Find out which are the best books about drawing and sketching
Do you want to learn how to draw? Want to find out which are the best books about drawing and sketching?
This is a big site designed to help those who want to
- LEARN TO DRAW
- DEVELOP YOUR DRAWING SKILLS and learn about drawing at an advanced level
- LEARN ABOUT THE MASTERS OF DRAWING through the ages
Scroll down to find links to MORE BOOKS ABOUT DRAWING than you ever knew existed!
[Due to a recent change in hosting, this site is currently being reconstructed. It will still contain links to a huge number of books – but some of these will be on linked websites.]
These are the BEST BOOKS about:
- specific drawing techniques and materials
- sketching and using a sketchbook or visual journal
- how to draw specific subjects (eg drawing people, flowers, animals)
- creativity and creative drawing
I’m an artist and writer who is absolutely passionate about drawing and sketching and I write about both.
- Making A Mark, my art blog is currently ranked as the #3 art blog in the UK and in the top 20 in the world.
- My Travels with a Sketchbook blog has also featured in and been recommended by The Times newspaper in London
- My new book about drawing and sketching has been published in the USA, UK and Asia in January 2015.
This site was started as a place to highlight all the best books about drawing and sketching. I’d developed THE BIG DRAWING BOOK REVIEW on my blog Making A Mark and needed a place to keep all the reviews by artists and their recommendations about what were the best drawing books. I now post book reviews to Making A Mark reviews……
I started reviewing books about drawing in support of the Big Draw month in the UK which is co-ordinated by the Drawing Campaign. The “Rating books for the Big Drawing Book Review” Appendix at the end of this website explains the system we used for differentiating between books (5 pencils is excellent!). Book reviews were posted on my blog and the blogs of those people participating in the review.
I then set this site up to make sure I captured and made accessible all those recommendations – so they were available to all and not buried on our respective blogs! I collated all the links to the reviews of books about drawing or sketching by people participating in the project on their and my blogs done as part of the original exercise book. (Unfortunately, this site has since moved hosts and the constraints of this site mean that I can no longer list links to all the reviews on this site. I’m making plans to remedy this.)
Since the project, I’ve continued to develop the recommendations about good books about drawing and sketching – based on the recommendations of others and my own reviews. Where there are no specific recommendations you can be sure I crawled all over Amazon working out which were the books which were getting the top ratings.
Over time I’ve developed the structure of the site so that I group “like” books together. For example, there’s a section for beginners – but there’s also a section for those seeking more advanced instruction on how to develop their drawing skills
I’m always very happy to hear your suggestions – just a recommendation as a comment.
I’d also like to thank all those have left really great feedback about this site since I started it. You are right – there is no other like it!
Creating a structure for this site has not been easy. Books about drawing tend to come in a long list without any rhyme or reason.
In broad terms books about drawing and sketching are:
- aimed at different skills levels – from people who have no knowledge or skills to improvers and those who need or want to to develop advanced skills
- typically divide between instruction and art history
- instruction books vary in their approach – I find that typically the books which standout and get remembered – and bought again and again – are those that don’t repeat the same structure as all the others. It wasn’t until I was commissioned to write a book about drawing and sketching and had to produce a flatplan that I realised how many books follow a conventional format. For example – why does the chapter on media need to come at the beginning rather than the end?
- Step by step instruction is very popular but is it effective? Why write about it in a book when it’s so much easier these days to view a step by step demonstration via video, DVD or internet television?
- Instruction about ‘how to draw’ specific subject matter is popular – however such books should be examined to make sure they don’t repeat information which can be found in more generic books on how to draw and allocate most of the pages to actual practical instruction with respect to the specific subject matter.
- Art History books tend to focus on specific artists. Overviews of specific periods in the history of drawing are available but are not common. A lot of books are produced as catalogues for an exhibition devoted to drama
“How to Draw” Books for Beginners
Which are the Best Books about Drawing for those wanting to learn how to draw?
If you want to learn how to draw and can’t get to a class, the very best thing you can do is buy a book which has proved to be invaluable in teaching me and thousands of other people how to draw.
However do bear in mind that learning how to draw is essentially about practice, practice, practice! There is no way you can become good at drawing overnight – however these books can get you going in the right direction and you can make progress quickly if you try the exercises they recommend.
THE TWO BEST DRAWING BOOKS FOR BEGINNERS – by a very long way – are listed below. These are Keys to Drawing and The New Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain. Neither book is new and both books have stood the test of time – and gained very many fans as a result.
I highly RECOMMEND both books – as do very many people who have learned how to draw from studying these books and attempting the very practical and useful exercises they contain.
Try either but I really do recommend buying both if you can afford both as they take a different approach and complement each other.
Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain: The Definitive, 4th Edition – by Betty Edwards
Currently #1 BEST SELLER IN DRAWING – 4th edition (2012)
Rated 4.7 out of 5 stars by 441 customer reviews on Amazon.com
Rated 4.9 out of 5 stars by 17 customer reviews in Amazon.co.uk
I own copies of the original edition and the third and fourth editions and have HIGHLY RECOMMENDED previous editions
FIVE STARS: THIS BOOK IS AN ALL-TIME BEST SELLER ACROSS ALL 4 EDITIONS
- this is a standard text for beginners and improvers
- sold over 1.7 MILLION COPIES all over the world and translated into 17 different languages
- consistently rated both best-selling and/or top-rated drawing instruction book on Amazon for a number of years.
- First published in 1979, it stayed in the New York Times Best Seller lists for over a year
- Second edition in 1989: Revised by Dr. Betty Edwards – and straight into the NYT Best Seller List
- Third edition in 1999: The 20th anniversary edition has been in the TOP 10 BESTSELLING BOOKS ABOUT DRAWING ON AMAZON – 1,626 days in the top 100 books (Arts & Photography) on Amazon; 4.4 out of 5 stars (240 customer reviews)
- Fourth Edition – published April 2012 by Tarcher/Penguin – #1 best seller on Amazon
- Now also available as a KINDLE EDITION.
WARNING! This book has LOTS OF WORDS AND LOTS OF CONTENT (i.e. information) so is not ideal for those who just like to look at a thin book that is mainly pictures! 🙂
Keys to Drawing – by Bert Dodson
FIVE STARS: THIS BOOK HAS REGULARLY BEEN IN THE TOP 10 BESTSELLING BOOKS ABOUT DRAWING ON AMAZON.
Forget the original publication date – none of these exercises will ever date!
HIGHLY RECOMMENDED – I’ve been strongly recommending this book to people wanting to learn to draw – or to improve their drawing – for years.
- Rated an average of 4.7 out of 5 stars on Amazon.com (160 customer reviews)
- Rated an average 4.8 out of 5 stars on Amazon.co.uk (22 customer reviews)
- “Keys to Drawing” occupied the #1 spot for books about drawing on Amazon for a very long time – and the last time was in September 2011
Now also available on Kindle
Bert Dodson’s method of “teaching anyone who can hold a pencil” how to draw has been extremely successful over many years. It is now one of the most popular, best-selling art books in history!
“This is a book that I can pick up and reread and dip into over and over again and never ever get bored.”
It’s one of the best ‘how to’ books on drawing that I’ve ever read and I can highly recommend it to all of you who are:
- interested in the art of drawing,
- wanting to develop your own skill in self-evaluation and/or
- wanting to develop your own individual style of drawing.
HIS system for developing drawing skills involves 55 “keys” to drawing. The book comprises exercises which help you to work through what the key is about and why it is effective. In doing so, the reader develops their observational skills and learns how to control mark-making and pattern-making and to draw in a way which creates the illusion of light, depth, and texture
Which is the Best Book for people wanting to learn to draw? – Bert Dodson vs Betty Edwards
I HIGHLY RECOMMEND TWO BOOKS all the time to people wanting to learn how to draw
Keys to Drawing by: Bert Dodson
- Amazon reviews: 4.7 out of 5 stars (160 customer reviews)
- Amazon UK reviews: Dodson (Author) 4.8 out of 5 stars (22 customer reviews)
- Goodreads: 91% of people liked it | All editions: 4.01 average rating, 5716 ratings, 23 reviews, added by 10,343 people, 3665 to-reads
Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain: The Definitive, 4th Edition (2012) by: Betty Edwards
- Amazon reviews (4th edition): 4.7 out of 5 stars (441 customer reviews)
- Amazon UK reviews: 4.9 out of 5 stars (17 customer review)
- Goodreads: 90% of people liked it | This edition: 4.37 average rating, 52 ratings, 7 reviews, added by 218 people
BOTH BOOKS have very many fans and lots of us like both of them!
Everyday Matters – by Danny Gregory
RECOMMENDED: Amazon REVIEWS: 4.8 out of 5 stars (88 customer reviews)
One of the best ways of starting to draw is to practice. One of the best ways of doing this is just to make a point of drawing something every day.
That’s what Danny Gregory did – and this book is the result.
I started drawing about eight years ago and it changed my life. It led me to travel, to meet people, to get books published, but most of all it transformed the way I see the world around me and how I experience every day.
“Two years before I started drawing, my wife was run over by a subway train. Sounds really terrible, I know. But, well, this book is about how art and New York City saved my life.”
This unique book chronicles his discovery of drawing, his wife’s rehabilitation, his son’s infancy and the life of the city he loves.
Not everybody will get on with the fact that all the text is handwritten ie it’s a facsimile of his journal.
Making A Mark Guides: Drawing and Sketching
I’ve developed some Guides for Drawing and Sketching which are available as FREE DOWNLOADABLE files . Let me know what you think about them in comments and suggestions below. I’ve included links to a couple of them below.
written by Katherine Tyrrell; published by Making A Mark Publications
Books about Drawing Media & Techniques
Focusing in particular on pencils and pen and ink
Once you’re no longer a drawing “newbie” you’ll find you will find you develop a huge appetite for wanting to learn more about different drawing media and more about specific techniques associated with the different media.
These are the books which tell you a lot more about drawing materials and techniques than most books about drawing
The Drawing Book: Materials and Techniques for Today’s Artist – by Richard McDaniel
Rated 4.4 out of 5 stars based on 5 customer ratings + 1 review
RECOMMENDED with caveats.
It’s very difficult to know how to rate this book. On the one hand, it’s absolutely the best book I know for looking at drawing materials. Its descriptions and images used to make me salivate and want to try new drawing media and supports. On the other hand, the hardback edition has not been updated or revised for the changes which will have taken place since 1995 when it was first published.
The Pen and Ink Book: Materials and Techniques for Today’s Artist
RECOMMENDED with caveats.
Amazon reviews: 4.5 out of 5 stars (based on 20 customer ratings + 8 customer reviews)
Amazon UK reviews: 5.0 out of 5 stars (4 customer reviews)
This is a definite “5 pencils” for anybody who loves or is seriously interested in learning more about pen and ink work and is a “4 pencils” for anybody else.
In my opinion, this is not a book for beginners or for those starting out. Rather it will be enjoyed by those who are already have skills in drawing who want to advance and develop and/or those who are seriously interested in drawing in pen and ink.
Drawing Realistic Textures in Pencil – by J. D. Hillberry
RECOMMENDED with caveats.
Amazon reviews: 4.5 out of 5 stars (based on 127 customer reviews)
Amazon reviews UK 4.6 out of 5 stars (10 customer reviews)
The book is excellent at precisely what it sets out to do – drawing realistic textures in pencil.
For those who enjoy and/or want to achieve this sort of rendering of surfaces and textures then this book provides a lot of helpful information and support which is clearly set out and explained.
However it is not a ‘learn how to draw’ book as such. For those who want to learn how to draw at either a basic or advanced level there are other more helpful books which provide a more rounded perspective on drawing – and its scope and practice. I’d award it a 4 pencils rating in relation to its coverage of rendering texture only.
Experimental Drawing – by Robert Kaupelis
HIGHLY RECOMMENDED This book is very definitely worth a five pencils rating – based on my original 1992 copy
Amazon reviews: 4.8 out of 5 stars based on 12 customer reviews
In my review of Experimental Drawing I said
“Experimental Drawing” has the feel of being both a distillation of much learning and experimentation on the part of Kaupelis and his students and a labour of love.
This is the 30th anniversary edition. Books which stick around for this long with consistent sales do so because they’re very good and get recommended very often by word of mouth
On re-reading it, I’ve decided that it needs to take up residence on my bedside table so I can revisit it more often. I’m planning to use this book more in future to try and find ways of teasing out the ways of drawing and images which are in my head but haven’t yet appeared on paper to my satisfaction.
I’d personally try and get hold of a second hand copy of the original publication if you can
The Drawing Book – by Sarah Simblet
This is a UK book which is not so well known in the USA but it is
HIGHLY RECOMMENDED by me. This is one of my favourite drawing books. That’s because I find it stimulating to just look through it as the images are superb.
UK: Rated an average of 4.8 out of 5 stars (9 customer reviews of which 7 were 5*)
If you feel you are most comfortable with traditional rendering/realism then this is probably not the book for you. However it emphatically earns in my view a five pencil rating for those keen to develop their drawing skills beyond technically correct rendering and/or are interested in drawing in art history and/or those who just want to develop their drawing generally. This book is a ‘must buy’ – I guarantee you will be blown away by it.
The Natural Way to Draw – by Kimon Nicolaides
“If you’re really committed, Kimon Nicolaides has the game plan, but it’s a demanding course of study.”
Amazon reviews: 4.5 out of 5 stars based on 153 customer reviews
Amazon UK reviews: 4.5 out of 5 stars (4 customer reviews) Like (3)
Kimon Nicolaides (1891-1938) taught at the New York’s Art Students’ League for 15 years where he developed a system for teaching people how to draw – which is shared in this book. The book comprises the 64 exercises he taught over the course of the year. Note that it’s VERY DEMANDING in terms of the time required to complete the exercises. The basic assumption is it takes 3 hours per day for a year.
Expressive Drawing: A Practical Guide to Freeing the Artist Within – by Steven Aimone
USA: Average rating of 4.7 out of 5 stars (67 customer reviews)
UK: Average rating of 4.5 out of 5 stars (10 customer reviews)
This is NOT a book for those who prefer detailed rendering.
This is NOT a book for people who prefer descriptive drawing.
Rather this is a book for those who would like to loosen up and become more expressive in the way they draw
This book focuses on:
* The Drawing Process
* The Elements of Drawing – Line & Mark, Shape, Texture
* Drawing Relationships – Repetition, Rhythm, Equilibrium, Emphasis, Foundational Structure
The Visual Language of Drawing: Lessons on the Art of Seeing
I’ve waited a very long time to get hold of a book – by James Lancel McElhinney and the Instructors of the Arts Students League of New York
This book is based on the tuition available at the prestigious Arts Student League of New York founded by and for artists in 1875. For over 130 years, people have been able to sign up to do classes at the League if they want practical training in making art. The League has also had many famous tutors and students.
Amazon reviews: 4.8 out of 5 stars (6 customer reviews)
What this book does is bring together different perspectives on the practice of drawing, how it can be taught and how students can be enabled to see. The premise of the book is that great art teachers never draw on just one source for their teaching – instead they reference many different influences. People who teach art will find it very helpful to their practice.
This book aims to demystify the process of learning to draw. It proposes that drawing is a language, that drawing is for everybody, that there is no single way of drawing and that people who teach drawing can provide the essential grammar of all visual thinking.
The book comprises three sections devoted to:
- an introductory essay which sets out how drawing has been appreciated, practiced and taught in the past
- interviews with 15 former and current instructors at the Arts Students’ League focusing on their personal insights about drawing and how they approached the teaching of drawing. These chapters highlight various alternative approaches to drawing.
- Drawing Concepts and Plans – an illustrated outline of how to teach drawing to students – highlighting essential concepts, lesson plans and exercises, terminology, materials and techniques
- This is not a “how to” book in the conventional ‘step by step” sense. It’s more of a “how to teach” or “how to learn” book
- This is a book for people who enjoy reading as well as looking at images of different approaches to drawing. There’s a LOT of text – the core of the book comprises interviews with different tutors.
The Art of Responsive Drawing (6th edition) – by Nathan Goldstein
This book has been recommended and used by art schools in the USA for decades.
Rated as 3.7 out of 5 stars (16 customer reviews) – note that the overall average is distorted by people buying a book they did not understand and not understanding how to provide feedback on a 3rd party selling on Amazon. Those who do “get it’ rate it highly
This is NOT a “How to draw” book.
This is NOT a book for beginners.
It’s the sort of book you need to read alongside a more practical exercise oriented book.
One reviewer commented ” this is not a “how-to-draw” book in the “Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain” category, but more of a guide to connoisseurship and the philosophy of drawing.”
Classical Drawing Atelier: A Contemporary Guide to Traditional Studio Practice – by Juliette Aristides
HIGHLY RECOMMENDED: Amazon reviews: 4.6 out of 5 stars (77 customer reviews)
This book contains some interesting background on the atelier system. Its aims is to provide a contemporary book version in a manual of approaches and techniques for how to draw in the classical style
Contemporary Drawing – by Margaret Davidson
Amazon reviews: 4.4 out of 5 stars (5 customer reviews)
This books seems to bridge the gap between conventional art instruction books and books about contemporary drawing which simply show you what people have been producing
Check out the review written by Mitchell Albala who is himself an art teacher and author
Those who become very good at drawing people tend at some point to study how Past Masters drew people.
Looking at how they made marks, represented people and developed their own unique and individual styles of drawing can be hugely influential in the development of good practices and your own competence in and style of drawing.
Do NOT be put off by these books. They are NOT too advanced even for beginners.
You don’t have to be able to draw like the masters to begin to understand and appreciate the complexities involved in drawing people.
Students who study these books soon begin to understand that drawing figures is not something which can be boiled down to six simple tricks – no matter how many authors or so-called teachers would like to persuade us this is the case. These books are also extremely helpful for those wanting to start a life class because they give you ideas for how you can draw people and how to overcome some of the challenges of drawing people. Treat them as a reference source from which to gain inspiration and you will never ever be disappointed.
Many people buy them just to look at them to start with. I still look at my copies all the time – and never ever tire at looking at excellent figure drawings.
Learn How to Draw like the Masters – Classical drawing – learn from the Masters
HIGHLY RECOMMENDED – This book is old and invaluable – in other words it’s a CLASSIC.
Amazon reviews: 4.7 out of 5 stars (60 customer reviews)
It contains the most amazing collection of drawings and provides excellent points for how to draw like the masters. It’s been described as “the ultimate manual of drawing” and is based on the lessons taught by the late great Robert Beverly Hale at New York City’s Art Student League.
In 1989, Watson Guptill published the 45th anniversary edition and the pointers it provides do not date – nor do the drawings by the masters which are included in this volume.
In the book Hales analyses over 100 drawings by the old masters – Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, Rodin, Goya, Rembrandt et al – and identifies how they dealt with the perennial challenges for artists trying to recreate the illusion of a 3D form in space on a 2D medium. The level of analysis is not commonly found in other books about drawing
Drawing Ideas of the Masters: Improve Your Drawings by Studying the Masters – by Frederick Malins
HIGHLY RECOMMENDED: I bought a second hand copy of this book having seen a copy owned by one of my tutors. This is one of the BEST books on drawing I’ve ever bought. It offers you probably the best value you’ll ever get for the price paid for a second hand copy
It’s not going to get a high rating on Amazon because very few people know it even exists. Plus it’s out of print and you cannot buy it new (I had to buy a used copy to get mine).
However this is one of those books which provides refreshment and stimulation in equal part if you ever get jaded or stuck with your own drawing.
The book has six sections covering Portraits, Figure, Figure Composition, Landscape and the Built Environment.
This is a compendium of drawings by Past Masters. The aim is to provide an insight into drawing as practised in the past and it compares and contrasts the techniques of different artists. Includes 140 drawings in a variety of media – pencil, pen and ink, charcoal and watercolour.
THE BEST NEW SKETCHING BOOK: The Art of Urban Sketching – Drawing On Location Around The World
This book by by Gabriel Campanario and the Urban Sketchers started the viral explosion of books about Urban Sketching
PUBLISHED IN FEBRUARY 2012 THIS BOOK SOLD OUT IN 4 WEEKS. THE SECOND REPRINT ALSO SOLD OUT WITHIN IN WEEKS IN USA.
Amazon reviews 4.7 out of 5 stars (104 customer reviews)
Amazon UK reviews 4.7 out of 5 stars (34 customer reviews)
- #1 in Books > Arts & Photography Graffiti & Street Art
- #1 in Books > Arts & Photography Pastel
- #2 in Books > Arts & Photography Colored Pencil
This is the first book by Urban Sketchers. The Art of Urban Sketching topped the Best Seller Lists for Drawing Books BEFORE it was published on 1 February 2012.
- It then sold out immediately and went straight to reprint which also sold out.
- It’s now on its third print since publication.
- It’s proved to be so popular that its sales and ranking are only limited by how fast this book can be printed!
The last time I saw anything like this was when James Gurney’s Color and Light: A Guide for the Realist Painter was published at the end of 2010 – and it then topped the charts for the whole of 2011 and still remains a firm favourite.
The Art of Urban Sketching: Drawing On Location Around The World by By Gabi Campanario and Urban Sketchers (www.urbansketchers.org) was the Best New Art Book in the first half of 2012. At the end of January 2012 – prior to publication – it had secured the #10 spot in the top 100 books in the Arts and Design Category on Amazon (which now includes music) – on the strength of pre-orders alone. Even while out of stock it was maintaining a top ten position in Amazon categories for painting, drawing and other media
Congratulations are due to Gabi Campanario (The Sketch Journalist) who authored the book and the 100 Urban Sketchers who participated in its production
Anatomy for the Artist
RECOMMENDED: Sarah Simblet produces some of the best drawing books on the market and I have no hesitation in recommending this book if you want to learn the anatomy of the human figure from the perspective of an artist. It’s also recommended by drawing lecturers and drawing schools.
- USA – 4.5 out of 5 stars (110 customer reviews)
- UK – 4.7 out of 5 stars (21 customer reviews)
The Art of Perspective
Perspective drawing is one of those skills which seems to generate a complete mental block for a number of people. Often because it can come across as being a tad too technical and/or something only “proper artists” can do.
However it’s not that difficult to learn some of the basic principles and it’s well worth the effort in terms of its impact on all your drawings (and paintings) of the real world.
Below you can find the best book about perspective from the perspective of coverage and ratings – it’s also a best seller!
RECOMMENDED: Rated an average of 4.6 out of 5 stars by 63 customer reviews
This is a very popular book which deals with perspective from an artist’s ‘natural’ viewpoint as well as from a technical drawing perspective.
It provides a wide range of techniques and tips about how to portray spatial relationships and depth
* how to create perspective on a flat surface using a variety of mediums.
* covers the theory behind perspective
* introduces appropriate approaches to challenging subjects.
The Laws Guide to Drawing Birds
- Amazon reviews (USA): Rated 4.9 out of 5 stars by 105 customer reviews
- Amazon reviews (UK): 4.0 out of 5 stars by 4 customer reviews
This is a very highly rated book about drawing birds in the USA – the artist and naturalist John Muir Laws has been called a “modern Audubon” by the Washington Post. The recent publication has generated a lot of very positive reviews. It focuses on habit, behaviour and postures as well as on ‘how to draw feathers’.
One of the reasons for the low rank by UK readers is the birds are biased towards those found in the USA
Appendix: Rating books for the Big Drawing Book Review
This is how The Big Drawing Book Review rated books about drawing or sketching.
5 pencils – go out and buy this book right now if you have the money. In your opinion, an essential book for anybody seriously interested in drawing and/or learning more about drawing.
4 pencils – a seriously good book about drawing; definitely one you want to own at some point – maybe one for the Christmas present list if you’re broke
3 pencils – good effort but nothing which really distinguishes it from other books. It’s just this author’s take on the basics. The sort of book which is good while you are reading it but doesn’t stick in your memory.
2 pencils – undistinguished in your view. For example: content may be a rerun of previously published books and/or remixed with a new front cover; presentation may not be particularly noteworthy.
1 pencil – buying this book would damage your wallet but is unlikely to enhance either your knowledge, skills or enjoyment. It may also hurt your eyes! (Unfortunately there are a few of these out there – although I’m assuming we’ve probably weeded through a few of these without buying!)