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The best drawing books in 2021

Included in this guide:

Best drawing books: selection of colourful books on bookshelves
(Image credit: Getty Images)

The best drawing books tick a number of boxes. They inspire you with beautiful images. They teach you new skills, and give you fresh insights to hone existing skills. And they help you understand the theory and practice that lies behind truly great drawing.

Now that longer evenings are upon us, it's the perfect time to invest in some new books. Who knows, you may even save money thanks to some sweet Black Friday deals. So whether you're just starting out or you want to improve your drawing abilities, we've brought together the best drawing books on sale today, in one article. 

Below you'll find books that will provide essential reference material, improve your knowledge, and give you fresh inspiration. Also make sure you check out our guide to the best illustration books. (While we're at it, don't miss our roundups of how to draw tutorials, and top sketching tips either.)

Cover of Keys to Drawing

(Image credit: North Light Books)

01. Keys to Drawing

The best drawing book for beginners

Publish date: 1990
Publisher: North Light Books
ISBN-10: 0891343377
Reasons to buy
+Great for beginners+Easy to follow system+Lots of practical exercises

If you're a drawing beginner, we recommend this 1990 classic by Bert Dodson for getting started. 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. 

Along the way, you'll learn how to free your hand action, then control it. The author also teach you how to convey the illusions of light, depth, and texture; and stimulate your imagination through "creative play". Plus you get lots of exercises to help you practice. 

Cover of Art Fundamentals

(Image credit: 3dtotal )

02. Art Fundamentals

The best drawing book on the fundamentals

Publish date: 2013
Publisher: 3dtotal Publishing
ISBN-10: 190941400X
Reasons to buy
+Comprehensive guide+Includes essential theory+Useful composition advice

Compiled by Gilles Beloeil (Assassin's Creed series), Andrei Riabovitchev (Prometheus and X-Men: First Class), and Roberto F. Castro (Dead Island and Mortal Kombat), this is one of the most comprehensive drawing books on the market today. It covers a range of art fundamentals including the rule of thirds, rule of odds, Golden Triangle, and Divine Proportions. And you'll also learn about colour and light, perspective and depth, anatomy, and portraying emotions.

Best drawing books: draw great characters cover

(Image credit: Impact Books)

03. Draw Great Characters

The best drawing book for character design

Publish date: 2019
Publisher: Impact Books
ISBN-10: 144030081X
Reasons to buy
+Beginner-friendly+Lots of exercises+Shows theory in action

Trying to draw characters, but struggling to get it right? This beginner-friendly book by children’s illustrator and character designer Beverly Johnson is here to show you how it’s done. 

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 exercises to keep you on your toes. 

While it's great for newbies, even experienced character designers may find a lot to learn from here. Each challenge also shows how Johnson has solved the brief, so you can see the theory in action. 

Cover of Sketching from the imagination: Creatures and monsters

(Image credit: 3dtotal )

04. Sketching from the Imagination: Creatures and Monsters

The best drawing book for fantasy creatures

Publish date: 2020
Publisher: 3DTotal Publishing
ISBN-10: 978-1-909414-87-7
Reasons to buy
+Varied artwork+Monochrome with pops of colour+Lots of artistic insight

Specifically interested in drawing fantasy creatures? Then this softcover book will give you a lot of inspiration. It features drawings of everything from dragons and fairies to mechanical structures and aliens, 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.

Be aware that this is not a tutorial or 'how to' book, but more a source of inspiration, reference and ideas. Also, there’s no easy way to quickly find a specific subject matter or style of interest (unless you happen to be familiar with every artist). The art here is, though, accessible and fascinating in its variety, and the artistic insight is a nice added extra. 

Cover of Drawing the Head and Hands

(Image credit: Titan)

05. Drawing the Head and Hands

The best drawing book for heads and hands

Publish date: 2011
Publisher: Titan
ISBN-10: 9780857680976
Reasons to buy
+Classic book+Loads of information+Detailed instruction

If you're struggling with the fundamentals of drawing people, it's a great idea to focus on getting hands and heads right first. That's the topic of this book, and you'll find a ton of info inside that will allow you to take it slow, and get it right. 

Loomis' 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 beginners at drawing.

Cover of Pocket Art: Portrait Drawing

(Image credit: ML Studio)

06. Pocket Art: Portrait Drawing

The best drawing book for portraits

Publish date: 2018
Publisher: Rockport Publishers
ISBN-10: 1631594699
ISBN-13: 978-1631594694
Reasons to buy
+Easy to follow+Manageable sections+Good for all levels

If looking to improve their portraiture skills, here's a great place to start. In this helpful book, artist Miss Led (real name Joanna Henly) breaks down the stages of portrait drawing into manageable, easy-to-understand sections.  

Aimed at beginners and experienced artists alike, it not only provides a solid introduction to portrait drawing techniques, but also looks at how professional artists can create fine art and commercial-style illustrations. It's full of expert advice and tips, backed up by plenty of exercises for readers to put into practice. 

Be aware that they're aren't that many words in this book, but it covers everything it needs to, leaving more space for Miss Led’s beautiful art. And overall it works because it’s accessible to artists of every skill level. 

Cover of Drawn to Life

(Image credit: Focal Press)

07. Drawn to Life

The best drawing book for capturing gestures

Publish date: 2009
Publisher: Focal Press
ISBN-10: 0240810961
Reasons to buy
+Comprehensive+Focus is on emotion and action+Lots of gesture drawing

Once you've learned to draw still figures, you'll want to bring your drawing to life by capturing gestures. This book, focusing on adding emotions, life and action to your drawings, will help. With a heavy focus on gesture drawing, don't expect a book filled with finished drawings; instead, it's all about capturing the moment. If you're interested in creating drawings with character and flow, this is a must-have reference. 

Cover of The Sketch Encyclopedia

(Image credit: 3dtotal )

08. The Sketch Encyclopedia

The best drawing book for ideas

Publish date: 2018
Publisher: 3DTotal
ISBN-10: 1909414646
Reasons to buy
+Breaks projects down into steps+Packed with ideas+Intro on drawing theory

Seeking some warmup sketch ideas? You'll find plenty here. This drawing book features each one of more than 1,000 projects into four key steps: sketch, line drawing, and two that build up and complete the form. With lessons on creatures, people, buildings, famous landmarks, vehicles and nature, you're sure to find something to get you started. There's also an extensive introduction covering tools, line making, light theory, perspective and texture.

Cover of Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain

(Image credit: TarcherPerigee)

09. Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain

The best drawing book for teaching creative thinking

Publish date: 2012 (4th edition)
Publisher: TarcherPerigee
ISBN-10: 1585429201
Reasons to buy
+'Definitive' edition+Focus on creative thinking+Good for teachers

Technique is one thing, but to become great at drawing, you need to unleash your creativity too. This revised edition of a classic book is an excellent choice for anyone want to 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. If you're an art educator, don't skip this one!

Cover of How to Draw Comics the Marvel Way

(Image credit: Atria Books)

10. How to Draw Comics the Marvel Way

The best drawing book for comic art

Publish date: 1984
Publisher: Atria Books
ISBN-10: 0671530771
Reasons to buy
+Written by legends+Insights into comic theory+Great crash course

Marvel is the biggest name in comic art, and so no drawing books list would be complete without this fine manual from Stan Lee and John Buscema. 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.

Cover of The Silver Way book

(Image credit: Design Studio Press)

11. The Silver Way

A character design bible from an industry pro

Publish date: 2017
Publisher: Design Studio Press
ISBN-10: 1624650341
Reasons to buy
+Written by a pro +Info clearly presented+Includes tips and tutorials

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 you develop your character design. You'll also find easy-to-follow tutorials and drawing techniques. For added inspiration, see our roundup of character design tips.

Cover of Drawing the Head and Figure

(Image credit: TarcherPerigee)

12. Drawing the Head and Figure

The best drawing book for human figures

Publish date: 1982
Publisher: TarcherPerigee
ISBN-10: 9780399507915
Reasons to buy
+Simple techniques+Step-by-step guides+Lots of helpful advice

This book is packed with helpful advice on drawing human figures. Author Jack Hamm's approach is simpler than that of Loomis' book (number five on our list), with a step-by-step approach that will have even newbies 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.

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Cover of Modern Cartooning

(Image credit: Watson-Guptill)

13. Modern Cartooning

The best drawing book for cartoon art

Publish date: 2013
Publisher: Watson-Guptill
ISBN-10: 0823007146
Reasons to buy
+Aimed at beginners+Lots of examples+Different cartoon styles included

Cartooning is a very specific art, and so in this book Christopher Hart shows you the essential techniques you need to know to unleash your full potential. Aimed at beginners, it takes you step-by-step through the process of creating cartoons, and covers faces, bodies, backdrops, and more. Use it as an accompaniment to Hart's YouTube channel which regularly shares easy-to-follow, step-by-step tutorials on cartooning.

Cover of The Illusion of Life: Disney Animation

(Image credit: Disney Editions )

14. The Illusion of Life: Disney Animation

The best drawing book for animators

Publish date: 1995
Publisher: Disney Editions
ISBN-10: 0786860707
Reasons to buy
+Staple animation reference+Inspirational art+Helpful advice and guidance

Want to learn to draw for animation? Then this is a classic you have to read. Written by two long-term Disney animators, The Illusion of Life takes its readers back to the beginning. This drawing book will inspire you to create through its many uses of photos, paintings, sketches and storyboards. 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, which is still used today. 

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

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