The Practice & Science of Drawing by Harold Speed

The Practice and Science of Drawing by Harold Speed
In my post on resources for Learning to Draw back in October, one of the books I mentioned for those on a dedicated path was Harold Speed’s The Practice and Science of Drawing.

Though illustrated, this book, like Speed’s well regarded book Oil Painting Techniques and Materials, is less “look and follow” instruction, and more “read and understand and then go practice”.

Speed, whose career spanned the late 19th and early 20th centuries, carried forward the traditions of academic teaching, tempered with an understanding of the new paths then being blazed by the Impressionists and others.

The knowledge Speed offers is supplemented by the illustrations, some by artists like Da Vinci, Rubens, Holbein, Degas and others, and many by Speed himself, a skilled academic draftsman with a loose rendering style that foreshadows the work of noted 20th Century teacher/draftsmen like Andrew Loomis, Walt Reed and Willy Pogany.

Unlike Oil Painting Techniques and Materials, which is available largely as a single edition, The Practice and Science of Drawing, which is also in the public domain, is available in a confusing array of editions, some good, some not so good, some minus the illustrations altogether.

The Dover edition is reliably inexpensive, and contains the illustrations, even if reproduction isn’t superb.

I have not personally seen this edition from General Books, released in January of 2010, or this one from Nabu Press that came out in July of 2010 and is described as a “facsimile edition”, so I can’t recommend either, but I would be interested in hearing from any readers who have seen them. (If I were to take a guess, I might try the General Books edition, but that’s just a guess.)

In the meanwhile, there is a complete online facsimile edition available on the Internet Archive.

Despite being hampered by one of these unendurably stupid “page-flipping” navigation widgets (Do we really need to pretend that our digital books have pages that flip? Really?), the book is presented in a format that allows for relatively large, well presented reproductions of the original illustrations by Speed and others.

There is also a PDF downloadable from the “i” for Information button in the upper right, which may be easier for offline reading, but the illustrations in that one, despite the 20mb download, are so small and over-compressed as to be almost useless.

The digital version is worth looking through and, with a bit of fuss, you can use the enlarge and scroll buttons to view the illustrations without the page-flippy widget driving you crazy.

Perhaps it’s just as well that the interface is a bit demanding of patience, since Speed’s method of study requires dedication and persistence to be of real value.

I’ll leave you with Speed’s own opening sentence from the preface of the book:

“Permit me in the first place to anticipate the disappointment of any student who opens this book with the idea of finding “wrinkles” on how to draw faces, trees, clouds, or what not, short cuts to excellence in drawing, or any of the tricks so popular with the drawing masters of our grandmothers and still dearly loved by a large number of people. No good can come of such methods, for there are no shortcuts to excellence.”

[Link via Robh Ruppel]


10 Replies to “The Practice & Science of Drawing by Harold Speed”

  1. I am just in the process of reading this book and am really enjoying it. And even if he claims it doesn’t, the book does instill the reader with a few insightful “shortcuts”, altough these are always well integrated in his theories. (eg. the eye/ eyebrow diagram)

  2. I am reading the Kindle version from Gutenberg. In the Kindle reader for the Macintosh, free from Amazon, the book is very good and the illustrations are rendered well, if smallish.

  3. Unfortunately, I found the Project Gutenberg versions (at least the ones I looked at) to be of less than desirable image quality, as is sadly often the case. The Internet Archive also has a few version options, accessed from the “i” for info at the top right.

  4. has a 192MB zip file of their page images, each page about 6 megapixels. After clicking the “i” button, click the thumbnail instead of the pdf link, and then click the ‘All Files: HTTP’ link. There’s also a 310MB zip of ‘raw’ page images. That’s more than I have time to download, so I don’t know the resolution.

  5. Thanks, Dan.

    For the benefit of other readers, here is the book page on Internet Archive, and here is the directory page from which you can download versions of the file.

    I downloaded the file (325mb). It is the raw scans, images of the book pages on the scanner bed at high resolution (roughly 3000x5000pixels). You’re downloading a lot of extra bits if your aim is to get the images, but they are hi-res and reasonably well scanned.

  6. I am also currently reading the Kindle version from Project Gutenberg. It does allow for one level of zoom-in on the images, but they are still small. It is, however, a great read so far, and has laid bare some of the strengths and weaknesses of the Foundation Arts program I went through. I’ll have to grab the PDF version for a better look at the plates. Thanks!

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