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Best books for learning to draw

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People often say wistfully that they wish they could draw, as if the ability to draw were some kind of inherited trait that you’re either born with or you’re not. On the contrary, drawing is a skill that you can learn, like learning to read or learning a new language.

Assuming you want to teach yourself to draw, where should you start? Some books on creativity make the mistake of assuming that the reader’s main problem is being creatively blocked or unmotivated. These kinds of books give out advice to do things like make an “artist’s date” with yourself to visit a favorite gallery or treat yourself to new art supplies in order to get inspired.

I think a more common problem for most people is frustration with one’s skill level. If you buy a brand new sketchbook, and you hate the drawings you produce, you’re going to lose the motivation to keep drawing.

So, if you’re looking for a good art instruction book, I suggest finding one that offers concrete advice and drawing exercises, not just encouragement.

Here are the three best books on learning to draw that I’ve come across:

1. Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain by Betty Edwards

This book is considered a classic, and is used in many introductory art classes. Edwards emphasizes drawing what you see, not the symbols for various objects that you learn as a child.

sample exercise: Develop your awareness of negative space by drawing a face vase.

2. Keys to Drawing with Imagination by Bert Dodson

Let’s say you can draw things in front of you; you can draw your friends, a chair, your shoes…

But what if you want to draw something out of your imagination? Dodson’s book shows you how to take your doodles and old sketches and transform them into imaginative scenes. His book emphasizes drawing as a process of transforming things.

sample exercise: Variations on a theme. Redo a drawing several times playing around with the point of view, scale, and framing, or use role reversals. For example, Dodson started out with a sketch of a man being attacked by birds. In one version, he switched the perspective to a giant bird being attacked by miniature flying men. In another version, the man is pursued by bird shaped clouds rather than real birds.

3. Experimental Drawing by Robert Kaupelis

The vast majority of art instruction books assume you want to draw like an old master, but what if you’d rather draw like Matisse or Modigliani?

By providing exercises for learning both traditional and experimental approaches to drawing, this book encourages you to develop your own style of drawing.

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