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I recently found myself digging out my old art bin from storage on a Friday afternoon, sorting old paint tubes into piles — keep, toss, might still be usable — and making a list of some fresh supplies I’d need. I’ve dabbled in many art mediums throughout the years (jewelry design, perfumery, oil painting, knitting, you name it) but, seemingly out of nowhere, was filled with the desire to rekindle my long lost exploration of watercolors.
Sure, there are other projects I could be working on, but sometimes, to gather your focus and pause your speedy train of thought on current events, you just have to break it up a bit. Visual arts, especially, seem to bring a certain satisfaction when the news is overwhelming — or at least space to digest the overwhelming news.
“There is a certain type of emotional or spiritual hunger we have that isn’t answered by anything but making physical objects,” says Peter Korn, founder of the Center for Furniture Craftsmanship, in an interview with Melanie Falick in her book Making a Life (on the list below).
Occasionally, for us as humans to rediscover the joy of the present moment, it takes something we’ve never tried before or haven’t done in a long time. And quite often it’s something creative that does the trick.
Just because we’ve dealt with a stressor doesn’t mean we’ve dealt with the lingering stress. A creative activity, just for the pure joy of it, can be a soothing antidote to stress.
In Burnout by Emily Nagoski and Amelia Nagoski, creative expression is listed as one of the ways we can complete the “stress cycle” and help relieve lingering stress. “Literary, visual, and performing arts of all kinds give us the chance to celebrate and move through big emotions,” the sister researchers write.
As a lifelong creator/maker, I’ve picked out some (mostly recent) books to help you get inspired and celebrate creative living, from watercolor and botanical embroidery to the art of bonsai, paper crafting, and solo cooking. And when it comes to shopping for supplies for your new hobby? That’s a fun mood-boosting bonus.
*Books marked “new release” were published in 2019/2020.
Get this Martha Stewart book via Bookshop.
I always recommend this as a great starting point for anyone who’s interested in the basics of “making things” but isn’t quite sure what. With more than 30 techniques to browse, you’ll soon get an idea which projects you want to try, as well as which ones just don’t spark something for you.
Cake or pie? How about both?! Want to get creative in the kitchen? Either of these books is a fantastic way to get started. Linda Lomelino, of the blog Call Me Cupcake, lays out the basics to make mouthwatering recipes. Plus, these books are filled with her STUN-NING photography.
I treasure these as both cookbooks and beautiful “coffee table” books. She’s also written a few others. You’re going to want to collect ’em all.
Get Emma Block’s new release via Bookshop.
Interested in something watercolor-esque but also a little different? Emma Block’s whimsical step-by-step guide to gouache (“gwash”) is perfect for those who dream of painting inspiring subjects from everyday life. Gouache allows for more layering and texture, and it dries quickly.
Get Lisa Solomon’s new release via Bookshop.
Creative workbooks more your style? Studying color will help you in both art and life. This book allows you to learn/play with color theory while experimenting with any water-based medium of your choice. Tint, shade, mix, match, and make… the possibilities are endless.
And all that you learn can be applied to literally any form of art — or just to your personal wardrobe, if that’s your thing.
Get Melanie Falick’s new release via Bookshop.
This striking hardcover explores why it’s vital that we make things by hand, especially in the modern world. This is not a how-to book, but if you’re looking to get inspired by multiple different crafts and artists/makers, this book will not disappoint.
Author and maker Melanie Falick traveled across continents to interview quilters and potters, weavers and woodworkers, painters and metalsmiths, and more to explore how people use their art to connect, slow down, and feed the soul. Photography by Rinne Allen brings you right into their studios.
Get Lesley Ware’s workbook via Bookshop.
Yes, this book is described as being a “style and sewing workbook for any girl aged 8–13 who loves fashion,” but we say age and gender have nothing to do with it. If you want to learn how to sew, these step-by-step projects — from that LBD to a hair bow — can be a great place to start.
Get this Stephanie A. Wells how-to via Bookshop.
Raise your hand if you love wearing earrings (or know someone who does)! I’ve gotten a lot of ideas from this book and found the basic jewelry-making techniques easy to follow. The award-winning designer (whose designs have been worn by Oprah and Beyoncé) shows you how to make 40 of her signature earring styles.
Get Kazuko Aoki’s new release via Bookshop.
Channel your inner (or outer!) nature child with these embroidery designs inspired by the natural world — from dandelions and violets to mushrooms and autumn leaves. You’ll learn how to make “lifelike yet whimsical” plants and flowers, fungi, leaves, trees, and birds. Never embroidered anything before? Don’t worry — there are clear instructions and pretty photos!
Get this Michael Tran read via Bookshop.
You don’t have to be Mr. Miyagi to try your hand at trimming bonsai, but it does help to have a guidebook. Happy Bonsai helps make this meditative garden craft more accessible to everyone — even if you don’t know what a shari or nebari is *yet.*
You’ll learn about pruning branches (and roots, yes!), growing, wire training, and many more techniques. Now… what will you grow — an upright specimen, a forest group, a root-over-rock display? Let the fun begin.
Get this Lia Griffith read via Bookshop.
Some of us take after our cats in that we just love to paw at some paper. If that’s the medium you’re drawn to, or if you just love flowers without the allergies, this book shows you how to make a garden full of paper flowers and how to arrange them. Have a Cricut Maker? It also includes downloadable templates for that.
Get Christine Buckley’s new release via Bookshop.
Community-based herbalist, visual artist, and professional cook Christina Buckley includes more than 20 plant profiles in this modern guide.
It serves as an introduction and invitation to the “wild world of healing plants growing right outside your door” — from catnip and plantain to nettles and rosemary. Plus, it’ll tell you what you can (and shouldn’t) put in your mouth when it comes to plant medicine. One reviewer calls it a “solid entry into herbalism. Self-aware and user friendly.”
Get the Celestine Maddy and Abbye Churchill collab via Bookshop.
This book has a little bit of everything to help you connect creatively to nature in a fast-paced world, but what I love is that it’s structured by season. It’s a photo-rich, oversized lifestyle book that you can use however you choose — whether it be working your way through each season or just flipping to a random page.
You’ll get ideas and guidance on building a night-blooming garden, composting, making your own natural perfume or summer sandals, and much more.
Get this Klancy Miller read via Bookshop.
A lot of us are cooking solo these days, but cooking for yourself doesn’t have to be boring. In fact, it can be an art in itself! With this cookbook you won’t have to scale down ingredients, adjust cooking times, or get stuck with leftovers (unless you want to).
Klancy Miller shares 100 delicious recipes with her signature vibrance and enthusiasm. You’ll be making #InstaWorthy dishes like a smoked duck salad or a Tahitian noodle sandwich before you know it.
Get the Isa Hendry Eaton and Jennifer Blaise Kramer collab via Bookshop.
So maybe you don’t have a giant backyard — maybe all you have is a tiny backyard, a patio, or just a pot by your window or door. Gardening is not out of the question. And hello, there’s a style quiz inside this book (sign me up!). The authors recommend their favorite plants for small spaces, along with alternatives for typical (larger) garden projects.
By utilizing every inch — horizontal, vertical, overhead spaces, etc. — you might just have more gardening space than you think.
Get this Elizabeth Gilbert read via Bookshop.
I can’t put together a list of books to encourage your creativity without mentioning this one. Though you won’t find any pretty pictures inside, consider this a how-to on tapping into your creativity no matter the project or medium.
Whether you’re longing to write a book, paint a mural, or learn how to sculpt, Big Magic discusses attitude, approach, and habits to live your most creative life. Get out your highlighter, sticky tabs, or pen of choice: You’re going to want to mark a lot of “ah-ha” lines in this one.
Read/buy Grace Bonney via Bookshop.
Want to take your craft to the next level? First, look to where you want to go. This book includes more than 100 inspirational stories of exceptional and influential women who have overcome adversity, embraced their creative spirit, and set on the path of entrepreneurship. Words can’t even describe how much I LOVE this book. This is creative fuel for the soul.
You’ll find profiles of “media titans and ceramicists, hoteliers and tattoo artists, comedians and architects,” compiled by the founder of Design*Sponge. This book paints a beautiful picture of what happens when people pursue their passions and dreams.
Naomi is the book club editor of Greatist Reads and a copy editor at Greatist. She loves focusing on all things books, beauty, wellness, and mental health. She’s also a YA fantasy author and bookstagrammer. You can find her (and her cat) @avioletlife.