The best hand-illustrated books on building

Jeanie and David Stiles Author Of Cabin: A Guide to Building the Perfect Getaway
By Jeanie and David Stiles

Who are we?

As the authors of 27 hand-illustrated books, we are acutely aware of the time and skill required for good rendering. We are old-schoolers ourselves, having cut our teeth on “how-to” books before computers came into vogue. Our readers often tell us that a computer drawing does not have the same appeal and clarity as hand drawing. We are able to ‘talk’ a reader through the process of building something with our drawings. We have also found that the best illustrated books often have the best content!

We wrote...

Cabin: A Guide to Building the Perfect Getaway

By Matthew D. Kirchhoff, Jeanie Stiles, David Stiles

Book cover of Cabin: A Guide to Building the Perfect Getaway

What is our book about?

David’s illustrations are both clarifying and enchanting. If a picture is worth a thousand words, he saves the reader hours of reading. Included are over 30 short stories, most less than a page, relating anecdotes and lessons learned over our years of cabin-building and cabin–living experience. You’ll read about Eagles that give and Ravens that take, bears that break in and canaries that break out, and any building project can go wrong – very wrong.

Cabin advances this shared philosophy: The value of a getaway is less about the cabin as a building, and more about the cabin as a portal to the outdoors—a way to slow the pace of life, live simply, enjoy nature, and build meaningful memories in the company of family and friends. In the end, that’s something most people desire.

The Books I Picked & Why

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By David Macaulay,

Book cover of Cathedral: The Story of Its Construction

Why this book?

We love all of David Macauley’s books. He uses hand-drawn black-and-white illustrations to describe the enormous effort and complicated processes involved in building some of the most magnificent structures in the world, from cathedrals to castles to pyramids. Cathedral was his first, and we think the best. Although intended for young readers, there are many builders, engineers, and architects that find wonder in Macauley’s work. 

Hand Tools

By Aldren A. Watson,

Book cover of Hand Tools: Their Ways and Workings

Why this book?

Watson is both a talented artist and woodworker. He combines those skills in a number of books, but our favorite is Hand Tools. Everyone needs at least some hand tools in their shop, and they should know how to use them properly. Watson’s book contains 450 beautiful hand-drawn illustrations, in pencil, that beg to be framed and hung on the wall. The writing is close behind. 

A Reverence for Wood

By Eric Sloane,

Book cover of A Reverence for Wood

Why this book?

Eric Sloane’s books are a celebration of early American life and have a historical bent that nicely complements the artwork. Here, too, it was hard to pick which of his books rose to the top for us.  Reverence for Wood speaks to values that are enduring through the ages and will resonate with other traditional builders as they do with us. Sloane’s writing, and his illustrations, are beautiful.

Designing Your Natural House

By Charles G. Woods, Malcolm Wells,

Book cover of Designing Your Natural House

Why this book?

This is an outlier that maybe not many have heard about or read. It features two award-winning designers who define, and illustrate, some 200 “rules of good architecture”. The artwork and lettering are by Malcolm Wells—an architect well-known for his sharp wit and off-beat leanings (underground houses being one). The messaging is accurate and timeless. The tone is light, as is the author’s back-and-forth banter. Wells’s illustrations bring the message home with clarity and force. It is a book that is at the same time funny, useful, and beautiful. Good luck finding one! 

Your Cabin in the Woods

By Conrad E. Meinecke, Victor Aures,

Book cover of Your Cabin in the Woods

Why this book?

This is an oldie but goodie. It speaks to our own love of simple structures, designed to get you out in nature. The illustrations are simpler but fit in very well with the language of the era, and the personal philosophy of the author. There are floor plans, cabin renderings, and many smaller illustrations of the tools and furnishings that might go into a simple cabin. It is more than a how-to book. It is a celebration of cabin-living writ large. 

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