The best books on art of the imagination

The Books I Picked & Why

Icon: A Retrospective by the Grand Master of Fantastic Art

By Frank Frazetta

Icon: A Retrospective by the Grand Master of Fantastic Art

Why 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.


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Mirage by Boris Vallejo

By Boris Vallejo

Mirage by Boris Vallejo

Why 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.


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Transluminal: The Paintings of Jim Burns

By Jim Burns

Transluminal: The Paintings of Jim Burns

Why 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!


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The Art of Jeffrey Jones

By Cathy Fenner, Annie Fenner

The Art of Jeffrey Jones

Why 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.


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The Illusion of Life: Disney Animation

By Frank Thomas, Ollie Johnson

The Illusion of Life: Disney Animation

Why 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.


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