When I made the decision to learn to draw, the first thing I did was go online to Amazon. There I began browsing for a “how-to” book that would teach me all I needed to know. Of course, at that time, I didn’t really think I could actually learn to draw, so trying to find the right book wasn’t easy. I checked out a number of titles, downloaded samples, and over and over again, I shook my head. Most of the books I previewed looked far too difficult for a beginner like me, even ones that claimed to be written for “absolute” beginners.
Finally, I came across “Drawing Lessons for Beginning Artists” by Kate Berry. Instead of finding long lists of supplies I would need or complicated illustrations I was expected to copy, I was greeted with “Step 1: How to Draw a Straight Line.” That’s when I knew this was the book for me. I bought it at once, and that ninety-nine cent purchase went on to totally change my life.
Now, I’m making another important decision. I want to learn to draw better. Unlike my initial skepticism six years ago, I now know that drawing is a skill that can be learned, and I believe it’s a skill that can be improved. So, I’m searching again for the right book for me at this stage of my pursuit of art.
Since first embarking on my journey, I have purchased a number of “how to draw” books. I’ve read some all the way through, worked in a hit and miss fashion through a few others, and have mostly ignored some for one reason or another.
I thought it would be helpful, not only for me but for others who are wanting to learn to draw or who would like to improve their drawing skills, to take a look at some of the most popular and most highly-recommended books in the “how-to-draw” field.
Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain by Betty Edwards
This one has been around for quite some time, and whenever “art books” are mentioned, this title is sure to come up. Originally published in 1979, Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain has gone through several editions, including a “new” version, as well as a “definitive fourth edition”, a “starter kit”, and a workbook. One of the noted features in her drawing instruction is the concept of drawing upside-down. For what it’s worth, scientific studies with beginning artists have shown that the “upside-down” approach doesn’t work. The beginning students who were tested turned out better drawings — all faces — when the illustrations they were copying from were upright. Still, the book remains popular, and is considered “the world’s most widely-used instructional drawing book.” My feelings about this seminal work is that it is worth reading — and the exercises worth trying — if you’re already familiar with the basic principles of drawing. I’m not sure it’s the best book for beginning artists, but that’s merely my opinion. The premise, of course, is that we need to look at things differently as artists and learn to draw what we actually see, not what we think we see.
Use Your Artist’s Brain by Carl Purcell
This book echoes the ideas of Betty Edwards. The lengthy sub-title, in fact, is “Use the right side of your brain to draw and paint what you see — not what you think you see”. I spent a rather discouraging few weeks with this book several summers ago, lamenting the obvious fact that I just didn’t really have the brain of an artist. I worked through many of the exercises, felt that my drawings were horrible, but later looked back at them and realized I had been making progress. About a year ago, I also completed a few exercises from the book that I’d skipped over before — using the broad stroke technique. This book is definitely not for beginning artists. It’s intended for those — like me — who have learned the basics and who are now looking for ways to improve.
Drawing for the Absolute and Utter Beginner by Claire Watson Garcia
This how-to-draw book came highly-recommended. Matt Fussell, the “Virtual Instructor” who teaches art through his online site, called it the best drawing book he’d ever read. I’ve gone all the way through this book, and I did find it helpful. At times, I found it a bit frustrating, but that’s just me. Drawing is not a natural talent for me, so even now after six years of practice I still struggle at times. It’s becoming easier, and some drawings are easier than others, but I do still have a tendency toward anxiety when confronted with different drawing “assignments”. I made my way through this book, did my best, and came away a better artist, I think. She, too, advocates the “drawing upside down” method as a good practice exercise.
The Natural Way to Draw by Kimon Nicholaides
Another highly-recommended book. I bought this one several years ago — in the spring of 2016 — and I planned to work my way through it. Its sub-title is “A Working Plan for Art Study”, and that sounded like just what I needed. But, despite my good intentions, I have yet to read much of the book. Life became busy that spring, I set the book aside for some reason, and then in my “hit and miss” learning fashion, I moved on to other things and never returned to this working plan for art study. This one is definitely on my “must-read” list. More to the point, it’s on my “must-do” list.
This might be a good time to point out that no matter which art books we choose, we’re only going to see results if we take time to read and do the drawing exercises. These books won’t work unless we do.
Drawing for the Absolute Beginner by Mark and Mary Willenbrink
This was one of the first books I looked at online back in 2015 when I made the decision to learn to draw. While it calls itself a book for the “absolute beginner”, I took one look at it and backed away. Even the first few illustrations shown seemed far too complex for me. Of course, take that for what it’s worth, keeping in mind that I was incapable of drawing even the simplest lines at the time. I’ll guess that most “beginning artists” might fare well with this book. It intimidated me, but that’s just me.
I do now have this book in my art library, and I’ve done a few exercises from it. It does have a lot of good information on topics like “how to hold a pencil” and “basic shapes”. This is another book I plan to get out and go through from start to finish. I wasn’t ready for it when I first started drawing, but I think I could handle the instruction now.
Keys to Drawing by Bert Dodson
I wasn’t familiar with this one, but I soon will be! I found a used copy for a few dollars, used some of my Amazon points, so this book will soon me on its way to be — at no charge. I spent a little time looking through the book online, and I liked what I saw. I think what most impressed me — and what most informed my decision to buy the book — was the “looseness” I noticed in the illustrations. This loose, “scribbled” element in drawing is something I’m developing now. I believe this book will take me in the direction I’m wanting to go.
This, of course, is just a quick list showing a few of the many, many books available for artists. There are drawing books devoted to specific media such as colored pencils, graphite, or charcoal. There are books that focus on specific subjects, such as trees or birds, and there are books that are designed for very specific types of drawing — figure drawing, perspective drawing, urban sketching.
Right now, as I push myself toward “drawing better”, I want a book that will take me through the basics — we can never practice basic skills enough — and present exercises with a broad range of subjects and techniques. I know the next few weeks of my art study will be challenging. Drawing is easier now than it was when I first began, but each new drawing I attempt presents its own set of challenges. I am learning. I am growing. I am getting better. That’s exciting to see. So, despite the occasional frustrations and the inevitable disappointments that come along with any skill we’re learning, I’m going to make the most of this process. I am going to learn to draw better. I can do this. Wish me luck.