I am an art teacher as well as a professional artist, and so it is natural that many people ask me questions about teaching art or about learning how to become a good or a better artist.
Many of these questions are not so simple to answer, but the one I hear the most turns out to be the easiest to answer: What is the most important skill an artist should have? My answer is usually very similar – drawing! So in this article we will look at some of the best books that will help you to learn drawing in 2021!
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Table of Contents
People ask this question in many different ways:
- What is the most important part of being an artist?
- What is the most important thing for me to learn as an aspiring artist?
- What is the most valuable skill to develop as an artist?
- How can I best improve my art?
- What should I learn to become a better artist?
- What is the most important talent an artist can have?
But the answer is always the same: Drawing!
The last question on the list above is, admittedly, a wee bit tricky.
Of course talent is a big part of artistry, but no matter how talented you are, you may not have a developed sense of how to draw.
And even if your talent in drawing is already strong, there is, no doubt, still so much you can and should learn.
So, if you are a new artist, with no real experience or instruction, learn to draw. If you are an experienced and successful artist, learn to draw better. And if you are an old hand already, revisit the basics and re-learn the fundamentals of drawing.
In every case it is, IMHO, the very best way for any artist to learn, improve and grow.
Why is Drawing So Important?
When you learn how to draw the right way – whether from a video course, a book or in person with a teacher – you may not even realize it but at the same time you are learning a little bit of every single aspect of making art, including:
- Perspective, Relative Size and Relationship
- Light, Shadow and Shading
- Surfaces and Textures
- Movement and Flow
- Shape and Size
- Capturing Energy and Life Drawing
- Overall Composition
- Realism, Distortion and Abstraction
- The Physical Movement and Mechanics of Making Art
- Work Ethic
- Seeing with an Artist’s Eye
If you really know how to draw well, you know something of every facet of creating beautiful and effective art – and not just in drawing, but in any other technique or medium.
Even effective color theory and usage can come from knowing how to see and reproduce light, shades and gradients in a black and white drawing.
What is the Best Way to Learn How to Draw?
This question can be a little more difficult to answer than the first one.
Some people learn well in a classroom, while others (seemingly more and more) learn well on their own.
Some people like having a teacher there to push them, while others see the value in developing their own self-enforced discipline and work ethic – a quality which definitely serves both the commercial and fine artist very well, and is extremely important to have.
To me, though, there is something about learning drawing from a book. Old school, I know, and perhaps pretty surprising from a woman who teaches art online, but there it is.
Indeed, even if you are in a physical, brick and mortar school, learning directly from a teacher, or you are using one of my (or, for some odd and inexplicable reason, somebody else’s) online video courses on drawing – like Digital Illustration Process in Procreate and Drawing Flowers in Procreate – I still recommend having one or two, or even a few, good, basic drawing books on hand. E-books or, maybe preferably, actual physical paper books.
To read a lesson and then see, right there on paper, a direct visual example of what the teacher means, what you are meant to accomplish, and what an artist with top-notch drawing skills is really capable of, changes the game.
It’s not just extremely clarifying and helpful, but can also provide real inspiration and real insight – into the lesson itself, into the drawing process in general, and into the overall process of creating art.
And to have the time, space and freedom to try something again and again until you get it right, to get it really perfect and to even move beyond the example, to be able to compare your own images with the original examples, this is so much fun and an exceptionally valuable learning process. It will also, over time, give you the tools and the confidence you need to break away from just copying the examples and move in your own direction.
Much of this you can only really do, or can do much better and more thoroughly, in your own space and time with a book and a sketch pad in front of you – whether the book and sketch pad are on your desk or on your screen.
But, and I’ll say this again, you might want to consider PAPER.
Even if you intend to create digitally, learn on paper first, and always have paper, pens and pencils on hand to work with from time to time.
So while everybody learns in different ways, some finding great success with videos, or with books, others preferring classrooms, others still wanting private tutors, I believe each and every one of us can greatly benefit from good old fashioned book learning.
And, if you are learning from a teacher – on a screen or in a room – the right art drawing books can offer different perspectives, different techniques, and a different style of teaching, and can be an important and valuable supplement to classes.
What are the Fundamentals of Drawing?
This article is designed to help you do just that – find out what are the best drawing books currently available and what are the best drawing books for you, whether you are looking for the best drawing books for the absolute beginner, the best drawing books for an intermediate artist, or even the best drawing books for an advanced artist.
We will look at both classic and new best drawing books in a few basic categories:
- Basic Drawing Techniques
- Advanced Drawing Techniques
- Anatomy and Figure Drawing
- Pen and Ink
- Nature and Landscape Drawing
- Digital Drawing Techniques
In either case, these are all really valuable and effective – and often quite beautiful – books for learning how to draw.
They are drawing books I personally know, love and have used, or come from the strong recommendations of other professional or fine artists, and all also have an extremely solid foundation of positive reviews from verified Amazon customers.
While your own budget, interests and needs have to be the strongest guides as to which drawing books you purchase and use, I would strongly recommend covering as much ground as possible, and suggest that you choose at least a Basic Drawing book, an Anatomy book (helpful even if you aren’t drawing human figures), a Landscape Drawing book and maybe a book touching on your own interest.
Whichever you choose, I hope you find my Ultimate Buyer’s Guide – The Best Books to Learn Drawing, a fun and helpful resource to draw upon.
Get it? See what I did there?
Ok, once you’ve stopped laughing, and caught your breath, please read on!
Overview: The Best Books to Learn Drawing
- Art of Basic Drawing
- POPULAR: Basics of Stylized Character Design
- NEW: Illustrate Expressive People
- POPULAR: Basics of Perspective
- Rendering in Pen and Ink
- POPULAR: Drawing Flowers in Procreate
- Botanical Line Drawing
- Essential Techniques of Landscape Drawing
- Practical Guide to Procreate
Discover simple step-by-step techniques for drawing a wide variety of subjects in pencil (Collector's Series)
Learn to draw people and characters using simple shapes
Get comfortable and more confident when drawing character poses and gestures
Create awesome artworks, posters, and draw backgrounds & environments for your characters and stories
The Classic Book On Pen and Ink Techniques for Artists, Illustrators, Architects, and Designers
By Arthur Guptill
Create your own unique floral style and experiment with adding flowers to your illustrations
200 Step-by-Step Flowers, Leaves, Cacti, Succulents, and Other Items Found in Nature
By Peggy Dean
Master the Concepts and Methods for Observing and Rendering Nature
By Suzanne Brooker
Master the Procreate app on your iPad with practical examples.
This class is a quick and easy guide to getting up and running with Procreate on your iPad. No experience necessary!
What are the Best Drawing Books for Learning Basic Drawing Techniques?
A true classic, Speed’s book takes a unique approach in balancing absolute understanding of all basic techniques and the technical aspects of drawing against the artist’s own personal vision. A great book, then, for not just learning the whole art and practice of drawing, but also blooming as an artist.
One of the very best and most complete books on basic drawing techniques, The Art of Basic Drawing covers objects, scenes, people and wildlife, along the way teaching many invaluable tricks and techniques and helping you develop your artistic vision and define your own individual approach.
A book that I know mostly through recommendations from others, Barber’s Fundamentals also receives extremely high ratings from Amazon customers, who praise its completeness, its clear descriptions of both concepts and techniques and how it helps you “understand what drawing is all about,” as one customer put it.
What are the Best Drawing Books for Learning Advanced Drawing Techniques?
An advanced primer on pencil drawing, Rines’ book offers advice and techniques which can prove equally applicable to other media, traditional or digital, as well.
Accuracy, discipline and completeness are the emphasis, but this book somehow never fails to be fun and inspirational. Mostly, though, it is extremely effective, and can make a big difference for any intermediate or advanced artist.
Another true classic, and one of the most widely known and beloved of all art instruction books, How to Draw What You See has been a best-seller for fifty years.
Best described as a book for basic, intermediate and advanced techniques and artists, it is especially valuable in its treatment of two crucial areas: seeing and understanding how things appear; and moving from drawing into other media.
What are the Best Drawing Books for Learning Anatomy and Figure Drawing?
This is arguably the most complete and accurate reference for any artist who really wants to see how a human body is put together, how it occupies space and how it moves.
Detailed illustrations and descriptions help you understand how a body really looks, from the inside and outside, allowing you to draw a human form and figure drawing with true insight and, as a result, startling accuracy.
A less detailed and exhaustive reference than the Atlas mentioned above, Hampton’s brilliant book on figure drawing, focuses more on the actual techniques you can use to translate deep understanding of human anatomy and structure into actual drawing.
An excellent book unto itself for learning how to draw the human form, this is ideally combined with Peck’s volume to make an unbeatable learning and reference set.
Revered by professional artists and art teachers and professors, Andrew Loomis’ books on Figure Drawing and Drawing Head and Hands are some of the best books you can wish for as an artist!
What are the Best Drawing Books for Learning How to Draw Perspective?
An incredibly simple book, covering one of the most important of all aspects of drawing, Perspective Made Easy is a masterpiece of repetitive drawing exercises, clear explanation and complete coverage of this crucial subject.
Another great Dover Art Instruction book, and a must-have for any artist on any level!
One of the most complete books available for teaching perspective, Montague’s Basic Perspective Drawing is written in a clear, friendly manner from a true authority in the field.
More advanced than the title may suggest, this is nonetheless a book that start at the most basic level, but one you may well keep, and keep referring to, throughout your life.
What are the Best Drawing Books for Learning Pen and Ink Drawing?
The cover of this classic tome, its 60th Anniversary Edition newly edited by Susan Meyer, claims that this is “the most comprehensive book ever published on the subject of ink drawing,” and there is no doubt in my mind this is true.
It is arguably the very best teaching book as well.
With rich and abundant illustrations and clear instructions and explanations, Rendering in Pen and Ink is both fun and enormously useful for beginners and professionals alike.
Shorter and more concise than Guptill’s exhaustive primer, this delightful book covers every aspect of pen and ink drawing with real clarity, and has in a short time become one of the most beloved and well-reviewed art books available.
What are the Best Drawing Books for Learning How to Draw Nature and Landscape?
Like the human anatomy books above, Knight’s Animal Drawing: Anatomy and Action for Artists provides a deep understanding of the way animals are put together, how they move and how they appear in the world.
Valuable for this, and for the detailed and easy to understand instructions he provides, this book is perhaps most important for its countless examples of animals drawn with life, energy, accuracy and personality.
This beautiful book teaches how to accurately draw plants, flowers, vines and leaves, but from the slightly different viewpoint of an illustrator.
In this way, it is a super helpful book for both the aspiring nature artist and the aspiring illustrator, illuminating each side with the techniques and perspectives of the other.
An excellent treatise on seeing things as they actually appear, on using simplicity to render complexity, and on learning, practicing and mastering both time-honored and new drawing techniques, Brooker’s new book is perhaps the best available for learning landscape drawing, as well as a great work for learning drawing in general, applicable to pretty much any subject matter.
What are the Best Drawing Books for Learning How to Draw Digitally?
Our last set of recommendations is a bit of a tricky one. I don’t think learning drawing on a computer, phone or tablet is the right approach – it is far, far better to learn to draw with a pencil, or pen and ink, and paper.
So here I will offer a couple of very good basic books, one that is perhaps the best book for learning how to draw on an iPad, and the other a wonderful general book for drawing on any tablet.
But I do strongly advise that you use these as supplements to one or more of the classic texts above – learn how to draw the old fashioned way first, and then see how fun and amazing it is to transfer that knowledge, skill and confidence to a digital device.
Other than the couple of books listed here, the best books available for learning digital drawing are tutorials for individual programs, like the best book to learn drawing on Procreate, the best book to learn drawing on Autodesk Sketchbook, the best book to learn drawing on Adobe Illustrator and cetera – but that sounds like a whole new article, doesn’t it?
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about Drawing Books
What is the Best Drawing Book for Beginners?
There are lots of good drawing books for beginners, and they can be really useful in teaching basic techniques and helping you develop your eye, your style and even your talent. A real classic, and one of my favorites, is The Practice and Science of Drawing by Harold Speed, which balances technique and artistic vision beautifully. A fantastic advanced drawing book is How to Draw What You See by Rudy de Reyna, and Ernest Norling’s Perspective Made Easy is also really valuable.
Do Drawing Books Actually Help?
Yes, absolutely – if you get a good drawing book it can do wonders to not only teach you the basics and inside tricks of drawing technique, but also help you to improve your artistic eye and to recognize and develop your talent. For true beginners, The Practice and Science of Drawing by Harold Speed is as good as it gets, and a wonderful more advanced drawing book is How to Draw What You See by Rudy de Reyna.
Can You Learn to Draw Through Books?
Anybody can learn the basics of drawing from a good book, and the best books will also teach you how to really see like an artist and how to appreciate and develop your own artistic talent. For beginning artists I strongly recommend The Practice and Science of Drawing by Harold Speed, and for How to Draw What You See by Rudy de Reyna is wonderful for more advanced students. You might also want a good book on seeing and rendering perspective, like Ernest Norling’s Perspective Made Easy.
Final Thoughts: Are Drawing Books the Best Way to Learn Drawing?
If you take the time to learn drawing, in a complete way and from somebody who really knows, it will lay the groundwork for everything else that follows.
And, if there is any chance you, even as an experienced artist, don’t have a thorough understanding of the basics of drawing, the concepts, tips and techniques, or if you may not have full confidence in your drawing ability, there is nothing you can do that will improve your overall artistic ability and output more than re-establishing this foundation.
Again, everybody has different preferences when it comes to learning, but if you like to learn from video courses I might suggest you check out my wide range of highly rated online classes – drawing, painting, the business of art and so much more – at my Courses Page.
But whatever way you learn, I strongly recommend you find some good books as well – and again I might suggest, as a basic learning library, Basic Drawing Techniques, Anatomy and Landscape. These few books will make your foundation for all other types and media of art even far more complete and secure.
And just as I believe there is nothing like learning drawing from a book, I also find that there is nothing like practicing drawing on paper, with a pen or pencil – even if you are exclusively a digital artist.
With that in mind, before we’re done here I would like to recommend some good basic supplies for you to have on hand while you’re learning.
Those who have read my other Buyer’s Guides know that while I don’t think anybody – especially a new artist – should spend too much on supplies, I also think that good supplies are super important. They give better results, last longer and over time even save you money, increase your confidence and motivation and, in this case, will actually help you learn more and better.
For good pencils I recommend the following, the first a high-quality drawing pencil set and the second an excellent set of mechanical pencils for artists. Either is suitable for beginners, and will grow with you and serve you well at any level.
Next I will share my choices for sketchpads. Here, maybe even more than with pencils, spending a little more will give you vastly improved quality and feeling, and a much more satisfying overall experience. Plus, your work will look much better and last longer.
Thank you so much for reading my article: Ultimate Buyer’s Guide 2021 – The Best Books to Learn Drawing. I hope it was as much fun to read as it was to write, and that it helps you in your quest to learn drawing and become a better artist.
And I especially hope that you, I and all of us continue to do what makes us happy, and that none of us ever stops learning!