Often I’m asked what books people can look at to learn more about art and honing their skills. I decided to put together a list of books that have been helpful to me in the past and/or I currently own and refer to often. This is my own personal list of what books I find helpful. These titles may or may not help you in your art journey as well, as all artists are different and learn in different ways. So here are the books that I’ve found helpful in the past!
This list contains Amazon affiliate links. Purchasing items through links in this article gives me a small commission on Amazon (which I will then use to purchase more art books and supplies…)
This is THE book that I recommend to anyone who says to me “I want to learn how to draw but I have no idea how to get started! I can’t even draw a stick figure!”. I used this book a looooong time ago (like… 1998-long-time-ago) but I can’t imagine that it has changed that much over the years. Drawing On The Right Side Of The Brain teaches you how to switch to “Right-Brain Mode” and see the world as an artist. With lots of easy to complete lessons that won’t take complicated or hard to obtain supplies, this book is accessible and a great start for training your brain how to discern basic shapes and start drawing what you actually see. Note that this is not a comic or cartooning drawing book, but a book on drawing from observation, which is absolutely essential no matter what sort of art you want to do!
I used this book back in high school, as I said. At the time I was a decent (for my age) artist with both drawing from life and cartooning. My skills after doing only half of this book saw a drastic improvement, which is why I absolutely recommend this book to anyone who wants to get start with art.
Learning perspective is essential for anyone wanting to draw, whether that be drawing comics and cartoons or otherwise. Even drawing the human figure at any angle other than straight-on requires some knowledge of perspective! I got this book for Christmas one year not long ago because I wanted to brush up on my perspective skills for my comic panel backgrounds. Not to sound dramatic, but this perspective book pretty much changed my life. The material is presented in a way that’s easy to understand even for perspective beginners. But there are also tips on advanced perspective drawing that will benefit those who have been drawing in perspective for a long time. I asked for this as a refresher course and got so much more than that, as it taught me tricks for how to make drawing in perspective easier that I had never seen before. The exercises in this book are easy to follow no matter what your level of skill is with perspective.
If you want to learn about human anatomy, Andrew Loomis is where it’s at. Not only does this book go over ideal proportions, muscle groups, and features, but it also talks about foreshortening, proportions in perspective, and how to draw the figure in different centers of balance and motion. Not only is Andrew Loomis’ work fantastic to look at, but reading the text is helpful as well since it’s full of tips and tricks.
Burne Hogarth was one of the first anatomy books I had when I decided I wanted to be an artist back in my high school days. I can remember going to the bookstore and looking at Dynamic Figure Drawing over and over again, coveting it for the longest time before I had the money to buy it. Sadly I either lost or had to sell my copy around the time I was in college or so. But I never forgot looking at the cool dynamic figures with several sets of arms, legs, or heads drawn on a single pose to show the versatility of the pose and to show the human body in motion. This is not just a book of anatomy drawings, but a guide to how to draw the human figure in motion and with foreshortening.
Okay, okay, look, I know that a lot of the How To Draw Manga series is generally regarded as being “garbage”. The thing is though that many of them DO make good reference books. And the other thing is that this book is one of the few out there that actually goes into the theory of drawing all those cool, dynamic fight scenes that we all love in comics and manga. This is another book that I bought back in high school and lost when I was in college. (Maybe I had a book thief sneaking into my dorm at night or something? Or maybe I just loaned my beloved reference books out to the wrong people, who knows.) This book always stuck with me though in my mind because it doesn’t just have nice pictures in it to reference from. The text also describes the theory of why to draw the figures the way they show to illustrate motion. This book covers many topics of drawing battles, from different kinds of unarmed strikes and throws to fighting with weapons and also drawing battle damage on characters. (Doing research for this blog post, I found this book used on Amazon for less than $2 and I confess that I love it so much I bought it immediately to replace my long, long lost copy. I can’t wait for it to get here!)
The above header should read “anything by Scott McCloud” but I wanted to give links to actual books. If you’ve ever wanted to understand how and why comics work or don’t work, and the tactics of visual storytelling, Scott McCloud is the guy to read. Plus his books are presented as comics, so they’re easy to read and there’s lots of pictures. It’s a win-win!
This is a short book that is a great introduction to color theory. It introduces the concepts and theories without getting too bogged down in things and making color theory even more confusing than it can be. I still struggle with color theory because it’s such a vast topic with so many variables. But this book is a fantastic primer on the concepts for the beginning artist and I highly recommend it.
Okay, so How To Make Webcomics is a little outdated now as far as some of the topics go. There have been so many changes to technology and the convention scene since it came out that the age of this book really shows in spots. That being said, it’s also still a good reference on getting started in the practice and business of making webcomics. You just have to remember to take the advice in it with a grain of salt, because so much of the comics landscape has changed a lot since this book came out. It’s also geared more toward “gag-a-day” strips and so, as the creator of a long-form story comic I found a lot of the marketing type advice didn’t apply to me. It does have sections on writing, creating characters, prepping your comic images for posting, web-site design, site hosting, and interacting with your audience though, and those sorts of topics can be applicable to almost all comic creators no matter what your you’re creating your comics in.
So those are my personal recommendations for books for beginning artists. Have you read any of these books? Which books have you found helpful on your own art journey?