Best FINE ART Books

I LOVE art books! I love browsing through them to see if the ability of the artist and the quality of the instruction are worth adding the book to my library and for use as a teaching aid. The only thing is, most brick and mortar bookstores are gone now. Those that are still open have greatly reduced their art book sections. Even the big stores offer only a small selection anymore. So… what do I do? I go online like everyone else and try to figure out the good ones from the poor ones. Some websites allow you to preview the book. But I’ve found that most previews just show the first chapter (which lists the supplies you need) and the index at the back. But this doesn’t show you what the book is about nor how how well it will help YOU! How can you know if it’s actually worth buying if you can’t have a look through it like you would at the bookstore?

I’ve been an art instructor for over 40 years. I have read countless art books; some bursting at the seams with value and others miserably lacking. My students are of all skill levels and often ask me which books would be most helpful for them. My goal in creating this page is to provide you with the best recommendations I can so that you can feel good about the art books you buy and get what you’re looking for from them. Below I have reviewed my top 10 drawing books listed with their recommended skill level. Each is overflowing with priceless knowledge and in this artist’s opinion, worth every penny.

Keys to Drawing

          by Bert Dodson

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Keys to Drawing is an excellent beginner as well as intermediate resource for learning to draw.

An excellent book of exercises, all pertinent and simple, informative and useful, to teach you to SEE the way an artist sees. Dodson emphasizes loosening up, setting aside the overly critical attitude that holds most people back and pushes creativity while helping you master skills in composition, proportion, shading, negative shapes, texture, depth, etc.

As one reader put it, “you master skills rather than the perfection of the end result. Oddly enough, the end result of all these lessons, are more perfect drawings!”

The Creative Drawing Course by Richard S. Taylor

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Take your drawing ideas a step further with inspiration from The Creative Drawing Course.

A fantastically FUN book for focusing on the creative process of drawing by beginning on simple ideas and moving through to more complex ideas and projects. Taylor encourages and stimulates creative activity using a wide range of experimental techniques, surfaces, materials and combinations you may never have considered. Use this book to kick start your creativity!

The Artist's Complete Guide to Figure Drawing

           by Anthony Ryder

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Once you’ve studied anatomy and perhaps taken a few life drawing courses, this book is a great way to move forward!

Inspiring! This book is highly useful for shading reference and contains valuable information about checking for tilt, relationships of shapes, behavior of light and shadow, gestural rhythms, land marking and non-parallelism, etc. Not a beginner book with formulas and is best for those who already have an understanding of how to build the figure. A great book to help you grow past those beginning stages!

Figure Drawing without a Model

            by Ron Tiner

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This is a beautiful photo-reference book and will round out a collection of anatomy books for the serious student. The poses, lighting and photography are excellent with a few semi-transparent overlays of skeleton and muscles. This is not a foundational text and does not try to contain all knowledge related to anatomy and the human figure. Great for model sketching and study, mapping muscle groups, skeletal strength, balance and relationships between external appearance and internal structure.

 

Some of the most beautifully rendered illustrations I’ve seen. An excellent reference for all stages of figure study.

Drawing with Your Artist's Brain

            by Carl Purcell

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This book is my all time favorite for really learning how to SEE the way an artist sees. It’s a fun read and full of wonderful exercises.


“Learn to draw what you see – not what you think you see.” This quote from Carl says it all. As beginners we often miss seeing what’s right before our eyes. Instead we see in terms of ‘short cuts’ or symbols which cause distortion, misunderstanding of true values and the over use of details as a way to ‘fix’ what’s wrong with a drawing.


Purcell shows you how you already possess drawing abilities. He helps you to “train your brain” to see the way an artist sees (to see the things that the novice misses). This is one of the best drawing books on the market today! Kudos Carl!

Anatomy for the Artist

            by Sarah Simblet & John Davis

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Any artist at any stage can use this reference book over and over.

This is a beautiful photo-reference book and will round out a collection of anatomy books for the serious student. The poses, lighting and photography are excellent with a few semi-transparent overlays of skeleton and muscles. This is not a foundational text and does not try to contain all knowledge related to anatomy and the human figure. Great for model sketching and study, mapping muscle groups, skeletal strength, balance and relationships between external appearance and internal structure.

 

Some of the most beautifully rendered illustrations I’ve seen. An excellent reference for all stages of figure study.

Drawing the Female Nude

            by Giovanni Civardi

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Giovanni Civardi’s books on anatomy are OUTSTANDING REFERENCE books for the serious artist who wishes to study the figure. Be aware that this is not “how to” book on drawing the female anatomy! It is, however, an excellent tool to for practice sketching and a quality of beautiful and inspiring poses. The sketches are clean and the lines beautiful, making this a perfect book to work from for figure drawing.

Drawing the Male Nude

            by Giovanni Civardi

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Most figure study books cover more of the female that the male, so this book is another beautiful and useful guide for your library.

Civardi’s books on anatomy are EXCELLENT REFERENCE books for those wish to study the figure and this book is no exception. Be aware that this is not “how to” book on drawing the male anatomy! However, Drawing the Male Nude is a perfect tool to for practice sketching and carries a great variety of superb poses. The sketches are clean, the lines beautiful, making this a gold mine to work from for figure drawing.

Mastering Composition

           by Ian Roberts

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I found this book to be one of the best in depth guides for understanding how master artists compose their work. The explanations and guidance in this book are an invaluable resource!

Powerful resource for understanding and applying use of value, shape masses, color temperature, cropping, leading the eye – you name it. Whether you create representational art, abstract art or anything in between – this book is a MUST HAVE for your library, especially if you struggle with composition. Get it, read it, DO THE EXERCISES and you can’t help but improve.

Even skilled artists can easily forget their compositional structure by losing themselves in detail, color, etc. This is a book that will help bring you back on track.

For beginners, this book is easy to understand, easy to use, easy to absorb, and masterfully articulate – plus it’s FUN! For the experienced Artist, this book is an excellent review and re-review tool.


The bonus DVD shows how subtle changes can make a huge difference and really helps to drive home the importance of how value and color can make or break a composition. I highly recommend this book.

Atlas of Human Anatomy for the Artist

            by Stephen Rogers Peck

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This is an older book but still an excellent reference and study guide for human anatomy. Beginners, intermediate and advance figure artists can keep a copy this handy.

Still one of the best step-by-step break-down of human anatomy books on the market give in a visual and easy to grasp manner. From skeletal, to muscular, to fleshing out of the human form, this book takes you through a solid understanding of human anatomy as a foundation for figure drawing. Tucked into this book are a plethora of quick diagrams and handwritten notes – treasures from a classroom of study. A must for your studies!