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25 Best Books on Drawing

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I've been creating since I was a child. My hobbies include watercolor, drawing, art journaling, painting rocks, sewing and crochet.

Yummy scrummy drawing books.

Yummy scrummy drawing books.

Improve Your Drawing Skills With These Books

Do you love art books? I have a large and varied collection of painting, drawing and art journaling books on my shelves, and I thought I would share some of the drawing titles with you.

I have included a short review of each drawing book, but rest assured, they are all useful and inspiring, garnering plenty of 4 and 5 stars on Amazon.

Whether you are a beginner at drawing, or are a more advanced artist, there is something here to entice you. I have included a small selection of colored pencil books, quirky drawing books and some Zentangle books.

Result of exercise from Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain.

Result of exercise from Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain.

How to Draw (Beginners Start Here)

  • The Keys to Drawing by Bert Dodson. I suppose if I only had to have one instructional drawing book, then this would be it. I'm not the sort of artist who enjoys photo-realism. Yes, it makes me go 'wow!' but then I think why go to all the bother of creating a drawing that's indistinguishable from a photo? I like art to look like art. For the subject to have been processed through the artist's mind; I want to see what he sees and how he sees it, otherwise, I'd have brought my camera. Anyway, I digress... The Keys to Drawing teaches, through 55 'key' techniques, via 48 exercises, how to draw with your own personality, vision and hand, shining through your work.
  • Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain by Betty Edwards. If I could only have two drawing books, then this would have to be one of them. I love Betty's approach, her explanations, the exercises - everything. Above is a quick drawing I made using her upside-down drawing method. It took approximately 10 minutes to draw, and I was quite surprised how it turned out when I flipped it over.
  • Drawing for the Absolute Beginner by Mark & Mary Willenbrink does what it says. There is lots of information on perspective and proportion - absolute musts if you want your drawings to actually look like something. There are step-by-steps and mini-projects for many techniques. If you are just starting out then this would be an excellent choice. Good for the older child too.
  • Drawing for the Absolute and Utter Beginner by Claire Watson Garcia. This one is for you, if the previous one sounds a little advanced. I don't have this one but the reviews are pretty good. It may well fill in any gaps you have in your skills. I understand that the book contains lots of examples of the author's students' work, which can be very inspiring to a beginner.
  • Lee Hammond's Big Book of Drawing by, you guessed it, Lee Hammond. This one is useful if you have some basic skills, such as you might have acquired from the previous two books. The Big Book of Drawing does tend to jump in from a few basic techniques offered in Chapter One (spheres, shading and grids) right into complex portraiture in Chapter Two. I'd suggest this as an additional book rather than one to purchase right at the beginning of your artistic endeavors.

Books for Intermediate Artists

  • Drawing Realistic Textures in Pencil by JD Hillberry is definitely not for beginners, although the book blurb says, 'These techniques can be mastered in minutes'. Well, perhaps they can, but you still need a grasp of basic drawing before this book will be helpful to you. If you are a competent drawer, then this book will turn you into an above average one. Learn how to draw metal, skin and many other textures with just one tool - a graphite pencil.
  • Figure Drawing: Design and Invention by Michael Hampton. If you were anything like me, I always shied away from drawing anything human! This book, however, is the perfect thing to get you over that fear. After all, essentially, we are just talking about line and form, the same as a flower, tree or rock. This is not a book that teaches how to produce perfect renderings of people - what it does do is help you develop the draughtsmanship to start you off. Basic, simple anatomy of the human figure. Everything is broken down into simple shapes that will give life to your drawing.
  • Sketch Book for the Artist by Sarah Simblet. This is the US version of the British book, The Drawing Book, so don't go buying it twice. Sarah, takes the reader on a journey through many classical works and then invites on a trip through her own sketchbooks. It is almost like being a student in one of her classes (she teaches at Ruskin College, Oxford and at the RCA in London) - well, I'm sort of guessing as I have never attended her classes - way above my level! The really great thing about this book, is not just the art, but the author's commentary. There is always something new to learn every time you open Sketchbook for the Artist.
  • Live & Learn: Expressive Drawing: A Practical Guide to Freeing the Artist Within by Steven Aimone is good for beginners as well as more accomplished artists. The reason I put it in this section is because many of us, even those who have been drawing for years, need to learn to loosen up. We get caught up in our endeavors for perfection and forget that all this is supposed to be fun. Better fun than perfect, I say! The writer offers some unusual exercises to get you to start expressing yourself through your art without fear of the 'perfection gremlin' sitting on your shoulder.
  • Contemporary Drawing: Key Concepts and Techniques by Margaret Davidson is not on my bookshelf yet, but it is definitely on my wishlist. The write-up sounds fascinating as the author explores drawing in a variety of forms. She brings drawing to the forefront of art, rather than it being a necessary step in painting. It is the star of the show, rather than the nail on which the painting hangs.
My Hat, colored pencil, 1995.

My Hat, colored pencil, 1995.

Artichoke in colored pencil.

Artichoke in colored pencil.

Colored Pencil Drawing Books

  • Colored Pencil Painting Bible by Alyona Nickelson is the latest addition to my collection. I am truly amazed by Alyona's skill. She is very keen on the photo-realism thing, but that notwithstanding, this is a really useful book for the colored pencil artist. I will confess that, although I have used colored pencils for years and years, I have never tried them with solvents (I turn to watercolor pencils, if in need of a little moisture). This book prompted me to give it a go - and I love it! If you are in thrall to the perfection gremlin, then you need this book. Even if you are an expressive artist, there are many techniques in here to add another layer of skill to your drawings and paintings.
  • Masterful Color: Vibrant Colored Pencil Paintings Layer by Layer by Arlene Steinberg is another ultra-realism book. I am indecisive whether this should go on my wishlist or not. It sounds fascinating so if any one has it, do let me know what you think. Meanwhile, reviewers on Amazon seem to like it - a lot! And I do like lots of color!
  • Colored Pencil Solution Book by Janie Gildrow & Barbara Newton. Gagh! I missed this one on eBay the other day by a few pennies! It's on the wishlist. Although it is photo-realistic, I understand there are lots of techniques and a focus on still life, which I like using CPs for. One reviewer says, "Get this book." Okay. I will.
  • Colored Pencil Portrait by Ann Kullberg is a beautiful book, and one I go to all the time. Her way of explaining things is just so easy to understand. I am working on a portrait of my daughter - something I thought I'd never have the courage to attempt and I wouldn't have even started it if it weren't for this book. Ms Kullberg also offers a CD course on her website and that could well be my Christmas gift to myself this year!
  • The Ultimate Guide to Colored Pencil by Gary Greene. This is a nice solid little book of instruction in using colored pencils for beginner or intermediate. However, 'ultimate' is not really appropriate in this case... 'ultimate' to me means a great big tome, bursting with everything to do with everything remotely connected to colored pencil. From the perfect tree to grow the wood casing, to the best sharpener to put a point on your pencil. This book is just a little too small for all that - I want to see BIG photos, Gary! It's still a good book though. And there's a DVD.

Interesting & Quirky Drawing Books

  • The Creative License: Giving Yourself Permission to be the Artist You Truly Are by Danny Gregory is such a popular book. He has to be one of the most inspiring people on the planet. Unfortunately, I haven't got my copy of this book as I gave it away, fully intending to replace it. I will soon. In the meantime, if you haven't got a copy (you surely have?) then get it now.
  • Keys to Drawing with Imagination by Bert Dodson. For someone called 'Bert', the author does a masterful impression of a 'Quentin' or a 'Marcelle'. This is different. This is a creativity kick-start. Grab that perfection gremlin and throw it at the nearest wall with these exercises from Quentin... sorry, Bert. I warn you, the housework will get neglected (and isn't that a good thing?) as Marcelle... sorry, Bert, pulls you into his world of imagination.
  • Artist's Journal Workshop: Creating Your Life in Words and Pictures by Cathy Johnson is wonderful. It's not just about drawing, but about keeping an inspirational record of your ideas, sketches, rough drafts and reference work. I have included it here because there are so many beautiful sketches, as well as many suggestion of how to keep such a journal. It's not about art journaling, but any art journal enthusiast will love this.
  • Drawing Lab for Mixed Media Artists: 52 Creative Exercises to Make Drawing Fun by Carla Sonheim. Have you noticed how so many of these books have long extended titles? Why is that? What kudos does that little colon add to a title? Answers down below, please - at least it'll show how many people have actually read this far. And if you haven't, then you have missed so much fun! Where was I? Right, Drawing Lab for Mixed Media Artists is a dinky little book, despite its extended title. Somehow, Ms Sonheim has managed to squeeze in a whole year's worth of creative exercises and ideas to get your drawing juices... er... dribbling. Brilliant for kids, their parents and their grandparents. However, don't just read the book - this is about doing, not sitting around and dribbling.
  • One Drawing a Day: a 6-Week Course Exploring Creativity with Illustration and Mixed Media by Veronica Lawler. If 52 weekly exercises aren't enough for you, then how about one a day for six weeks? Based on the blog, One Drawing a Day, the author, together with the help of eight other artists, cajoles and guides you to producing your own daily output. This is not an instructional book, but a block-busting, kick-butt source of inspiration. And it's not just about the pencil either.
Zentangle-Inspired Art (ZIA).

Zentangle-Inspired Art (ZIA).

Doodle & Zentangle Books

  • Zentangle Basics by Suzanne McNeil provokes mixed reviews. If you have never heard of Zentangle, then this book might be what you need to get started. It is small and it is very, very short at 14 pages (yep, that's all). If you are a constant doodler, have done some Zentangle or Zenspirations, then don't buy this. Suzanne has a raft of Zentangle books, so be sure to check them out.
  • Totally Tangled: Zentangle and Beyond by Sandra Steen Bartholmew. I do like Sandy a lot, she has a lovely blog, Beez in the Belfry, where she shares her triumphs and tribulations. I know that each of her books have taken her on a voyage of discovery, and that they have sustained her as much as the process of creating them has frustrated her. Totally Tangled is a Zentangle book and it is not. It's a small book, but with lots of ideas packed into every page. I have her Zentangle for Kids and her even tinier AlphaTangle (highly recommended).
  • Zenspirations by Joanne Fink is sort of Zentangly but with an added charm. Joanne makes it look very simple, but she is a master (or mistress) of caligraphy. I do love her danglies!
  • Joy of Zentangle: Drawing Your Way to Increased Creativity, Focus, and Well-Being by Sandy Steen Bartholomew. I am sure it will be as inspiring, popular and successful as Sandy's other books.
  • Creative Doodling & Beyond: Inspiring exercises, prompts, and projects for turning simple doodles into beautiful works of art by Stephanie Corfee. Oh, enough with the chapter-long titles already! Seriously, I love this book. Get it.

© 2012 Bev G


Bev G (author) from Wales, UK on November 04, 2018:

Enjoy your drawing, jmerinka7 :)

jmerinka7 on November 03, 2018:

Very nice list, I bought 3 books, listed here.

Bev G (author) from Wales, UK on October 05, 2012:

And thank you very much, AliciaC, for your thoughtful comment. You are right, 'Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain' is amazing, and not just for people learning to draw. There is another book I also love, called 'Writing on the Right Side of the Brain' - that was equally good for me.

Linda Crampton from British Columbia, Canada on October 04, 2012:

Thank you very much for such a useful reference list, theraggededge. I appreciate your review of each book. The only one which I've used is "Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain", which was the textbook for a drawing course that I took. It's an amazing book! I'm very interested in getting some of the other books that you describe as well.

Bev G (author) from Wales, UK on October 02, 2012:

Thank you, Carol and Dbro! So glad you like my selection.

Dbro from Texas, USA on October 02, 2012:

Great hub! Like you, I love art instruction books of all kinds. My first love in art is drawing, so this hub is a goldmine to me. I am anxious to look up some of these titles and check them out. I always learn something new when I read books like the ones you list here. Thanks for sharing all this information with us.

carol stanley from Arizona on October 02, 2012:

I am bookmarking this page as I have so much trouble with drawing..even after years. Cannot seem to draw what I see. Thanks for great hub and voting up.