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The best drawing books in 2021

Best drawing books
(Image credit: Getty Images)

The best drawing books dispel a major art myth, namely that art is about innate talent. By reading any of the drawing books on this page, you will find out that drawing is all about learning the right techniques and lots and lots of practise. With the right input, anyone can improve their drawing skills. 

Our guide to the drawing books you need to know about will help you to improve your knowledge, whether you're just starting out or you want to brush up on your existing skills. These books will help you improve your knowledge and provide you with brilliant inspiration and reference material. While this roundup is by no means exhaustive, our pick of the best drawing books are those we recommend for artists, or aspiring artists, of all experience levels.

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.

Best drawing books: Loish

(Image credit: Loish)

01. The Sketchbook of Loish: Art in progress

This best drawing book delves deep into the sketch process

Publish date: 2018 | Publisher: 3dtotal Publishing | ISBN-10: 9781909414549

Insight into Loish's sketch process
Two detailed tutorials

Renowned illustrator Loish wrote one of the best drawing books to give real insight into her process. The Sketchbook of Loish: Art in progress reveals how her rough sketches inform her work by offering a glimpse into her sketchbook. You'll get to see her speedpaints, studies and initial versions of her digital paintings, as well as pick up some invaluable tips and tricks along the way. 

You even get two detailed tutorials to get you sketching, and exclusive artwork. It's a book that's truly packed full of fascinating (and stunning) content, and is well worth a read for anyone passionate about illustration. 

Best drawing books: draw great characters cover

(Image credit: Impact Books)

02. Draw Great Characters

The best drawing book for character design

Publish date: 2019 | Publisher: Impact Books | ISBN-10: 144030081X

Lots of exercises
Techniques are oddly at the end

Artists new to the world of character design can find it difficult to infuse their drawings with personality. Thankfully, this beginner-friendly book, Draw Great Characters, 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. 

Best drawing books: Sketching from the imagination

(Image credit: 3Dtotal Publishing)

03. Sketching from the imagination: Creatures and monsters

An inspirational book on creating fantasy creatures

Publish date: 2020 | Publisher: 3Dtotal Publishing | ISBN-10: 978-1-909414-87-7

Varied artwork
Monochrome with pops of colour
Lots of artistic insight
No way to find specific subject matter or style of interest
Format can get repetitive

Sketching from the imagination: Creatures & Monsters is a fascinating book, organised by artist, which displays fantasy creature designs. A varied subject selection provides 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.

On the whole there’s very little not to like about this book. The art 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.

Best drawing books: Drawing the head and hands

04. Drawing the Head and Hands

A classic 40s drawing book, revived

Publish date: 2011 | Publisher: Titan | ISBN-10: 9780857680976

Loads of information
Detailed instruction
Classic book
Quite dense

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.

Best drawing books: Portrait Drawing

05. Pocket Art: Portrait Drawing

An inspirational, compact book for all levels

Publish date: 2018 | Publisher: Rockport Publishers | ISBN-10: 1631594699 | ISBN-13: 978-1631594694

Manageable sections
Good for all levels
Some may prefer more copy

This Pocket Art: Portrait Drawing 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.  

Best drawing books: Drawn to Life

06. Drawn to Life

This drawing book focuses on capturing the moment

Publish date: 2009 | Publisher: Focal Press | ISBN-10: 0240810961

Focus is on emotion and action
Lots of gesture drawing
Very dense
Less concerned with technical accuracy

Volume 1 of Walt Stanchfield's Drawn to Life: 20 Golden Years of Disney Master Classes 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. 

Best drawing books: The Sketch Encyclopedia

07. The Sketch Encyclopedia

Never run out of sketching ideas

Publish date: 2018 | Publisher: 3DTotal | ISBN-10: 1909414646

Breaks projects down into steps
Packed with ideas
Intro on drawing theory

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.

Best drawing books: Drawing on the right side of the brain

08. Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain

Shake up your creative thinking

Publish date: 2012 (4th edition) | Publisher: TarcherPerigee | ISBN-10: 1585429201

'Definitive' edition
Focus on creative thinking
Good for teachers

This revised 'definitive' edition of Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain by Betty Edwards is excellent for professional illustrators or drawing hobbyists. 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!

Best drawing books: How to draw comics the Marvel way

09. How to Draw Comics the Marvel Way

A crash course in comics from true gurus

Publish date: 1984 | Publisher: Atria Books | ISBN-10: 0671530771

Written by Marvel legends
Covers comic book theory
Not totally comprehensive

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.

Best drawing books: The Silver Way

10. The Silver Way

A character design bible from an industry pro

Publish date: 2017 | Publisher: Design Studio Press | ISBN-10: 1624650341

Pro character designer author
Lots of info, clearly presented
Offers tips and tutorials

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 your own character inspiration, see our character design tips.

Best drawing books: Art Fundamentals

11. Art Fundamentals

A guide to the essentials rules and theories you need to know

Publish date: 2013 | Publisher: 3dtotal Publishing | ISBN-10: 190941400X

Comprehensive guide
Includes essential theory
Useful composition advice

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.

Best drawing books: Drawing the head and figure

12. Drawing the Head and Figure

A thorough guide from a bestselling author

Publish date: 1982 | Publisher: TarcherPerigee | ISBN-10: 9780399507915

Simple techniques
Step-by-step guides
Some illustrations look dated

Drawing the Head and Figure: A How-To Handbook That Makes Drawing Easy by Jack Hamm is packed with helpful advice. You could say that this book is in direct competition with Loomis' drawing books (number 01), and you'd be correct. However, Hamm's approach to drawing the figure is more simplistic than Loomis'. His step-by-step approach will have even the most inexperienced artists drawing better and more confidently. Although some of the drawings are a bit dated, specifically the hairstyles and clothing, it's still an excellent primer for learning how to draw and can be easily applied to what you're making today.

Best drawing books: Modern cartooning

13. Modern Cartooning

A beginner's guide to cartoon drawing

Publish date: 2013 | Publisher: Watson-Guptill | ISBN-10: 0823007146

Aimed at beginners
Lots of examples
Different cartoon styles included

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.

Best drawing books: The Illusion of Life

14. The Illusion of Life: Disney Animation

An enduring classic

Publish date: 1995 | Publisher: Disney Editions | ISBN-10: 0786860707

Staple animation reference
Not a tutorial book

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 be used to help you become a better artist.

Parts of this article were originally published in ImagineFX magazine. Subscribe here.

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