As Anthony Ryder said in the preface of The Artist’s Complete Guide To Figure Drawing:
“In painting, everything depends on the drawing”
…and we couldn’t agree more!
Whether it’s nailing down the right perspective or having the correct proportions when capturing the human figure, drawing is a foundational skill that transcends all mediums.
Below is a collection of some of the best drawing books that professional artists have come to depend upon.
Best Drawing Books Reviewed 2020
This roundup features drawing books in related categories which include beginners, figure drawing, cartooning, concept, and more.
Best Drawing Books for Beginners
1. Perspective Made Easy
Primary Focus: Perspective Drawing, Art Fundamentals
From understanding vanishing point placement, the importance of eye level all the way to properly placing figures in a drawing, Ernest Norling covers all the essentials you need to understand in Perspective Made Easy.
After reading this book, you will start to look at the world around you quite differently by studying the lines in buildings and seeing how everything truly comes together.
While this book was originally published in 1939, it has withstood the test of time, not only because the rules of perspective haven’t (and will never) changed, but the way Ernest Norling walks the readers through the book is both simple and well thought out – which is especially refreshing given a relatively abstract subject.
With over 256 drawings throughout the book, you will see the principle that the author is demonstrating clearly. This is the first and best drawing book for beginners to start with.
- Any beginner should start here
- Covers perspective in a captivating way
- This book will make your drawings better
2. Keys to Drawing
Primary Focus: Drawing Exercises, Art Fundamentals
With exercises sprinkled throughout the book, Keys to Drawing is a beginner to an intermediate-friendly book that helps to teach the fundamentals such as how to free your hand, learning how to measure proportions, and an overview of the drawing process.
Beyond the fundamentals, Keys to Drawing offers a lot of depth as well. After going through the 48 minute-lessons,you can expect to learn how to add both depth and texture to your drawings and sketches.
Overall it’s a great book that will grow with you.
- Lots of drawing exercises
- A reference you will find yourself coming back to
- Helps build the fundamentals of drawing
3. How to Draw What You See
Primary Focus: Art Fundamentals, Drawing Techniques
A catch-all drawing book for beginners, How to Draw What You See by Rudy De Reyna has withstood the test of time and is a fixture on bookshelves for artists. From learning how to draw structure and form to more complex objects like still life and children, it is a great book to reference time and time again.
The approach that De Reyna takes is one that is practical and is easy to follow. When you learn to draw what you see, you can truly unlock the joys of drawing and capture the world around you. Like most art books, there are some nudes within the book, making it perhaps inappropriate for children.
- Teaches key drawing techniques
- Covers many topics covered in the first few years of art school
- Practical drawing approach
4. Drawing for The Absolute Beginner
Primary Focus: Art Supply & Drawing Fundamentals
From learning how to sharpen your pencil to understanding contrast, Drawing for the Absolute Beginner by Mark Willenbrink lives up to the title. Whether you have always dreamed of learning to draw or are trying to ignite the passion of drawing in someone else, this book is a great place to start. Rather than concentrating on a particular area (i.e. perspective drawing), this book takes more of a potpourri approach and covers several key topics. Published in 2006, it has quickly become a favorite of new artists everywhere.
- Requires no prerequisites
- A great springboard for understanding how to draw
- Loaded with visual examples throughout
5. Drawing On The Right Side of The Brain
Primary Focus: Artistic Eye, Confidence
Unlike a lot of other drawing books that take a more practical and step-by-step approach, Drawing on The Right Side of The Brain by Betty Edwards takes a wholly unique approach. What a lot of readers loved about this book, in particular, is how it helps you visualize the world around you in a much different way. It’s a great book if you are looking to increase your confidence as an artist and sharpen your budding artistic eye.
- Unique approach
- Many student artists found this book to be life-altering
- A fairly dense book
6. The Art of Perspective
Primary Focus: Perspective
A great alternative to Ernest Norling’s Perspective Made Easy, The Art of Perspective by
Philip W. Metzger is a slightly more modern approach to learning perspective in the artwork.
Published in 2007, The Art of Perspective’s learning sections are broken into two major parts: Natural Perspective and Linear Perspective. Here you will learn about atmospheric perspective and how color and values can be used to give your artwork depth. Furthermore, you will also get a deeper understanding of one, two, and three-point perspectives.
In addition to learning the basics, perhaps the most important takeaway from this book is part 3: special problems. Here the author tackles unique perspective problems such as reflections, stairs, wheels, and more that artists come across frequently in their drawings. Once reading through this book, you will be equipped with a toolkit for drawing the world around you.
- A practical approach to drawing perspective
- Clear demonstrations
- Great for intermediate-level artists
Best Drawing Books for Anatomy and Figure Drawing
7. Figure Drawing For All Its Worth
Primary Focus: Figure Drawing, Proportions, Anatomy
Andrew Loomis simply sets the gold standard when it comes to understanding and explaining figure drawing.
Even just a few short evenings with Figure Drawing For All Its Worth will instantly make you better at figure drawing – not because it will unlock some magic potential that you had within yourself (that has always been there), but rather because it does such a good job at covering the fundamentals.
While Andrew goes over the basics of proportions for men, women, and children and how to find it in any figure position (which was a huge help for me), he walks you through a much deeper understanding of the human figure.
By dedicating an entire section of the book on both the bones and muscles, you will understand how to draw a figure in a way that makes anatomical sense.
Furthermore, Andrew also gives you a variety of walk-throughs on drawing the human figure in just about any position imaginable including kneeling, reclining, crouching, sitting, walking, running, etc.
Once you are done reading Figure Drawing For All Its Worth and employing the many exercises that Andrew put before you, you will no longer have a question on how to draw the human form and will be able to compose your drawings with absolute confidence.
- A classic book that should be in every artist’s library
- Applicable to any discipline where the human form is found
- Helpful for fashion drawing
8. The Artist’s Complete Guide To Figure Drawing
Primary Focus: Figure Drawing, Human Body
Building on what you learned in Andrew Loomis’ book we just went over, Anthony Ryder expertly walks you through his process of drawing the human figure to absolute perfection in The Artist’s Complete Guide To Figure Drawing.
Rather than concentrating on the figure itself by drawing what you think you see, Anthony pivots you to learn how to draw what you see.
Employing the block-in method of figure drawing coupled with a concentration on contours and, of course, drawing the body itself, you will get a much deeper understanding of striking the right value in your piece to accurately represent the figure.
Here’s a quick flip through The Artist’s Complete Guide To Figure Drawing:
What we loved most, though, was the lesson on light and how it relates to the figure. This section alone will make your artwork come to life.
Geared for the more intermediate and expert artists out there – if you are trying to jump ahead with your drawing lessons, this book will likely be a bit too much for beginners.
- A deeper understanding of the human figure
- Demonstrates how to capture motion through gesture drawing
- Understand how light and shadow impact figures
9. Drawing The Head & Hands
Primary Focus: Heads, Hands, Human Body
Next up on our list is another book by Andrew Loomis, Drawing The Head & Hands.
Probably the two parts of the human figure that provide the most challenge to any level of an artist, Andrew Loomis tackles it head-on!
Looking at heads in several different perspectives, ages, men, women, children, and teens – Andrew puts it all out there in this not only easy to read book (that won’t intimidate a beginner), but he goes over certain rules and anatomical structures to get things right.
However, it goes deeper than just looking at heads and hands in great detail – Andrew also concentrates on tones, modeling planes, expressions, and so much more.
When you couple this with Framed Ink, you will have the essentials to not only tell a compelling story with your artwork, but all the perspectives and proportions will flow off the tip of your pencil effortlessly.
While some artists may be apprehensive about trying this book since it’s not new (originally published in 1956), the theories applied all remain true to this day.
- Covers a variety of ages and their subtle differences
- Detailed and practical information
10. Figure Drawing: Design And Invention
Primary Focus: Human Body, Anatomy
Rather than focusing on the tone or value of the figure, Michael Hampton guides you through the human figure by way of geometry, guides, and most importantly muscle structure.
While some of the previous figure drawing books concentrated on the subject of the figure itself, in Figure Drawing: Design And Invention, you will learn the muscle groups of the human form in a full-color and easy to digest manner.
This is important in understanding why a certain pose makes sense when compared to another that just seems off for some reason (in that the human muscles don’t just bend in a certain way).
As you can see in this flip-through, the illustration-laden pages give you great guidance on all the subjects to make you have a much richer understanding of human anatomy as an artist:
- Beautiful color illustrations help to teach the topic
- Applicable to other mediums
- Indispensable in improving your drawing skills
Best Drawing Books for Manga, Anime, and Comics
11. How To Draw Comics the Marvel Way
Primary Focus: Comics, Western Style
Written by the amazing Stan Lee and John Buscema, How To Draw Comics the Marvel Way provides a rare look at how Marvel makes such compelling superheroes (and supervillains). From capturing the figure to set an action scene, this book goes over all the basics in a very beginner-friendly way. Whether you just saw the latest Marvel flick or want to bring the characters from your comic book collection to life, this is the book for you.
While a short read, it covers all the key details you need to get started in making your own comics.
- Covers all necessary aspects to making comics
- Written by the biggest name in comics, Stan Lee
- Great for kids and adults
12. The Master Guide to Drawing Anime
Primary Focus: Anime Characters
The Master Guide to Drawing Anime by Christopher Hart is a great introductory book for those who want to either draw their favorite anime characters or create their manga (Japanese comic books). When picking up this book, you can expect to learn how to draw the following:
- School Girls
- School Boys
- Fantasy Characters
In addition to characters, you will also learn how to capture emotions, draw accessories, and learn proportions. Written in a friendly way, this book is perfect for artists of all ages. The several illustrations and examples throughout the book are both colorful and easy to follow.
- Easy to follow for artists of any age
- Teaches you how to capture the emotion
- Great introduction of Japanese-style art
13. Mastering Manga
Primary Focus: Manga, Anime
Mastering Manga by Mark Krilly is truly a reference book for manga artists of all levels. Whether you are looking to start drawing your comics or copying the style of a popular manga, expect to walk away with a wide skill set. While Chapters 1 and 2 concentrate on character design, what we specifically liked about this book is the last chapter of setting a scene. This chapter will help you draw the reader into the story and get them hooked (of course, a good dialog is equally important).
We think that this book is a great next-read after completing The Master Guide to Drawing Anime by Christopher Hart.
- An easy read for all ages
- Expect to draw great manga art
- Written and illustrated by a talented manga artist
14. Drawing Manga Animals, Chibis, and Other Adorable Creatures
Primary Focus: Anime, Manga, Creatures
From Chocobos to Pokemon like creatures, Drawing Manga Animals, Chibis, and Other Adorable Creatures are a fixture of traditional Japanese anime and popular manga. These classic sidekicks come in many different shapes and forms. Not only are many of them based on real animals, but several are also based on mythical creatures, too!
In this book, you will learn how to draw these cute little creatures and incorporate them into your artwork. This book is a must-have if you are looking to expand your artwork in the manga and anime style.
- Nicely breaks down facial features
- Has some great info for digital artists
- Great introduction to these niche characters
Best Drawing Books for Concept Art
15. Designing Creatures And Characters
Primary Focus: Concept Art, Creatures, Characters
Designing Creatures And Characters provides you with some concrete guidance to developing completely imaginative figures from scratch.
With all the fundamentals of composition and figure drawing already covered in the books above, it’s now time to let your imagination run wild…
…and this book will help push you in that direction.
Not only is this book loaded with challenging exercises, but it covers the drawing process of just about any creature imaginable.
As you can see in this flip-through:
The book features full-color illustrations accompanied by several tips from Marco Holmes.
While more of a niche category for artists looking to get into the world of concept art, this book is great for being both a reference and inspiration – and one you will find yourself flipping through time and time again.
- Imagination drawing
- Perfect for science fiction artwork
- Helps to mold the creative mindset
16. How To Draw: Drawing And Sketching Objects From Your Imagination
Primary Focus: Imaginary Environments, Objects, Vehicles
Scott Peterson, a prolific author of several drawing books, has put together one of the best books on drawing from the imagination and developing the subject in a much different manner.
Rather than drawing from what you see, Scott takes quite a different approach:
This means that you will be building volumes and building objects instead.
So, what does this mean for you, the artist?
That you will have a much different understanding of how the world around you is built rather than solely relying on your eyes.
Here’s a short video of Scott Robertson himself walking us through the book:
One aspect of this book that we loved is Scott’s requirement that you draw in ink rather than a pencil.
This not only forces you to not weigh too heavily on your mistakes but will make you concentrate on the lessons that he is teaching at hand.
As we mentioned briefly above, this list is laid out in a logical order; therefore, some artists may be a bit too overwhelmed if they jump into this book immediately as it covers some pretty complex topics including:
- Creating Grids
- Ellipses And Rotations
- Working With Volume
- Drawing Environments
…plus many more!
But it doesn’t end there – one cool feature of this book is the 10 hours of companion video. When you download the app that it comes with, you can scan a QR code in the book and have Scott walk you through the drawing process he’s explaining in the book.
- Includes a companion video course
- Touches on major media types
- Large concentration on perspective
17. Light For Visual Artists: Understanding & Using Light In Art & Design
Primary Focus: Light
Whether you plan on drawing with traditional pencil and paper or in a digital realm – the importance of light cannot be emphasized enough.
Before you proceed into composition or figure drawing, light can set an atmosphere for whatever the subject is that you are drawing.
But instead of being a simple step-by-step drawing guide, Light For Visual Artists takes a much different approach.
Walking you through a variety of scenes including photography, 3D renderings, and drawings, you can see how certain sources of light, fabrics, and textures will transform the light in unique ways.
Excellent as a reference guide, there is something for everyone in Light For Visual Artists.
- Beautiful illustrations
- Demonstrates the importance of light and how it impacts an object
- Best for intermediate or advanced artists
18. The Skillful Huntsman
Primary Focus: Concept, Workflow
This book by a team of artists including Khang Le, Mike Yamada, Felix Yoon, and Scott Robertson (same author as How To Draw featured in this list) put together an incredible compilation of artwork.
Geared squarely at the artists who plan on drawing fantasy concept art, this team of artists outline various huntsmen, castles, forests, monsters, and more.
While this may be an unrelated niche for some artists who plan on painting landscapes or portraits instead, the inspiration alone of The Skillful Huntsman makes this one worth checking out.
Artists who have gone through this book loved that it was so imaginative and had great reference material.
This book assumes that you are well-versed in figure drawing and perspective – making it well-suited for artists who have a firm grip on drawing and composition.
- Demonstrates an artist workflow
- Lots of sketches
Other Drawing Books That Should Be On Your Shelf
19. Framed Ink: Drawing And Composition For Visual Storytellers
Primary Focus: Composition
While the first two books on our list concentrated heavily on perspective and building volume within an environment, Framed Ink will take your artwork to the next level: composition and storytelling.
The composition is everything when it comes to artwork.
A well-composed piece not only can make a dull scene look captivating, but it can also convey emotions to the viewer.
Famed visual concept and comic book artist Marcos Mateu-Mestre provides the ultimate class in composition.
Now, you might be hesitant in this book because it introduces figure drawing, but the rules taught in this book will make the subsequent books much more valuable.
Framed Ink will walk you through the following:
- Marcos General Thoughts On Narrative Art
- Drawing And Composing A Single Image
- Composing Shots With A Purpose
- Composing For Continuity
- The Graphic Novel
While this might seem a bit light from the onset, it’s not.
Through Framed Ink, you will learn all about order vs. chaos, conveying emotions, nighttime vs. daytime drawings, and so much more.
Here’s a quick flip through the book:
Even if you plan on solely painting landscapes your entire career, there are some intensely valuable lessons you can pick up and apply in your artwork.
- Helps make your artwork tell a story
- Applicable to all mediums
- Terrific reference book
20. Force: Dynamic Life Drawing For Animators
Primary Focus: Rhythm and Gesture
Once you have learned all the fundamentals of figure drawing, it’s now time to put those learning to work.
There is no better way to do that than through the Mike Mattesi book, Force: Dynamic Life Drawing For Animators.
While most figure drawings concentrate on the nude body in its purest form (which Mike does open within this book), he also brings into the equation the topic of clothes and how they can convey the motion of the figure.
One of the topics that Mike also introduces as it wasn’t mentioned previously in many of the books is the drawing of animals.
In Force: Dynamic Life Drawing For Animators, Mike walks you through the form of primates, seals, birds, and more – a great way to add components to a piece.
Unlike artists like Andrew Loomis who have passed away more than half a century ago, Mike Mattesi is still actively drawing and has published this hour-long guide on his ideas and philosophies on drawing:
If you are struggling with conveying motion in your artwork but have confidence in your figure drawing, then you will want to give this book a read.
- Written for intermediate and advanced students
- Demonstrates how to convey force and rhythm in artwork