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Good Drawing Books (instructional)

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I recently came across this series of books. There are lots of instructional books on drawing but these are particularly good because the author explains why they’re doing what they’re doing, whereas most instructional books simply provide a step-by-step process. This series joins the other best books on drawing because they show you how to see.

Lessons in Classical Drawing (Juliette Aristede) is the central book, though the others are good too.

Also, if you really geek out on visual theory (for artists) you would also enjoy the classic book, The Art Spirit (Robert Henri). For many artists, this book will realign the way you look at things.

Many artists swear by The Practice and Science of Drawing. I enjoyed it too, though it it’s not entirely theory and not entirely technique. You can read the whole thing for free here:

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If graphic organization is your thing… say, you’re into UI/UX development… you might consider these resources.

Edwin Tufte is the grand pubah of information display theory. He has 3 or 4 excellent books, though probably his “biggest” book is The Visual Display of Quantitative Information. Anyone that creates informational arrays in video games or whatnot knows this guy. He’s widely admired. I know the book sounds super dull but it’s fascinating and profoundly inspiring.

I think Christopher Alexander’s A Pattern Language is a solid book for elaborate insight to the way we live. The book’s premise is that the objects and spaces we create for ourselves, (or as they exist in nature), are “designed” according to a consistent pattern. This pattern magnifies and compounds into rooms, houses, streets, neighborhoods, and so on. So, you can look at a leaf and see a city. This book is valuable for intellectual exercises in imagination… it can help you become a smart, conscientious artist.

If you’re into science fiction-style art and illustration, or just futuristic ideas, it helps to have a solid grasp on product design. Too many future weapons aren’t practical because the artist doesn’t understand why the things we use look the way they do. Donald Normal explains it plainly, and the ideas in this book will realign the way you look at the things around you. He has another book that explores why beautiful objects work better than ugly ones… and it’s very good too, but start with this one.

For dessert, Peter Frame created musical family trees BY HAND and has several books out. His work is staggering in its scope, yet somehow he pulls it off.

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I can second Tufte’s book. He’s really in a league of his own in a lot of ways, and I refer back to that book more than I do almost any book I own.

If you are getting into graphic design, I’d really suggest picking up Thinking with Type. It looks like most (or all?) of the book is online on that address. It gives a really fantastic introduction about breaking down the elements of type and goes into some pretty decent theory on the use of type and some practical applications.

Another one of my favorites is the Color Index and a few of the other associated publications. It won’t teach you anything about color theory (there are tons of good books out there for that), but it was a handy little cheat-sheet for trying to find color combinations that work. I usually give a quick flip through it when starting a new design project to get some basic ideas going for a color scheme, then edit those as I go on.

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Thinking With Type looks like a great site. I hadn’t even considered typography books. There are two that immediately spring to mind.

The first is a relaxed narrative about type, typefaces, fonts, and type designers. It’s called Just My Type and reveals a lot of history and fun facts about typefaces that we see every day. It’s probably not worth buying outright, but it’s a good read.

I consider Robert Bringhurst’s Elements of Typographic Style to be the absolute bible of type classification, information, and speculation. It is comprehensive, insanely detailed, and—if you can actually read and retain it—will catapult you instantly into a typography expert. It’s NOT for amateurs, but anyone that works with or appreciates type will adore it.

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For color, I’ve purchased a load of different color swatch and color theory books. Unfortunately they almost always just gather dust on my shelf… getting lower and lower in the stack. The exception, due largely to its size and ease of use, is the simple Pantone swatch book.

The Pantone books aren’t cheap, but they’re worth it. They come in a variety of ink models. There are metallic ink books, pastel ink books, coated and uncoated stock, spot-color books, and CMYK books. The CMYK book is organized by the Pantone Matching System (PMS) index, so it only contains those colors that are represented by PMS… but the PMS gamut is much larger than CMYK. There are plenty of colors.

Unlike many swatch books, the PMS book is nice for two solid reasons. One, it’s small (but thick) so it doesn’t clutter up the place. Two, the inks bleed off the sides of the page so you can lay it directly against a surface to find a close match.

For the full CMYK gamut, I use the Process Color Manual. It’s kind of pricey, (about $250), but represents all 24,000 possible colors in CMYK.

The PMS swatch books, for a full set, is about $340. I think it’s worth it if you’re doing professional work.

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Hey Pete (or anyone else!), I’m looking at brushing up on figure drawing (it has always been something I’ve been pretty lackluster at), and aside from just practicing I was hoping to get a few instructional books to help out. Right now I ordered this and this to start off, and put in an order for The Lessons in Classical Drawing you referenced in the first post to start off, but was wondering if you had any tried-and-true books that just covered figure drawing (emphasis on head and face doesn’t hurt either, that’s why I got the Hamm book).

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I think most figure drawing books are alike. They all get you from point A to point B. Getting the points C and beyond is up to you. The Aristides book I referred to up top isn’t an “anatomy for artists” book… it’s more technique and treatment. With Aristide’s techniques you could tackle figures, (or teapots, or birds, or whatever), but I don’t believe she offers all of those proportional shortcuts you’ll find in traditional figure-drawing books, (e.g., “the entire figure is 6 heads high. The top of the ears align with the top of the eyes…”, etc.)

She’ll show you how to draw like this:

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Yeah, I was expecting to get the proportions and whatnot from the other books. I didn’t expect to need that from multiple books, but was wondering if you had other books similar to the Aristides book that you liked.

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Not really. It’s hard to get better at drawing from books. Nothing replaces simple practice… the best book is still worse than a few hours drawing something from life. I’d say this though: Having a few books on anatomy for artists is super handy for reference, if you’re not drawing from a model or photo. Seeing an actual hand, foot, neck, and muscle groups is valuable. There are lots of books like this available, but I’d recommend those that feature photos of models rather than drawings of models. (Using a drawing for reference is kind of like making a painting of a painting, if that makes sense… it’s more philosophical than a practical concern.)