Saturday, September 19, 2009

Exploring & Learning--Our Magical Public Libraries & Reference Books for Artists

For weeks, I have been meaning to write about the delights of exploring public libraries. From the time my mother first took me to Muskegon, Michigan's castle-like Victorian library as a small child, libraries have held a fairy tale magic for me. Since the last post featured books and since I recently found a terrific series of photo reference books for artists, now is the perfect time for this subject.
I am an absolute library junkie and did my best to raise our sons to share that obsession. It seems particularly timely in a difficult economy to remember the remarkable resources available free of charge in public libraries. As much as I love books, I purchase relatively few--in particular, very few novels. They are free at the library; I read each one only once--why would I buy them? The library is also my favorite source for current non-fiction (often works I have heard about on public radio) like the latest nutrition book, exercise DVD, financial advice, business trends, and other works that I want to look at, but don't need to purchase. Most libraries offer wonderful additional services, such as children's story hours, student and adult programs, free computer use, and a variety of media (beyond books) available to borrow.
Admittedly, we do purchase books, too. We have kept a number of worthwhile books from our years of study and from my adventures teaching philosophy and math. I also like having reference books handy, so our shelves hold atlases (up-dated periodically), travel books, books about words and writing, nature field guides and bird books, books about architecture, home repair, sewing, knitting, music, history, and many other topics. Other long-time friends include poetry, quality art reproduction collections, and thought-provoking, spiritually meaningful books.
Of course, I also own some books that inspire and assist my painting. For example, when my own reference photos don't provide quite enough detail for accurately painting birds in a landscape, my various bird books provide rich detail about that particular species--everything from characteristic textures of feathers and subtleties of coloring to unique patterns of flight and characteristic posture when standing or perching.
Still, the world is full of wonderful books we don't own that the library can provide. The pages above were scanned from a series of books by photographer Gary Greene, who generously and explicitly invites artists to photocopy or scan and then adapt images from his books (as long as they do not try to profit from an exact copy). As always, you can click on the images above to enlarge them in order to appreciate the remarkable detail in Greene's photos. His beautiful books spark my creative process even when I don't use any of the specific images for a painting. Our library system has a number of his works, and I am currently waiting for one to come in on a transfer from another branch. The above pages appear in Artist's Photo Reference, Reflections, Textures & Backgrounds. The volume I am waiting for showcases boats and marine scenes. When it comes in, you can bet that along with it, I'll carry home an armload of additional, irresistible finds from my magical library.
Question of the day: Are you a public library junkie? What are your favorite recent library discoveries?


  1. i have subscription at a public library too. my 7 yr old child loves going there as i think i have infected her of my love in reading which hepls a lot in her studies. like you, i do purchase some books which i believe will be passed on to generations. ;)

  2. Libraries have always held sway over me too. I love the smells...the books...the pages...the quiet...the possibilities. Each book is a new adventure for me. I do buy books too, but after hauling hundreds of books around for years, I finally weeded them down to reference type, classics, and hardcovers, with a few favorites thrown in for good measure (softbacks). I also tried to instill in my girls a love for reading and for libraries. I hope they will try to do that for their own children!

  3. Thank you for visiting and for your interesting comments, Cher and Autumn. I could have guessed that you would be library fans, too, from your wide interests and creative approach to life. I am glad you responded to the question. Your children are fortunate to have such encouraging mothers.