Are Drawing Books Worth It? Can You Learn From Books?

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Kevin Hayler: Professional Wildlife artist, author, and traveler.

Choosing the most practical way to learn art is daunting for a beginner. Many students start with a book, so let’s answer the question – are drawing books worth it?

Drawing books are worth it for learning art. They provide a structured approach to mastering various techniques and styles at one’s own pace. Additionally, their accessibility, convenience, and cost-effectiveness make them a valuable resource for every artist.

There is a caveat. Not all drawing books are made equal. With that in mind let’s look at the pros and cons of buying drawing books.

Disclaimer: When you buy something via my affiliate links I earn from qualifying purchases and sometimes earn a commission, at no extra cost to you. I am an Amazon Associate among others. I only recommend trusted sites.

The Value of Drawing Books For Artists

Drawing books are a treasure trove of knowledge at your fingertips. If you’re interested in learning the basics of drawing or honing your art skills, there is always room for one more book on the shelf.

They serve as a comprehensive instant resource, offering a blend of drawing lessons, visual inspiration, and theoretical knowledge about art and drawing in all its forms.

Art books are especially helpful when you are an absolute beginner as they provide an accessible and less intimidating way to start learning.

There are basically two types of drawing books, Instructional and inspirational. Three if you include those that combine the two.

Instructional Drawing Books

Instructional books are designed to teach specific drawing techniques, skills, and drawing exercises, usually with detailed step-by-step instructions for each lesson.

These are the best books for complete beginners. Good art books provide simple drawing lessons, clearly explained, and sprinkled with useful information. The best books advance from basic drawing concepts and skills to more complex drawing techniques as the students progress.

Inspirational Drawing Books

Inspirational books focus more on showcasing a favorite artist, or artist’s, best work and provide a source of constant inspiration. Most professional artists will have a collection of well-leafed books to fire their imaginations and get the creative juices flowing.

As a wildlife artist, I treasure my books by Robert Bateman and Raymond Harris-Ching. I refer back to them when I lose my way.

Try another point of view. Kelsey has a popular video

The Benefits of Using Drawing Books

Drawing books offer many benefits that make them invaluable resources for anyone interested in making art without the pressure of being judged.

Whether you’re using them as a simple guide for basic principles or as a reference book for more complex techniques, their value cannot be overstated.

These are a few that come benefits that come to mind:

Self-paced Learning

One of the key advantages of drawing books is the ability to learn at your own pace. Unlike structured classes, books allow you to spend as much time as you need on each concept or technique.

This self-paced learning approach is particularly beneficial for beginners, as it allows them to thoroughly understand and practice the basic principles of drawing without feeling rushed or overwhelmed.

Learning a Variety of New Techniques and Styles

Drawing books offer a wide range of drawing techniques and art styles to learn from. They expose you to different perspectives and encourage you to experiment. Books help you to develop a wider skill set and to discover your own way of working

Accessibility and Convenience of Reference Books

Who doesn’t want a personal library? I live on a boat, and even a bookshelf is the stuff of dreams. I have to keep mine in plastic containers!

Reference books, provide a wealth of information at your fingertips, allowing you to revisit concepts or techniques as needed, and art books are always at hand to re-inspire.

Isn’t it so much more pleasurable to flick to the right page than to find the right section of a video? It is for me.

Cost-effectiveness Compared to Art Classes

Compared to enrolling in art classes, or buying courses, drawing books are far more cost-effective. You have a wealth of knowledge for a fraction of the price. Art books are the most affordable option for those learning on a budget.

Limitations of Drawing Books

While drawing books offer many benefits, it’s important to acknowledge they have limitations as well. Understanding where things go wrong can help you to avoid the pitfalls.

Lack of Feedback and Interaction

The big limitation of drawing books is the lack of feedback. In a classroom, you can ask questions and get an immediate answer. Books fail in this regard. Even the most articulate of written text and series of instructions always deliver ambiguities.

This lack of interaction is a challenge, especially for complete beginners who may need extra guidance or reassurance as they navigate the complexities of drawing.

Let’s face it, nothing beats a “do this – do that” demo in real life. A book will never show you how something is done, it can only tell you. A book will always be 2nd best in that regard.

Potential for Developing Bad Habits

There’s a good reason to be cautious about developing bad habits. Drawing books provide instructions and advice but they can’t do much more. Over time, uncorrected habits can become ingrained and hard to unlearn.

These posts will help:

That’s not all, it’s easy to become a slave to the drawing style of the author. It’s understandable because you admire the artist, then you buy the book and follow along. Nothing wrong with that, not if you can use the instructions to beat your own path.

Sadly, many artists never develop the confidence to move beyond copycat instructions. They get stuck making a pastiche of the artist’s work. I’ve seen it many times.

Not All Books Are Created Equal

Lastly, it’s important to note that not all drawing books are created equal. The quality of instruction can vary widely from book to book. Some books may not be comprehensive or clear enough, especially for self-taught artists who rely heavily on these resources.

It’s crucial to choose books that are well-reviewed and recommended by trusted sources. Now here’s the rub, why do you see the same books promoted on the web? Is it because they are the best and will transform your art or because they offer a good commission to the reviewer?

In other words, always verify the choices on offer. Including mine!

The Best Drawing Books in Google Results

The following books are collected from the top Google results. Are they any good? Probably, but I’m not going to lie and pretend that I have read and used them all, and let’s be honest, neither have the reviewers!

With that in mind, these are 8 of the most popular drawing books that appear on a Google search. In no order of preference:

Drawing the Head and Shoulders by Andrew Loomis

Drawing the Head and HandsWritten By Andrew Loomis. This is one of an influential series of art instruction books by the illustrator Andrew Loomis. This classic book specifically tackles the challenges of drawing hands and heads, two of the most difficult parts of the human body to depict accurately. The explanations are detailed and engaging but this book is very much of its time, 1956.

Drawing on the Right Side of The Brain by Betty Edwards

Drawing on the Right Side of the BrainWritten by Betty Edwards. This famous book is designed to help you see differently and unleash your creativity. It includes research on the brain’s plasticity and the value of learning new skills, making it a great book for beginners. It’s not a blueprint for genius but Betty’s methods should improve your drawing skills.

Beginning Drawing Atelier: An Instructional Sketchbook: Written by Juliette Aristides

Beginning Drawing Atelier: An Instructional Sketchbook: Written by Juliette Aristides. This great book serves as a workbook and sketchbook in one. Draw directly on the pages and see your progress, step-by-step. A perfect book for beginners. The book offers valuable drawing lessons and serves as an inspirational reference book for visual artists.

Keys to Drawing by Bert Dobson

Keys to Drawing: Written by Bert Dodson, an expert who has illustrated more than 70 children’s books, this book offers a complete drawing system with 55 keys to freehand drawing. It covers topics like focus, hand action, light, depth, and texture, and includes plenty of exercises for practice. For beginners

Composition in Drawing: The Design and Composition of Drawings: Written by Marcus S. Agerer

Composition in Drawing: The Design and Composition of Drawings: Written by Marcus S. Agerer: This book provides a comprehensive exploration of design and composition techniques, helping artists to create balanced and visually appealing works of art. The book is suitable for all artists and offers valuable insights into the psychology of aesthetics.

Drawing for the Absolute Beginner by Mark and Mary Willenbrink

Drawing for the Absolute BeginnerWritten by Mark Willenbrink. This book is perfect for beginners, covering everything from using references to sketching proportions, drawing reflections, composition, planning, and mastering proportions. Mark breaks down topics into manageable chunks, making it easy to focus on specific areas.

The Complete Book of Drawing by Barrington Barber

The Complete Book of Drawing – Essential Skills for Every Artist: Written by Barrington Barber. This comprehensive guide is perfect for beginners. It offers step-by-step instructions, tips, and techniques across a wide range of subjects, helping artists to develop their skills and understand the fundamentals of drawing. Very popular on Amazon and then I saw the price. Practically free.

Figure Drawing for Artists by Steve Huston

Figure Drawing for Artists: Making Every Mark CountWritten by Steve Huston. This is a unique instructional figure drawing book that teaches the two-step process used by major animation studios to instruct their own artists. lt guides artists from the initial quick sketch to the final mastery of figure drawing, using the important concepts behind the world’s great artworks.

You should never judge a book by its cover – unless it’s an art book! On that basis, Beginning Drawing Atelier: An Instructional Sketchbook stands out for me. Perhaps it’s because I’m a wildlife artist and cover drawing is great. Maybe my bias has overruled my other senses, but I’m immediately attracted to this book.

I’m someone who needs to be inspired by the possible, and the concept of following along by sketching in the book itself is genius. But who am I? It’s only my opinion.

The Drawing Books That Influenced Me

These are the books that I used when I was teaching myself to draw and paint, many years ago. One, by J.D. Hillberry, you may have seen before, the other two are by Dennis Frost and you probably won’t have heard of him.

I bought these two books by Dennis Frost:

Capturing Personality in Pastel by Dennis Frost

Capturing Personality in Pastel: Written by Dennis Frost. I bought this book way back in the 1980s. There were very few books on the market that really explained how to draw and paint without leaving out vital information. This book transformed my portraiture. It told me the exact pastel colors to use as a formula, and being colorblind, made painting possible for me.

Portraits in pastel by Dennis Frost

Portraits in Pastel: Written by Dennis Frost. This is a companion booklet I bought at the same time and gave me a few more formulas. If anything, it is more helpful than the bigger book. I especially appreciated the hair color formulas. If you can get this booklet for a reasonable price, grab it.

This book is by J.D. Hillberry:

Drawing Realistic Textures by JD Hillberry

Drawing Realistic Textures in Pencil: Written by J.D. Hillberry. Although this book was less influential on me at the time, it did open my eyes to the art of realism. The author has his own way of mixing drawing media to great effect. His choice of subject matter is uninspiring but his techniques and obvious skill make up for it.

Making the Most of Instructional Drawing Books

It’s important to engage with the material actively to use an instructional drawing book effectively. You do not absorb the instructions fully with passive reading. This means practicing the techniques as you learn them, taking notes, and sketching. This engagement helps to reinforce the concepts and techniques you’re learning.

Combining with Other Resources

While drawing books are a great resource, they are more effective when combined with other learning methods. This includes online tutorials and art classes. Nothing beats visual learning. By combining resources, you can gain a more rounded understanding of art and drawing techniques.

Read this: Are Online Drawing Courses Worth it? I Chose 5 of The Best For You!

Practicing Regularly

Like any skill, regular practice is key to improving your drawing abilities. It’s a cliche everyone repeats, and that’s because it’s true. Try to set aside some time each day to practice the techniques you’re learning. Over time, you’ll see your skills improve and the concepts will become second nature. 

Reviewing and Revisiting Concepts

Finally, don’t be afraid to revisit concepts or techniques that you find challenging. It’s normal to struggle. We all get stuck and have to figure things out. Revisiting these problem areas can help to reinforce your understanding of certain concepts and techniques. Drawing is a journey, and it’s okay to progress at your own pace.

Are Drawing Books Worth It? Final Thoughts

Absolutely, drawing books are worth it. If you are into traditional drawing skills, using traditional skills and knowledge, art books are the resource that keeps on giving. Knowledge doesn’t age. True, styles go in and out of fashion, but the fundamentals are constant and evergreen.

A good book will help you for a lifetime. I still have my old books 40 years later.

Drawing books have been essential for generations of artists. Once upon a time, young artists would be apprenticed and learn their craft from a master, when art school took over that role, learning art became a profession for the wealthy who could afford the tuition.

I’m no art historian, but it seems to me that somewhere along the line, art was elevated to a higher calling and gradually removed itself from the craft itself.

Read this for my thought: Is Art School Worth it? Is it a Waste of Money?

With no guarantee that expensive art tuition would provide a student with the practical skills required to make art for a living, books provided a way into the art world for a self-taught artist. 

Time moves on, and in many ways, we now have the best of all worlds. You can watch the most amazing artists online and learn how to draw from the best. Visual tuition, combined with reference books, reinforces your learning and pushes your drawing skills to the next level. 

It may be 2nd best to one-on-one tuition, but at least you can replay and re-read everything until the lesson sinks in. 

Go on, treat yourself to a good book.

This is one of my drawings

Three pygmy elephants. A pencil drawing by Kevin Hayler

This is my drawing kit: Best Drawing Supplies: Art Materials For Beginners

This is how I made a living for over 20 years. You can too, simply copy what I did – No hidden secrets

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If you need more help with drawing, then I urge you to check out
Dorian Iten on Proko. His course is reasonably priced and inspiring

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Are Drawing books worth it? Can you learn from books?
The artist and Author Kevin Hayler

Hi, my name’s Kevin and I’m a real person!
I’ve been selling my wildlife art and traveling the world for over 20 years, and if that sounds too good to be true, I’ve done it all without social media, art school, or galleries!
I can show you how to do it. You’ll find a wealth of info on my site, about selling art, drawing tips, lifestyle, reviews, travel, my portfolio, and more. Enjoy

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