Learning from books for art, design or media students.

The use of the internet is great. Knowledge is shared rapidly and widely, but books can also be a valuable resource. They have extensive content on topics and practitioners and organise information in simple and accessible ways. As creative students, some of the learning could be about knowledge of context, history, techniques and processes, but frequently it is just about gaining inspiration. One way to maximise this inspiration and make the most of books is to respond to them.

Learning from books by responding to them

This idea comes from something I found while searching through the library. It was a really pleasant surprise to stumble across something creative a student had left behind. The short piece of research showed the student had more than simply glanced at the book, which is so common, but had actually considered it in a logical and structured way from different viewpoints:

  • What is it in the book that is interesting?
  • How is the practitioner working?
  • How could I incorporate some of the ideas from the practitioner into my own work?
  • Here is my practical response to the work (that shows I have investigated it in a visual way).

It was clear the knowledge and ideas the student had gained would remain with them and they would remember the benefits of looking at that specific book. Moreover, the reflection on the book, made them value it more.

Increasing Research using books and library in Art and design education

Responding to books

Going to the library without a focus can be enjoyable as new ideas can be stumbled across. And there is a lot to gain from picking books up at random. However, with time constraints, it can be more efficient to have a structure in place to investigate in a theoretical and a practical way.

The following are a series of exercises that can be done in response to books:

  • Write a short summary review of the book
  • Scan or photograph the most important image
  • Consider how the book is made: format, material, texture, typeface, layout
  • Outline the ideas the book inspires
  • Produce a small visual response to one of the images

Book response example

This book response to Vitamin D by Georgina Wong just showed how valuable the activity can be. She used the technique throughout her studies and learnt so much from analysing the work of artists using books. Here is her response to one of the books she found:

“The book covers a wide range of interesting new drawing. It has some good short articles explaining the artists. It relates to my project because it contains a wealth of different drawing techniques that I could use in my own work, particularly the work that combines media. I picked it because of the cover mostly and then noticed the kind of paper that it had, which is really beautiful. It’s a large book that has had a lot of love put into how it was made and is something that might work well for a present. Sam Durant was one of the artists that I noticed and this is the visual response I made to his work using spray and photocopier. I think others should look at this book if they want to get inspired about the different directions drawing can go in.”

Increasing Research using books and library in Art and design education

Further responses to books

Increasing use of books

Increasing use of books

Extending the impact – Shared learning

It is a pity that all of this useful information about the book should simply remain with one person. There are ways to share this information with the class and for it to have a life outside of an individual’s sketchbook.

The class can have a dedicated space within the studio to share the book logs. This can be changed each with week with different students’ book logs so that others can see which books the class has found and learnt from.

It is a good idea to produce this in a similarly structured format outlined above, perhaps even simply taking a photo of a page in the sketchbook that has a book log.


Book responses – beyond the classroom

The log doesn’t just have to benefit your class, but can have a life that impacts on lots of people. Printing the log twice, once for the sketchbook and once for the book itself and return it to the library. This way, many others get to see the ideas, judgments and reviews that your students have made. As this builds up, students will expect to find these in books taken from the library, perhaps even noticing if there isn’t one to be discovered.


Book response lesson plan

Download the worksheet here: Book Response – lesson plan handout

Aim: Reflect on books read throughout course and use these to inform personal work.


  • Produce an outline of a book
  • Reflect on the main issues raised and relate these to your project
  • Conclude the aesthetic or production ideas the book presents for your project
  • Respond to the book in a visual way


1. Collect an image of the book cover, a quick digital photo will suffice. The following sites can also help find an image and answer the following questions:

2. Write a few sentences on what the book was about:

  • How does it relate to your project?
  • What makes it stand out? Why did you pick it?
  • What ideas are you going to take from it?
  • Why should anyone else look at the book?

3. Note anything you noticed about the aesthetics or the production of the book, i.e. format, paper/card, texture, smell, typeface, layout, material, what it reminds you of, other media it might look like?

4. Print out your summary 3 times and put: 1x in your sketchbook, 1 x on the classroom wall and one back in the book for the library.

5. Create a small visual response to the book using any media for your sketchbook.

Daniel Freaker Daniel Freaker Educational Consultant, Painter, Writer, Designer danfreaker@processfreaks.com