the Barbarian.


Mirage by Boris Vallejo

By Boris Vallejo,

Book cover of Mirage by Boris Vallejo

Why did I love this book?

Once again I could have chosen the old Ballantine Edition, ‘the art of Boris’ for nostalgic reasons but this was the book I drooled over most as a young working illustrator. The fact that a living artist could paint in oils with such finesse was astonishing to me. One of those rare books I bought multiple copies to study from over the years (I cut the pages out and tape them to my easel for inspiration). Decades later Boris would graciously write the foreword to my first book ‘sci-fi and fantasy oil painting techniques’, which was the honour of a lifetime.

By Boris Vallejo,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Mirage by Boris Vallejo as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

ENTER A WORLD BEYOND YOUR WILDEST DREAMS...A world of sensational sex goddesses...brazen, muscled men...incredible, mythical beasts. MIRAGE Few artists are as imaginative, skillful, and versatile as Boris Vallejo.


Book cover of Transluminal: The Paintings of Jim Burns

Why did I love this book?

Although all the other books on this list feature American artists this pick is by an astonishing Welsh artist. As a young illustrator in London, I was aware of Jim's incredible work and still own a well-worn copy of his first art book from that period. Unlike his American counterparts, Jim worked mostly in acrylics with some airbrush, and he greatly influenced me with his sense of atmosphere and the scale of his imagination. The fact that we both worked in London at the same time, In the same field, and never met until recently makes me a little melancholy. They say you shouldn't meet your heroes; I find this not to be true. Once again Nice big full-page images, as all art books should be!

By Jim Burns,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Transluminal as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

This new collection of paintings reveals Jim Burn's idiosyncratic obsessions and fantasy visions rendered in a photo-realistic style. They are accompanied by his own witty and informative text, explaining the thoughts behind each one. Included are anecdotes from science fiction writers who worked with him.


The Art of Jeffrey Jones

By Cathy Fenner (editor), Annie Fenner (editor),

Book cover of The Art of Jeffrey Jones

Why did I love this book?

Jeff Jones was a giant of fantasy illustration who followed in the footsteps of Frank Frazetta with great success, although the two men couldn't have been further apart in personality. Tired of restrictive art direction Jeff left illustration to evolve his style into fine art. He was one of those rare fantasy artists whose later works were stronger than his early works.

Jeff was a complex and tortured soul; an alcoholic who changed gender later in life to his own regret– a life lived to extremes. Jeff befriended me briefly online before his untimely death and it was wonderful to engage with him. Once again the Fenners created a labour of love here and the book is filled with full-page images and illuminating text.

By Cathy Fenner (editor), Annie Fenner (editor),

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Art of Jeffrey Jones as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

From the 1960s through the early 1980s Jeffrey Jones was one of the most respected creators of fantasy and science fiction art. Comfortable as both a book cover illustrator and as a comics artist, Jones gained a large and loyal following that resulted in his being honored with a World Fantasy Award for Best Artist. Renowned for his paintings for the works of Robert E. Howard and Fritz Leiber, Jones' atmospheric style became a major influence on subsequent generations of artists. Though he left the commercial field in the late '80s to devote his full attention on Fine Art, Jones…


The Illusion of Life

By Frank Thomas, Ollie Johnston,

Book cover of The Illusion of Life

Why did I love this book?

I bought this book many years ago when I couldn't really afford it. But there it was, a single, beautiful copy sitting on the floor in Floyd's bookstore in London, and I had to have it more than food or shelter. The anecdotes by the animators made me feel part of those early days at Disney Studios. The book has great warmth and is beautifully illustrated. The first edition, which I bought, was luxuriously huge with heavy stock and high-resolution printing, and cost a small fortune, but today it can be bought at a third of the cost with thinner pages, but is still a great book to own and an incredible bargain.

By Frank Thomas, Ollie Johnston,

Why should I read it?

5 authors picked The Illusion of Life as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The most complete book on the subject ever written, this is the fascinating inside story by two long-term Disney animators of the gradual perfecting of a relatively young and particularly American art from, which no other move studio has ever been able to equal.

The authors, Frank Thomas and Ollie Johnston, worked with Walt Disney himself as well as other leading figures in a half-century of Disney films. They personally animated leading characters in most of the famous films and have decades of close association with the others who helped perfect this extremely difficult and time-consuming art form. Not to…


5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in art, traditionally animated filmss, and painting?

9,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about art, traditionally animated filmss, and painting.

Art Explore 154 books about art
Traditionally Animated Filmss Explore 16 books about traditionally animated filmss
Painting Explore 54 books about painting

And, 3 books we think you will enjoy!

We think you will like Understanding Comics, How to Draw Comics the Marvel Way, and The Art and Flair of Mary Blair if you like this list.