The importance of personal projects can never be overstated. I started ABDZ almost 10 years ago and I have learned so much since then. The project that Mark Pearson shared on his Behance page is a good example of exercising skills to improve and learn more about our craft.
We are always looking for references and inspiration, it's part of our job as designers. The biggest goal in my opinion is to make something better learning from the materials we collect. Serafin Mendes worked on a visual re-interpretation of the book Invisible Cities by Italo Calvino (first published in 1972) for his MA in Communication Design and outcome is simply awesome. Check out a little glimpse of the process below.
Serafin is a designer from Porto, Portugal. His main focus is typography, type, and editorial design, although he is not limited to those. Recently, he started delving into the world of 3D illustration in order to combine it with typography. For more information check out https://www.behance.net/serafimmendes