The best drawing books are a great way to both learn to draw, and build on your existing art skills. At its core, drawing is a mixture of learning the right techniques and lots of practise. And here we’ve brought together a great selection of books to help you with both.
Whether you’re just starting out or you want to brush up on your existing skills, these are the best drawing books are around today, helping you improve your knowledge and provide you with brilliant inspiration and reference material.
For more handy tips and tricks to help improve your artwork, take a look at our roundup of how to draw tutorials, and our top sketching tips post. Meanwhile, if it’s illustrating you’re most interested, check out our roundup of the best illustration books too.
If you’re at the start of your art journey and have no real idea how to draw, we recommend this 1990 classic by Bert Dodson. Bert has illustrated more than 70 children’s books and worked as an animation designer for PBS, so he knows what he’s talking about.
In this step-by-step guide, he explains a complete drawing system made up of 55 ‘keys’ that you can use to draw any subject with confidence. As well as the theory, you get lots of practical exercises you can use to develop and improve your technique. And the book also looks at how to free your hand action, then learn to control it; convey the illusions of light, depth, and texture; and stimulate your imagination through “creative play”.
Art Fundamentals: Color, Light, Composition, Anatomy, Perspective, and Depth by Gilles Beloeil (Assassin’s Creed series), Andrei Riabovitchev (Prometheus and X-Men: First Class), and Roberto F. Castro (Dead Island and Mortal Kombat) is one of the most comprehensive drawing books on the market today.
In this book, you’ll discover all sorts of goodies, including the rule of thirds, rule of odds, Golden Triangle, and Divine Proportions. But it goes well beyond composition. You’ll also learn about colour and light, perspective and depth, anatomy, and portraying emotions.
Artists new to the world of character design can find it difficult to infuse their drawings with personality. Thankfully, this beginner-friendly book by children’s illustrator and character designer Beverly Johnson is here to show you how it’s done, with a series of 75 art exercises.
With chapters covering shape language, facial expressions, body language, interactions and more, this book tackles character design from every angle and finds refreshing approaches to the topic.
These include a look at how settings communicate character, and thought exercises to keep you on your toes. Even experienced character designers could benefit from the prompts it provides. Each challenge also shows how Johnson has solved the brief, so you can see the theory in action.
This is a fascinating collection of fantasy creature designs, organised by artist, featuring drawings of everything from dragons and fairies to mechanical structures and aliens, in all stages of development.
The majority of the artwork is in black and white. However, a number of full colour illustrations pop up randomly, making for a welcome change of pace in among the monochrome. A slight downside to this softcover is that there’s no easy way (unless you’re familiar with every artist) to quickly find a specific subject matter or style of interest.
Be aware that this is not a tutorial or ‘how to’ book, but more a source of inspiration, reference and ideas. The art here is accessible and fascinating in its variety, and the artistic insight is a nice added extra. Creature artists are sure to enjoy all the eye candy on view, and it’s a bargain to boot.
Andrew Loomis’ Drawing the Head and Hands is a classic, and is excellent if you’re looking for a solid foundation on drawing hands and heads. There’s a ton of info inside, so you’ll want to take it slow, especially if you struggle with drawing hands. Loomis’ explanations are detailed and engaging, and it’s hands-down (pun intended) the best anatomy reference book despite its age.
Loomis’ systematic approach will help you understand the principles behind drawing realistic portraits. Aside from the benefits of learning how to draw, Drawing the Head and Hands makes an excellent coffee table book too.
This art guide is perfect for those artists looking to improve their portraiture skills. Artist Miss Led (real name Joanna Henly) breaks down the stages of portrait drawing into manageable, easy-to-understand sections, covering how to best approach creating beautiful portraits in a range of styles.
Aimed at beginners and experienced artists alike, this 112-page book acts as a solid introduction to portrait drawing techniques, but also looks at how professional artists can create fine art and commercial-style illustrations. The handy-sized book is full of expert advice and tips, backed up by plenty of exercises for readers to put into practice. Copy is minimal but covers everything it needs to, leaving more space for Miss Led’s beautiful art.
This manual is well designed, clearly written, and you’ll be hard pushed to find a bag it doesn’t fit in. Like all good tutorial-style books, it works because it’s accessible to artists of every skill level. Packed with inspirational art and very affordable, Pocket Art: Portrait Drawing comes highly recommended.
This is a super-dense drawing book that you’ll need to read slowly. Stanchfield takes a different approach to learning how to draw, by focusing more on the emotions, life and action than proportions and technical accuracy.
With a heavy focus on gesture drawing, don’t expect a book filled with finished drawings. Drawn to Life is about capturing the moment. If you’re interested in creating drawings with character and flow, this is a must-have reference.
If you’re looking for some warmup sketch ideas, The Sketch Encyclopedia: Over 900 Drawing Projects is a great place to start. This drawing book breaks down each project, of which there are over 1,000, into four key steps (sketch, line drawing, and two that build up and complete the form) – making it easy to follow along. With lessons on creatures, people, buildings, famous landmarks, vehicles and nature, you’re sure to find something to get you started. The Sketch Encyclopedia also includes an extensive introduction covering tools, line making, light theory, perspective and texture.
This revised ‘definitive’ edition of a classic book is excellent for professional illustrators or drawing hobbyists. 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. If you’re an art educator, don’t skip this one!
No drawing books list is complete without a word from Stan Lee and John Buscema. If you’re looking for a crash course in figure drawing, or if you’re an aspiring comic-book artist, animator, or illustrator, do yourself a favour and grab a copy of How to Draw Comics the Marvel Way. In addition to figure drawing, you’ll learn about composition, shot selection, perspective, character dynamics, and more. Are there newer, more in-depth books out there? Sure, but if you’re a comic book junkie, then you need this book.
Part of learning how to draw is learning how to have confidence in your own work. The Silver Way: Techniques, Tips, and Tutorials for Effective Character Design is written by Stephen Silver, the man behind the character design for Kim Possible, Danny Phantom, and The Fairly OddParents (to name a few). It offers guidance, encouragement, and inspiration in addition to easy-to-follow tutorials and drawing techniques. For added inspiration, see our character design tips.
Drawing the Head and Figure: A How-To Handbook That Makes Drawing Easy by Jack Hamm is packed with helpful advice. Hamm’s approach to drawing the figure is simpler than that of Loomis’ book (number five on our list), with a step-by-step approach will have even the most inexperienced artists drawing better and more confidently.
Yes, some of the drawings are a bit dated, specifically the hairstyles and clothing. But it’s still an excellent primer for learning how to draw, and can be easily applied to what you’re making today.
Cartooning is fun! And in Modern Cartooning: Essential Techniques for Drawing Today’s Popular Cartoons, Christopher Hart shows you the essential techniques you need to know to unleash your full potential.
Aimed at beginners, Modern Cartooning takes you step-by-step through the process of creating cartoons. You’ll learn how to draw faces, bodies, backdrops, and more. As an added bonus, Hart’s YouTube channel regularly shares easy-to-follow, step-by-step videos on how to draw cartoons, manga, animals and everything else.
Why is an animation book included on a ‘best drawing books’ list? Because it’s amazing! Written by Ollie Johnston and Frank Thomas, two long-term Disney animators, The Illusion of Life takes its readers back to the beginning.
Although it’s not a tutorial book by any stretch of the word, it does offer a lot of advice and guidance regarding styles, effects, colour selection, and more. It also formed the basis for the 12 principles of animation still used today. This drawing book will inspire you to create through its many uses of photos, paintings, sketches and storyboards – all of which can help you become a better artist.