Dave Bell's bookshelf provides unlikely sources of inspiration

7 November 2018
Reading Time
5 minute read

As the creative director of KesselsKramer you’d expect Dave Bell to have a fair amount of sought after art books lining his shelves. But Dave’s bookshelf actually turns out to be sort of limitless. “In mine there are photo books, design books, unread books, Christmas stocking filler books, clever books, stupid books, books about how to write and how not to write,” he tells It’s Nice That. “There is a book solely dedicated to apostrophes and swearing. There are books made by KesselsKramer and books made about KesselsKramer. There are gaps where books have been lost, books that I borrowed from friends but never returned, and almost all of them are dog-eared, and torn, scribbled on and have backs carelessly broken.”

In this week’s Bookshelf, Dave picks a few of his favourite gems from his own collection, with a particular focus on children’s books. “If you have kids, you read a gazillion books a day. But it’s often the same book over and over again until eyelids droop (yours not the kids). For me, then, it means that some of the most influential books around me are aimed at children.”

And so, the children’s books bought for his family have become an unlikely creative tool for Dave, explaining how “communication – in branding, design and advertising – is often concerned with the perfect marriage (or better, affair) between word or picture. And of presenting and condensing ideas with meaningful words, but as few of them as possible,” he suggests. “Books aimed at children can therefore be an endless inspiration for work.”

Below, Dave shares his story of the bookshelf, beginning “with the children’s stories that have passed the ‘can it be read 5,000 times in a day’ test.”

Mac Barnett and Jon Klassen: The Wolf, The Duck and The Mouse

Most kids’ books don’t get it right. Many have great images but not words. Or vice versa. But every now and then, a perfect book comes along with a perfect marriage between story and illustration. This book by Klassen and Barnett continues the story of Prokofiev’s fairy tale symphony Peter and the Wolf and imagines what happens next to the duck that got eaten whole by the wolf.

Mac Barnett’s creative writing tutor at college was David Foster Wallace. Jon Klassen invents hilarious stories about hats. You don’t need kids to find it philosophical, poetic, clever and very silly. It’s this generation’s Where the Wild Things Are and worth starting a family for.

Spike Milligan: A Children’s Treasury of Milligan

Talking of silly, everyone needs Spike Milligan on their bookshelf. He took surrealism and the absurd to a beautiful level, one that felt both subversive and approachable. His illustrations are endearing and his nonsense poems are ridiculously good. The one about rain is probably the best poem ever written, by man, woman or poet laureate. I bought it for the kids, but, sod them, I really bought it for myself.

Homer Sykes: Once a Year: Some Traditional British Customs

Fleamarkets are what the internet could have been if the monopolised Silicon Valley nerd-gods hadn’t gotten so greedy. This book was bought at a fleamarket, somewhere in Europe. Or maybe it was a car boot sale in Britain. The same Britain that proudly flies the flag of inspired stupidity. From tabloid headlines to Twitter put downs to Brexit (#politics), if we’re looking for inspiration, look no further than ourselves. This book gives an insight into all the local customs around the British isles, customs that make The Wickerman look like a normal occurrence. The photos are amazing, especially The Burryman, a custom in South Queensferry near Edinburgh where a local is covered in burrs to divine a decent herring catch. But it’s the stories that are worth digging into and prove that as a nation, we’re really strange. Read about the boggans in the Haxey Hood Game and tell me that you’re not proud to be a Brit.

Matt Madden: 99 Ways to Tell a Story: Exercises in Style

If you’re stuck for an idea, if you are at a dead end, if you have writer’s/designer’s/architect’s/doctor’s block, then reach for this book. It won’t give you the answer, but it will show you that one simple story can have endless – or 99 at least – interpretations if you just think about it from different perspectives. Madden’s book is a marvellous, modern retelling of Raymond Queneau’s 1947 book which reimagined a single passage in 99 literary styles. Spoiler alert: Raymond’s version has no pictures. Matt spins a short, absent-minded journey to his fridge into various visual styles from Manga, to political cartoon, to a voyeur’s point of view.

John Krausz: How to Buy An Elephant

There’s not much to say here except that if you read this book, the wisdom and enlightenment you receive will stand you in good stead for a lifetime. Especially if you want to restore the “apparently dead”.

Desmond Morris: Manwatching

A library book that was never returned. Apologies to Bolton library for that. Manwatching is a 70’s anthropological guide through the hairless monkeys’ various tics, signal gestures and traits and investigates what the hell they mean, if anything. 23 years ago, as a junior in some ad agency, I used this to peel back the skin on human behaviour. It’s all pretty obvious stuff, looking back, but beyond the nostalgia, there’s something to be said for using reference books for inspiration rather than searching online. It means you have to take your time, leaf the pages, consider and think at a slow, useful pace.

Edwin A Abbot: Flatland

If you’re going to buy one book by a Victorian schoolteacher and theologian, then let it be this one. The best way to describe it, if I was giving a movie pitch, is that it’s a science fiction novel about shapes of all shapes from 2D upwards. Really it’s about hierarchy and the class system. You won’t read another book like it. It’s probably the most original, subversive and smartest books ever written (about shapes).

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About the Author

Lucy Bourton

Lucy joined It’s Nice That as an editorial assistant in July 2016 after graduating from Chelsea College of Art. In October 2016 she became a staff writer on the editorial team and in January 2019 was made It’s Nice That’s deputy editor. Feel free to get in contact with Lucy about new and upcoming creative projects or editorial ideas for the site.


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