The best drawing books can be a wonderful introduction to the art of drawing and a source of constant inspiration. Both for beginners and experienced pros, they can provide new ideas, reveal new techniques and offer hours of practice. Drawing books can also be a thoughtful gift for anyone interested in illustration and drawing, be it on paper or digital.
Whether you’re looking for basic advice and pointers or advanced detailed step-by-step walk throughs on particular subjects or effects, there’s bound to be a drawing book for you. With a decade writing about art and design behind us, we’ve had the opportunity to review lots of titles over the years, and many of our contributors have their own favourites. We’ve put that knowledge together to create this bumper compilation of the best drawing books that we’ve used over the years, from longstanding classics to newer publications, which are outlined below in no particular order.
If you’re looking for books on other topics to add to your collection, see our pick of the best illustration books. And for more tips and advice, see our selections of how to draw tutorials and sketching tips.
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Sometimes the best drawing books are those that have been used by art students for decades. First published way back in 1941, The Natural Way To Draw was put together by Kimon Nicolaides’ students based on his teaching at New York’s Art Students’ League. Nicolaides developed a system for teaching drawing that he designed to be followed by anyone.
Prescribed reading in some of the best art schools for many, many years, the approach concentrates on mastering the key concepts of contour, gesture, weight and structure, with 64 exercises designed to be followed over a year of practice. It’s well illustrated with examples from the Old Masters as well as student works. The emphasis is on the natural gestures of living beings in motion – humans but also animals. The way it’s written may seem rather antiquated and impractical today, but it’s still a classic, and the fervour of Nicolaides’ students comes across today in the way the book is written.
If you’re just starting out, the best drawing book to begin with is this classic primer by Bert Dodson. Having illustrated more than 70 children’s titles and worked as an animation designer for PBS, Dodson is very much an expert in his field. He also knows how to explain the process of drawing in plain language that anyone can follow.
In Keys to Drawing, Bert explains a complete drawing system made up of 55 ‘keys’ to draw any subject with confidence. Along the way, we learn how to free hand action, then control it. We also discover how to restore, focus, map, and intensify; convey the illusions of light, depth, and texture; and stimulate the imagination through “creative play”. Plus we get lots of exercises packed in to practice, practice, practice.
A broad understanding of the fundamental concepts, conventions, and theories of art is essential for producing successful work, and this is one of the best drawing books on the market covering these subjects. Compiled by some of the most experienced artists in the games and film industries today, it covers a range of fundamentals including the rule of thirds, rule of odds, Golden Triangle, and Divine Proportions.
In this book, we learn all about colour and light, perspective and depth, anatomy, and portraying emotions. The book also explores the power of storytelling in an image, and how the slightest tilt of an eyebrow can transform happiness into anger. The book was followed up by another title, which you can read about in our Beyond Art Fundamentals review.
Artists of any level will be sure to find some useful nuggets in this comprehensive book on creating portraits. If you are looking to enhance your portrait painting skills then this offering from 3DTotal will prove invaluable. It covers all the bases from using references, planning and sketching to in-depth tutorials on full pieces of finished portrait art.
The content is clear and detailed, breaking down topics into manageable chunks, so if you want to focus on adding tattoos, scars or jewellery, you can. The layout and flow of the book is fantastic and, while it is clearly aiming to help portrait artists, it will benefit any type of work – much of the content covers important elements like different stroke types and replicating various styles.
This variety is one of the keys to the success of this book, as there is something for everybody. Littered around the pages of this book are many useful artist tips, pointing out not just technical nuggets of help but some useful insights to aid in the practicalities and mentality of painting portraits, to really help you hone your skills.
Drawing characters can be a difficult skill to master. but this beginner-friendly drawing book by children’s illustrator and character designer Beverly Johnson shows you how it’s done. There are chapters covering shape language, facial expressions, body language, interactions and more. The book explores character design from every angle and finds refreshing approaches, including an exploration of how settings communicate character. We also found the exercises offered plenty of practice to help develop new skills.
While this book is great for beginners, even experienced character designers can find a lot of interesting tips here. It includes a series of challenges that demonstrate how the author solved the brief, allowing you to see the theory put into practice.
Simply Draw by Ella McLean is a great little book for beginners, that aims to make learning to draw easy by building up from basic shapes. It will be a little bit too basic for some people, but we found that it provides a fun, accessible introduction to making it fun for all the family. We really enjoy using it and found that we could always build upon the basic shapes presented for more of a challenge. If you’ve got kids who are interested in learning to draw and you’re no expert yourself, this is a lovely way to for everyone to get started on the same page.
If you’re specifically interested in drawing fantasy creatures, this softcover book will provide a lot of inspiration. It features work by 50 artists from across the field of creature design: everything from dragons and fairies to mechanical structures and aliens. Each artist offers their personal commentary, advice, and tips on drawing techniques and concept design processes.
The book shows you this work in all stages of development, mostly in black and white. That said, now and again full colour illustrations pop up, making for a welcome change of pace.
Note that this isn’t a tutorial or ‘how to’ book like the other best drawing books on our list, and there’s no easy way to quickly find a particular subject matter or style (unless you happen to be familiar with every artist). It’s more a source of inspiration, reference and ideas. However, the art is made accessible and it’s fascinating in its variety. We found the artistic insight to be a nice added extra. See our full Sketching from the Imagination review for more details.
“Life drawing is not only about learning to draw the body accurately; it also teaches you to translate our complex three-dimensional world… to the confines of a sheet of paper,” says artist Eddie Armer in his Beginner’s Guide to Life Drawing. And the book provides some great insights into that over almost 100 pages filled with step-by-step drawings and helpful analysis on the methods used, with insights on tone, line, shade and position. That said, although it’s described as a beginner’s guide, there’s not as much guidance as some complete beginners might like on how to achieve proportion and accurate anatomical shapes if you don’t already have some skills of observation and drawing (Draw the rest of the owl, anyone?). For more titles specifically geared towards figure drawings, see our guide to the best figure drawing books.
If you’re struggling with the basics of drawing people, it’s a good idea to focus on getting the hands and heads right first. These can be the most difficult part, and this drawing book by Andrew Loomis, one of the great commercial illustrators of the 20th century, looks at this in detail.
The head and hands are the most difficult elements in figure drawing. But the author’s explanations are detailed and engaging, and his systematic approach will help you understand the principles behind drawing realistic portraits. So despite its age, this is hands-down (pun intended) the best anatomy reference book for newbies.
Want to improve your portrait skills? Here’s a great book to help you out in which artist Miss Led (aka Joanna Henly) breaks down the process of portrait drawing into manageable, easy-to-understand stages. Aimed at beginners and experienced artists alike, this book provides a solid introduction to portrait drawing techniques, by exploring topics such as expressions and facial structure.
The book is full of expert advice and tips and it offers plenty of exercises for readers to put into practice. It isn’t heavy on text, and there could be more explanation, but the book covers everything it needs to, leaving space for Miss Led’s stunning art to shine. Overall it works well and it’s accessible for artists of every skill level.
Once you’ve learned to draw still figures, you’ll want to bring your drawing to life by capturing gestures accurately and successfully. This book, based on a legendary series of lectures by long-time Disney animator Walt Stanchfield, should help out there. It shows how to add emotions, life and action to your drawings, with a heavy focus on gesture drawing.
Don’t expect a book filled with finished drawings; this is very much about teaching how to capture the moment. If you’re interested in learning how to create drawings with character and flow, this is a must-have reference.
Technique is one thing, but to become great at drawing, you need to unleash your creativity too. This revised edition of one of history’s most iconic drawing books will help you do just that. Author Betty Edwards delivers a lot of interesting concepts as she encourages you to explore the importance of creative thinking. She approaches learning how to draw by teaching you how to see differently, and explains everything from technique to materials.
This revised version includes new research on the brain’s plasticity and the enormous value of learning new skills and utilising the right hemisphere of the brain. Art teachers are likely to find this material super-useful.
Marvel is the biggest name in comic art, and no list of the best drawing books would be complete without this fine manual from Stan Lee and John Buscema. As well as figure drawing, it teaches vital lessons on composition, shot selection, perspective, character dynamics, and more. Yes, there are newer and more in-depth books out there, but as big comic book fans, we find this book’s lavish, full-colour illustrations make learning to draw a true joy.
Part of learning how to draw is learning to have confidence in your work. Here Stephen Silver, the artist behind the character design of shows like Kim Possible, offers guidance, encouragement, and inspiration to help develop your character design. You’ll also find easy-to-follow tutorials and drawing techniques. Silver’s book is as informative as it is beautiful. For added inspiration, see our own roundup of character design tips.
This book is packed with helpful advice on how to draw human figures. Author Jack Hamm’s approach is simpler than that of Andrew Loomis’ book (number five on our list). It contains hundreds of illustrations and offers a clear, step-by-step approach that can help even beginners to draw better and more confidently. Yes, some of the drawings may look a little dated (particularly the hairstyles and clothing!), but we find that adds to the charm. It’s also testament to how this excellent primer has stood the test of time.
Cartooning is a very specific art, but this book from Christopher Hart shows you the essential techniques you need to know to unleash your potential. Aimed at beginners, it takes us step-by-step through the process of creating cartoons, and covers faces, bodies, backdrops, and more. It makes a fine accompaniment to Hart’s YouTube channel (opens in new tab) which regularly shares easy-to-follow, step-by-step tutorials on cartooning.