Tim, a Lines and Colors reader, wrote me to say that he had recently become inspired to return to the practice of drawing. He had purchased a copy of Betty Edwards’ Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain (see my post here), and was looking for other books and resources to pursue his interest from there, hopefully with a classical or Renaissance method.
Edwards’ book is an excellent place to start for someone who has a new or rekindled interest in drawing. I frequently recommend it as the book concentrates of the fundamental and most difficult problem adults face in learning to draw, and that is learning to see what is actually before them, and not what they think they see.
I feel her book, however, is lacking the other “half” of drawing, the art of it, the finesse and artistic choices that separate “art” from “just drawing” and that separate the masters from the ordinary. Though she has attempted to address this somewhat in recent editions, there are better sources for pursuing the art of drawing.
This is not meant to be a comprehensive list, certainly not of drawing books, or even of drawing books and resources that answer the particular question at hand, but a few suggestions drawn (if you’ll excuse the expression) from my personal experience.
A book I will recommend, though it is not specifically related to drawing but to art and art study in general, is Robert Henri’s The Art Spirit.
As for drawing instruction in a classical or Renaissance method, there isn’t a great deal in the way of drawing texts from the Renaissance; techniques were passed down from master to apprentice, rarely committed to writing. Modern representational drawing texts concentrate on Academic teachings, which are derived from principles developed in the Renaissance and subsequent years up to the late 19th Century.
The dedicated path:
Classic drawing textbooks (not necessary “Classical”) These two volumes have been standards in art schools in the U.S. for decades. Look for them used online, in used bookstores or on eBay; they’re overpriced and current printings are apparently of poor quality.
A Guide to Drawing, Daniel M. Mendelowitz
Art of Responsive Drawing, Nathan Goldstein
The study of drawing:
The Natural Way to Draw: A Working Plan for Art Study, Kimon Nicolaides
If you’re really committed, Kimon Nicolaides has the game plan, but it’s a demanding course of study.
The Practice And Science Of Drawing, Harold Speed
A valuable text, with insights and practical information. There is a full version on Project Gutenberg, though the reproductions leave something to be desired. [Addendum: There is a better Facsimile Edition on the Internet Archive. See my more recent post on The Practice And Science Of Drawing.]
Charles Bargue and Jean-Leon Gerome: Drawing Course, Gerald M. Ackerman
A 19th Century Academic approach, form a student of master Jean-Léon Gerome
Drawing Lessons from the Great Masters, Robert Beverly Hale
I had the good fortune to have Robert Beverly Hale as my artistic anatomy instructor when I was a student at The Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts. His teachings have been codified in a series of books, illustrated with selections of old master drawings.
Classical Drawing Atelier: A Contemporary Guide to Traditional Studio Practice, Juliette Aristides
A modern take on Academic techniques
The gentle path
Keys to Drawing, Bert Dodson
Dodson eases you into some of the same techniques and concerns covered by Mendelowitz and Goldstein, with a friendlier approach and less of a brusque college textbook manner. See my review of Keys to Drawing with Imagination
Bridgman’s Complete Guide to Drawing from Life, George Bridgman
The Human Figure, John H. Vanderpoel
Put solidity and an understanding of form into your figure drawing with Bridgeman and Vanderpoel.
Study master drawings
Look for used books of collections of master drawings, study them and copy from the masters (as they did from previous masters) to understand what they have done with line, tone, space and form.
Dover Books has many titles with master drawings that are inexpensive new. Though the reproduction is not superb, they are still very good for study and enjoyment.
150 Masterpieces of Drawing by Anthony Toney
Look for other inexpensive collections like Drawing ideas of the masters: Improve your drawings by studying the masters by Frederick Malins
Look to your local library for everything mentioned here and more. If you live near a state university, you may find their library open to residents, including borrowing privileges.
Line by Line is an introductory drawing course running in weekly installments on the New York Times (see my post here). There are many other online resources that should be the subject of a separate post.
Studying the real thing: master drawings
Seeing old master, Baroque and 19th Century drawing in person is a treat, inspiring and very instructive. Drawings reveal their subtleties in person even more than paintings. They can’t be kept on display because of light damage, so you have to look for shows.
On the East Coast of the U.S. The Met in NY and the National Gallery in D.C rotate out selections from their collections of works on paper in small dedicated galleries. Look for other major museums to have similar small spaces devoted to works on paper. The Morgan Library in NY often has great drawing shows.
Studying the real thing: life drawing
This is a directory of life drawing (figure model) open sessions, workshops and other easily accessible classes: Figure Drawing Open Studios, Workshops, and Continuing Education Classes, see my post on the Directory of Figure Drawing Sessions.
Fake it from home: life drawing
Pose Maniacs, Virtual Pose and Figure Drawing training Tool let you practice life drawing from home, the former with computer generated figures, the latter two with photographs.
The most important things
The most important thing: keep drawing. If it’s not a dedicated course of study, make it a hobby, a habit, a coffee break, a meditation. A quick sketch once a day is better than an elaborate plan of study that you can’t maintain.
Zen of Seeing: Seeing/Drawing as Meditation by Frederick Franck
This is an essay on drawing, and the special kind of seeing associated with drawing (that I think is at the core of the techniques in Drawing on the Right side of the Brain and other texts) as a form of meditation.
More importantly, it is instructive in drawing as a practice, an activity, something you do, rather than something you are trying to accomplish. It’s hard to overstate what a dramatic difference in frame of mind this seemingly small shift can make.
Drawing for Pleasure, Valerie C. Douet
I mention this title, not because the drawings within are treasures of old master accomplishment — they’re not, but because of the attitude and approach expressed by the book and its title.
Unless you mess it up by trying too hard, hanging all kinds of expectations and self-measurement on it or make the gross mistake of comparing your current level of ability with others, drawing is, after all, fun.
So my best word of advice? Draw and have fun drawing. The rest will follow.
[Addendum: On rereading this post, I wanted to add one of my favorite quotes.
From Howard Ikemoto:
When my daughter was about seven years old, she asked me one day what I did at work. I told her I worked at the college — that my job was to teach people how to draw. She stared back at me, incredulous, and said, “You mean they forget?” ]