A Few Good Books About Drawing

Whether you’re new to drawing or an aspiring pro, you can benefit from some quality reference material. This selection of drawing books will get you past sticking points while refining your knowledge of the fundamentals. Along with useful tips and examples, they explain principles of art theory at an ideal level for their audience. Theory is important to know, even for beginners, because it serves as a foundation for more advanced work. Even if you’re just trying to get some reasonable sketches down on paper, you may want to push yourself further at some point in the future. These recommended books promote a solid understanding rather than limited tricks with little potential to build upon later.

The specialty guides focus on my main subject of interest – people drawn in some flavor of realistic style. More books will be added over time as I discover new favorites. Feel free to leave your recommendations in the comments.

Bert Dodson – Keys to Drawing

Suggested for: Beginner/Intermediate

Some books preach from an Olympus far above their target audience. This one sits down with you as a friend. Keys to Drawing guides readers through a progression of exercises with a gentle learning curve and an emphasis on relaxation rather than pressure toward perfection. It emphasizes restating, or drawing new lines alongside wayward ones instead of erasing every mistake – a valuable habit for feeling out form and introducing desirable variation in one’s lines. The sample sketches tend to be loose, rough, and therefore encouraging for beginners to aspire to.

From personal experience learning these same principles in art class – and needing to relax back into that looseness when rekindling my interest in drawing – I’ll attest that they work.

JR Dunster – Drawing Portraits

Suggested for: Everyone

Faces are a real challenge for many. They’re all about placing features on a roundish skull, and the intermediate steps of drawing those features can be non-obvious and baffling. The author’s website is a great resource of its own, featuring a crosshatched style of drawing that promotes an understanding of form. It also sells a companion book with some extra material.

William Maughan – The Artist’s Complete Guide to Drawing the Head

Suggested for: Intermediate/Advanced

In addition to teaching some anatomy, Drawing the Head demonstrates how to capture form by refining shadow shapes which are easier to lay down and adjust than lines that an artist may not know where to place. It demystifies the process by showing intermediate steps in great detail. Even if you’re not into the charcoal-based chiaroscuro technique described in this book, the principles can be simulated well enough with other media.

This book also includes talk about color and some amusing monstrous creatures rendered by combining references.

Andrew Loomis – Various Works

Suggested for: Intermediate/Advanced

Providing a comprehensive and thorough view of drawing the human body, Andrew Loomis’ books are classics for a reason. They’re also out of print. Luckily, you can read them online.