The best drawing books dispel the myth that artists are born, not made. We believe that nearly anyone can learn a skill, if they know what resources to use to help them learn.
That's where we come in. Whether you're just starting out or you're a seasoned artist, this list of the best drawing books will help you improve your knowledge, and provide you with some great reference material, too. While this isn't an exhaustive list, this is our pick of the best drawing books we recommend for artists, or aspiring artists, of all skill levels.
For more inspiration and advice in video or online tutorial format, take a look at our roundup of how to draw tutorials.
Sketching from the imagination: Creatures & Monsters is a fascinating book, organised by artist, which displays fantasy creature designs. A varied subject selection provides drawings of everything from dragons and fairies to mechanical structures and aliens, in all stages of development. The majority of the artwork is in black and white; however, a number of full colour illustrations pop up randomly, making for a welcome change of pace in among the monochrome. A slight downside to this softcover is that there’s no easy way (unless you’re familiar with every artist) to quickly find a specific subject matter or style of interest.
On the whole there’s very little not to like about this book. The art is accessible and fascinating in its variety, and the artistic insight is a nice added extra. Creature artists are sure to enjoy all the eye candy on view, and it’s a bargain to boot.
Andrew Loomis' Drawing the Head and Hands is a classic, and is excellent if you're looking for a solid foundation on drawing hands and heads. There's a ton of info inside, so you'll want to take it slow, especially if you struggle with drawing hands. Loomis' explanations are detailed and engaging, and it's hands-down (pun intended) the best anatomy reference book despite its age. Loomis' systematic approach will help you understand the principles behind drawing realistic portraits. Aside from the benefits of learning how to draw, Drawing the Head and Hands makes an excellent coffee table book too.
This Pocket Art: Portrait Drawing art guide is perfect for those artists looking to improve their portraiture skills. Artist Miss Led (real name Joanna Henly) breaks down the stages of portrait drawing into manageable, easy-to-understand sections, covering how to best approach creating beautiful portraits in a range of styles.
Aimed at beginners and experienced artists alike, this 112-page book acts as a solid introduction to portrait drawing techniques, but also looks at how professional artists can create fine art and commercial-style illustrations. The handy-sized book is full of expert advice and tips, backed up by plenty of exercises for readers to put into practice. Copy is minimal but covers everything it needs to, leaving more space for Miss Led’s beautiful art.
This manual is well designed, clearly written, and you’ll be hard pushed to find a bag it doesn’t fit in. Like all good tutorial-style books, it works because it’s accessible to artists of every skill level. Packed with inspirational art and very affordable, Pocket Art: Portrait Drawing comes highly recommended.
Volume 1 of Walt Stanchfield's Drawn to Life: 20 Golden Years of Disney Master Classes is a super-dense drawing book that you'll need to read slowly. Stanchfield takes a different approach to learning how to draw by focusing more on the emotions, life and action than proportions and technical accuracy. With a heavy focus on gesture drawing, don't expect a book filled with finished drawings. Drawn to Life is about capturing the moment. If you're interested in creating drawings with character and flow, this is a must-have reference.
If you're looking for some warmup sketch ideas, The Sketch Encyclopedia: Over 900 Drawing Projects is a great place to start. This drawing book breaks down each project, of which there are over 1,000, into four key steps (sketch, line drawing, and two that build up and complete the form) – making it easy to follow along. With lessons on creatures, people, buildings, famous landmarks, vehicles and nature, you're sure to find something to get you started. The Sketch Encyclopedia also includes an extensive introduction covering tools, line making, light theory, perspective and texture.
This revised 'definitive' edition of Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain by Betty Edwards is excellent for professional illustrators or drawing hobbyists. Edwards delivers a lot of interesting concepts as she encourages you to explore the importance of creative thinking. She approaches learning how to draw by teaching you how to see differently and explains everything from technique to materials. If you're an art educator, don't skip this one!
No drawing books list is complete without a word from Stan Lee and John Buscema. If you're looking for a crash course in figure drawing, or if you're an aspiring comic-book artist, animator, or illustrator, do yourself a favour and grab a copy of How to Draw Comics the Marvel Way. In addition to figure drawing, you'll learn about composition, shot selection, perspective, character dynamics, and more. Are there newer, more in-depth books out there? Sure, but if you're a comic book junkie, then you need this book.
Part of learning how to draw is learning how to have confidence in your own work. The Silver Way: Techniques, Tips, and Tutorials for Effective Character Design is written by Stephen Silver, the man behind the character design for Kim Possible, Danny Phantom, and The Fairly OddParents (to name a few). It offers guidance, encouragement, and inspiration in addition to easy-to-follow tutorials and drawing techniques.
Art Fundamentals: Color, Light, Composition, Anatomy, Perspective, and Depth by Gilles Beloeil (Assassin's Creed series), Andrei Riabovitchev (Prometheus and X-Men: First Class), and Roberto F. Castro (Dead Island and Mortal Kombat) is one of the most comprehensive drawing books on the market today. In this book, you'll discover all sorts of goodies, including the rule of thirds, rule of odds, Golden Triangle, and Divine Proportions. But it goes well beyond composition. You'll also learn about colour and light, perspective and depth, anatomy, and portraying emotions.
Drawing the Head and Figure: A How-To Handbook That Makes Drawing Easy by Jack Hamm is packed with helpful advice. You could say that this book is in direct competition with Loomis' drawing books (number 01), and you'd be correct. However, Hamm's approach to drawing the figure is more simplistic than Loomis'. His step-by-step approach will have even the most inexperienced artists drawing better and more confidently. Although some of the drawings are a bit dated, specifically the hairstyles and clothing, it's still an excellent primer for learning how to draw and can be easily applied to what you're making today.
Cartooning is fun, and in Modern Cartooning: Essential Techniques for Drawing Today's Popular Cartoons, Christopher Hart shows you the essential techniques you need to know to unleash your full potential. Aimed at beginners, Modern Cartooning takes you step-by-step through the process of creating cartoons. You'll learn how to draw faces, bodies, backdrops, and more. As an added bonus, Hart's YouTube channel regularly shares easy-to-follow, step-by-step videos on how to draw cartoons, manga, animals and everything else.
Why is an animation book included on a 'best drawing books' list? Because it's amazing! Written by Ollie Johnston and Frank Thomas, two long-term Disney animators, The Illusion of Life takes its readers back to the beginning. Although it's not a tutorial book by any stretch of the word, it does offer a lot of advice and guidance regarding styles, effects, colour selection, and more. It also formed the basis for the 12 principles of animation still used today. This drawing book will inspire you to create through its many uses of photos, paintings, sketches and storyboards – all of which can be used to help you become a better artist.
Parts of this article were originally published in ImagineFX magazine. Subscribe here.
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