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Beginners often need a little guidance, and the same is true in art. This is especially true for complex disciplines. This led us to look for the best figure drawing books there are.
Figure drawing is a particularly difficult discipline as it concerns the accurate representation of the human form. There is a lot to understand, from proportions, to bone and muscle structures. So a little book learning can go a long way in improving the realism of your pieces.
In a hurry? Here are our favorites
- We think these are the best figure drawing books
Best Figure Drawing Books
Figure Drawing: Design and Invention by Michael Hampton
The book Figure Drawing: Design and Invention is a very well regarded book in the figure drawing community. Published in 2009, the book by Michael Hampton (who is an artist and an educator), is an instructive piece on the art of figure drawing.
The draw of this book over many others is that it is a more visual teaching tool. Instead of containing endless scholarly text on the intricacies of proportions and muscle movement (which while interesting can sometimes be overwhelming) – Hampton teaches by describing the actual process of creating a realistic still life that is filled with energy. This is done with a good mix of visuals and supplementary text.
We think this a great place to start for anyone who is interested in figure drawing. With the book pitched in a way that the information is both easily digestible while also being thorough. Moreover, the illustrations within are just wonderful and act as a great inspiration for those just starting out. Simply put, it is one of the best figure drawing books out there.
Figure Drawing for All It’s Worth by Andrew Loomis
Another classic when it comes to teaching figure drawing. Figure Drawing for all it’s worth by Andrew Loomis is a bit of a different take on how figure drawing should be taught (we like to give you options after all). Often described as more technical than artsy book, Loomis walks you through the fundamentals of how things should be done. Often opinionated, and honestly quite heavy on text, the book first published in 1943 has stood the test of time. Still used as the go-to resource for many to this day.
As we said, this book is very much Loomis telling you the “correct” way that things should be done. Though rooted in it’s time, the book is without parallel in the detail to which it looks at the ratios and proportions that give the human form it’s characteristics.
We think that Figure Drawing for all it’s worth is a great choice for those of you that like to get into the finer details of things. Though a little old-fashioned and idealised, it covers the fundamentals in a way that is very valuable.
Figure Drawing for Artists: Making Every Mark Count by Steve Huston
The book Figure Drawing for Artists: Making Every Mark Count was published in 2016. Written by the award winning fine artist Steve Huston, the book seeks to teach the fundamentals required in the rendering of the human form.
It is the case that the book follows the well trodden ground of some of the best figure drawing books that came before it. Covering the fundamentals that many will be familiar with, but there are also some nuggets of wisdom as well as interesting presentations that could make the book worthwhile for you.
One such element is the inclusion of Master work, by the likes of Michelangelo and Rafael at the end of many chapters. He uses these pieces as a learning tool in which he breaks them down in relation to the area that had been discussed. This can be really valuable as it immediately contextualises things what you are being taught. It also has the effect of proving that the techniques and philosophies being taught have indeed been used by artists in real works.
Making every mark count is a comprehensive piece on figure drawing. It covers all the bases that one starting out would require. Filled with little tips and tricks along the way, it is well worth having a look at.
The Anatomy of Style: Figure Drawing Techniques by Patrick J. Jones
Another more recent entry, this time by Patrick J. Jones. The Anatomy of Style is a book which succeeds some of the classics before it, but this time coming from a modern teacher. The book works to break down the various parts of the body into various sections with numbered references to Jones’ illustrated examples.
Completed in the style of Jones’ own lectures and the lectures of professors all over the world, this is a resource that can act as a great tool for beginners. It would also be appropriate for a more experienced artist that is simply looking to brush up on their anatomy.
We would describe The Anatomy of Style as somewhat of a modern classic. Merging the rigor and the technicality of figure drawing, while preserving the fun and imparting some really useful lessons.
Anatomy for the Artist by Sarah Simblet
Anatomy for the Artist brings a new element that is not often seen in figure drawing books. This is the use of photography, commissioned specifically for use in this book. The book contains much of what we have discussed for the other books, but the pictures are what makes it interesting so we’ll focus on that.
The photos have the range models in some great poses. This is complemented with translucent overlays of these photographs which show the skeletal structures. This can be a useful tool but does not come without some criticisms.
Firstly, the lack of muscle overlays is a real shame. This would have taken the whole book to another level as muscle structure and dynamics is an area of interest for many artists. Also, the quality of the drawings is lackluster in places. With a sketchy feel in many places, it is not really of a level you would expect in a book aimed at artists.
Not to pile on, but we also think that a greater diversity of models would have been great. The models pictured are exactly that. Models. With lean muscle and sculpted forms, they are all stunning to look at but don’t really represent the full range of shapes found in human forms.
Nevertheless, we think the inclusion of photography is an interesting and fresh take on figure drawing teaching. So if this is something that sounds like you would enjoy it, you should definitely give Anatomy for the Artist a try.
Figure It Out! The Beginner’s Guide to Drawing People by Chris Hart
As the name suggests, the beginners guide to drawing people is exactly that. A beginners guide. Intended as a how-to that takes away many of the things that intimidate artists that are new to figure drawing. Hart does away with the extensive lessons in anatomy and gets straight to the drawing.
Focussing on first the head and facial expressions. The book goes on to cover all the bases in this how-to manner. All with Hart’s own style and flair. Every part filled with practical advice and clarity that we think many would enjoy.
There is of course a level of simplification involved in this book. But if you are looking for an easy starting point for your journey in figure drawing then the beginners guide to drawing people is a great way to get your feet wet before you dive deeper into the world of anatomy.
It should be noted that there are a lot of interesting things to look at in this book. With extensive drawings and sketches. But remember that actually drawing some of the things you are taught is far more important than your reading. Especially in the beginning. It can be very easy to get caught up in the beauty in a book such as this, and not actually improve as an artist because you simply forget to draw.
Figure Drawing Master Class: Lessons in Life Drawing by Dan Gheno
This figure drawing master class purports to teach you how to draw like a master. This course is thorough and covers all that you need to go from a beginner to a proficient figure drawing artist.
Starting off with the very basics, in getting you to train your hand to draw. Gheno walks you through various lessons in which you explore the body and the intricacies of drawing each of its parts.
The book is also rich with examples from masters’ past, as well as Gheno himself. Used as a tool to reinforce the lessons taught throughout. This is taken one step further with the inclusion of 5 step-by-step demonstrations to solidify the concepts that are taught.
We really like the format of Lessons in life drawing, it is a well thought out and easy to follow book. It could very well be the book that aids you in the journey from total beginner to proficient still life artist.
Vilppu Drawing Manual by Glenn Vilppu
Lastly, we have the Vilppu Drawing Manual. From the internationally known artist and instructor Glenn Vilppu. Vilppu himself is a lifelong fine artist who has more than 50 years of experience teaching. Culminating in the Vilpuu academy as well as his book.
The book takes on a slightly different philosophy to many others. Leaving behind the heavy focus on anatomy and some of the details. While instead focussing on what makes a drawing great and how to make still life come alive.
This different way of thinking leads to the Drawing Manual to be well loved by many. Widely regarded as one of the best figure drawing books out there.
Well that was a look at the figure drawing books. You can’t go wrong with the book
Figure Drawing: Design and Invention by Michael Hampton, which is probably one of the best figure drawing books you could start with as a beginner.
A point to remember is that these books are not a replacement for actually drawing. The learning is done in trying to apply the things you read.
So go ahead, read a little, and give the things you read a try. In reality, the only way to learn to draw is to draw.
So remember to draw lots!!