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One of the questions I get asked a lot from people starting out in the Industry is what the best books are to have in a basic Art Dept. library.

As someone who has continued to collect Film, Architecture and Design books for all of my life, (resulting in a cabin being built at the end of my garden to store them all!), I always try to advise on a core collection which can be built on in the years to come. These titles include “classics” which I was advised to buy when I joined the industry, along with newer titles, all of which will, (should!), be well thumbed not only at the start of a career, but well into it!

There will always be those who insist “everything can be found on the internet”, and, often that’s very true, but using a web search in collaboration with information from a book will always bring up the best results.

Every Art Department is a collaborative effort, where the role of the younger members and their ability to reliably and correctly draw details shouldn’t be underestimated. These books will inform those starting out in the basics, whether that’s which way a brace is fitted to a wooden door, how a sash window works, the subtleties of drawing a classical moulding correctly, or knowing the appropriate brick bonding to use on a period building.

As with any list, there will never be an agreement as to what should and shouldn’t be included, (I could have included at least as many again which could be considered equally useful), so I’d welcome any additional suggestions from members of “essential” titles that have been omitted here.

Every library will grow over the years based on books purchased to help out with a given subject of a film you might work on. If you can afford it, and have the space, invest in a few titles to help you out on a project, and they will inevitably be useful in the years to come.

Although I’ve suggested below which books are available new or second hand, even the most recent titles are sometimes available from Ebay or Abe books as well as Amazon. Second hand or Antiquarian bookshops are always a great source for finding unexpected gems, often ancient tomes on Architecture or Building construction that would find few buyers other than those of us who work in the film industry!

For me, Art Dept. books fall into three main categories:

1. Architecture, Design and Building Construction, 2/ Film Design History & “Making of” books, 3/ Draughting techniques.

 The following list should cover most subjects which most commonly crop up in an Art Dept:

Architectural, Design and Building Construction:

A History of Architecture: Bannister Fletcher.

A classic. Available new or second hand. Perfect introduction to Architecture. Various editions available as it’s constantly been updated over the last 100 years!

McKays Building Construction:  McKay.

Get the Imperial copy, not metric. Either in 4 volumes second hand or now republished all in one volume new. The best book for all things constructional, with details of doors, windows, stonework etc.

Building Construction: Mitchell.

Available second hand. Elementary and Advanced volumes. Similar to McKays, but much smaller, and cheaper!

The Styles of Ornament: Speltz.

Available new. Good inspiration for everything ornamental.

 Handbook of Ornament:  Meyer.

Available new. Companion volume to Speltz.

The Orders of Architecture: Normand or

The Orders of Architecture: Stratton.

Wonderful measured drawings of Classical architecture. Both available second hand.

The Elements of Style: Stephen Calloway.

Available new. Fantastic overview of all periods of External and interior design including Architecture, Furnishings, fixtures and fittings.

Period Houses and their Details: Colin Amery.

Great measured drawings and photos of Buildings. Available second hand.

 Modern Practical Joinery: George Ellis

Available new. Brilliant construction drawings of joinery and cabinetry.

Wrought Iron in Architecture: Gerald K. Geerlings

Available new. Drawings and photos of all periods of Wrought Iron

Period Houses Fixtures and Fittings: Linda Hall

Available new. Photos and drawings of all periods of architectural details.

Rice’s Architectural Primer: Matthew Rice

Available new. A delightful compact introduction to Architectural terms. From Triglyphs to Tympanums, Apophyges to Astragals, this book has it all!

Masterpieces of Furniture: Salomonsky

Available new. Measured drawing and photographs of a wide range of furniture, including construction techniques. Invaluable.


2. Film Design History & “Making of” books:

Designing for Films: Edward Carrick.

Published in 1941 but still relevant today! Available second hand.

Designs on Film: Cathy Whitlock.

Available new. A beautiful book taking in Production Design from the earliest days to the present.

 Star Wars: The Blueprints: J. W. Rinzler:

Available new. Probably the only book to be completely dedicated to the art of film draughting, in this case the first six Star Wars films including work by some of the greatest draughtsman ever to have worked in the film industry. A must.

Harry Potter Page to Screen: McCabe

Available new. A sumptuous book celebrating the design of the Potter series, with hundreds of pieces of concept art, sketches, graphics and working drawings as well as extensive interviews with Stuart Craig.


3. Draughting techniques.

Drawing the Line: David McHenry.

Available new. A very good overview of traditional draughting for the Art Dept. including Drawing techniques, Construction, Geometry, Camera Angles, and a useful glossary. Available new.

The Art of Illusion: Terry Ackland Snow:

Available new. A useful introduction to how the Art Dept. works with examples Concept art, Draughting, Model making and behind the scenes photographs. Available new.

Draughtsmanship: R. Fraser Reeklie.

Was, for many years, the standard draughting book. Available cheaply second hand.


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