The best books to help you get in touch with your inner artist

Who am I?

I’ve been obsessed with studying the artistic process for over 25 years since I got my degree in Studio Art and Art History at Vanderbilt University. After getting my MFA in Creative Writing, I headed out to Hollywood to produce national television for over twenty years. I’ve worked with many of the greatest actors, filmmakers, and writers of our time and written my own bestselling novels about artists. I read as many books on the artistic process as possible. My mission has always been to ensure that every person knows that they, too, can be artists – creating art isn’t just for the “great”, it’s for everyone. 

I wrote...

Oil and Marble: A Novel of Leonardo and Michelangelo

By Stephanie Storey,

Book cover of Oil and Marble: A Novel of Leonardo and Michelangelo

What is my book about?

Called “tremendously entertaining” by The New York Times, Stephanie Storey’s brilliant bestselling debut brings early 16th-century Florence alive while entering with extraordinary empathy into the souls of two great Renaissance artists: Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo. 

From 1501 to 1505, Leonardo and Michelangelo both lived and worked in Florence. Leonardo was a charming, handsome fifty year-old at the peak of his career. Michelangelo was a temperamental sculptor in his mid-twenties, desperate to make a name for himself. This is the fictionalized story – based on real history – of their heated rivalry that pushed them to create two of the most iconic masterpieces in all of history, in the same town, at the same time: the Mona Lisa and the David.

The books I picked & why

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How to Write One Song

By Jeff Tweedy,

Book cover of How to Write One Song: Loving the Things We Create and How They Love Us Back

Why this book?

This is not just a book for songwriters. This is a book for anyone who has ever created – or anyone who has ever dreamed of creating – any piece of art. I don’t care if you’re a writer, actor, dancer, painter, architect, or weekend crafter, this book will inspire you to approach your art in new, creative ways. Whenever I’m feeling stuck or down on my own creative output, I return to this book to find new gems in its prose to inspire me. Tweedy’s love for what he does is contagious, but it’s his embracing of the mystery and magic of songwriting that puts this book above all others.

The Creative Habit

By Twyla Tharp,

Book cover of The Creative Habit: Learn It and Use It for Life

Why this book?

I’m not a procrastinator in my creative life, but this book by the world-renowned choreographer Twyla Tharp kicked my own creative habits up to the next level. Tharp’s passion for creating art through music and dance drips off every page, and any time I open up the pages of this book, I am inspired to race back to my own creative projects as quickly as possible. This isn’t just some flaky “artist’s” book – no, it gives you practical tips on how to get over some of the biggest hurdles (like creative blocks) and how to make creating art a part of your life – every single day. Plus this bonus: beyond just my own art of writing, this book always makes me want to do something I don’t usually do with my time: dance!

Old in Art School

By Nell Painter,

Book cover of Old in Art School: A Memoir of Starting Over

Why this book?

Other people kept recommending this book to me, but I kept putting it off. I don’t know why, but I just couldn’t bring myself to read it. Once I did, the only thing I had to regret was that I hadn’t read it sooner. Now, I’ve returned to its pages time and time again to re-ignite my own love of creating and to remind me that it’s never too late to follow new creative dreams. This book makes me laugh and cry with the hope and pain of creating art, but the most important part of it to me is its relentless insistence that we all must ignore that annoying “You will never be an artist” putdown. Read this book and you will know, without a doubt, that you can be an artist if you want, no matter the obstacles. 

Conversations with Wilder

By Cameron Crowe,

Book cover of Conversations with Wilder

Why this book?

Billy Wilder was a genius filmmaker, but even if you aren’t a fan of The Apartment, Sunset Boulevard, Some Like it Hot, or any of his other movies, there is still so much for any artist to learn from his fabulous creative brain. This is a unique book, in which director Cameron Crowe (Almost Famous, Jerry McGuire) sits down to talk to Wilder – not so much about his life, as his creative process. It digs deep into the soul of a filmmaker who changed the way we all approach storytelling. I return to it about once a year to dig back into Wilder’s brain to find new advice to make my own storytelling more effective and alive. 

True and False

By David Mamet,

Book cover of True and False: Heresy and Common Sense for the Actor

Why this book?

This is probably the most challenging read here, but so worth the effort if you want to dive deep into one of the most unique artistic minds of our time. If you’re not a trained actor, you might not understand all of the nuances here – Mamet is a definite theater guy and doesn’t stop down to explain every detail here -- but any artist can learn Mamet’s biting, witty, shocking creative tips. I recommend just letting this one wash over you the first time, but if you give yourself to this text and to Mamet, it is sure to give you a new perspective on the way we all create art and hopefully inspire you to delve into some creative expression that you were always too scared to try. 

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