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Every great artist will tell you about the importance of figure drawing. Whether your goal is a realistic figure or a quick gesture the process is the same.
Drawing the nude figure forces you to consider all the fundamentals. Shape, proportion, light, perspective, anatomy, and all of it comes together in your figure drawing(or painting). But this can also be incredibly intimidating if you’re insecure about your skillset.
Thankfully there are plenty of books to help you get started. I’ve cataloged the best figure drawing books you can get to improve your technique and your knowledge of the figure drawing process.
Figure Drawing: Design and Invention
Michael Hampton’s book is widely regarded as one of the most useful tools for figure drawing. This book is made for both beginners and experts who want to improve their technique in the figure room.
Figure Drawing: Design and Invention comes with 240 pages of tips to help you analyze and construct the figure from eye. The skills taught in this book are very practical and meant to be applied to the live figure whenever possible(as opposed to photos).
You’ll find yourself referencing this book many times over for the sheer amount of information and practical techniques.
I think it’s well worth the price and would make an excellent addition to your art bookshelf.
Figure Drawing for Artists: Making Every Mark Count
This is a much newer book written by fine artist Steve Huston. The goal of this book is to help artists master their figure drawing from the very first mark all the way through to the final stroke on paper.
All the methods taught in Figure Drawing for Artists are used in the top art schools and in the figure room for major entertainment companies like Dreamworks, Pixar, and Lucasfilm.
The examples in this book are glorious and they range from rough sketches to final completed drawings. Steve is the perfect teacher and his writing style is easy to pick up, even for a complete beginner with zero figure experience.
Figure Drawing Studio
This incredible book covers many of the same topics as previous figure books. But this one also comes with a CD full of 1,500 full-color poses for reference.
If you’re a complete beginner then Figure Drawing Studio by Butch Krieger would make an excellent starting point. The writing style is very simplistic and while the topics do get a bit technical they’re still incredibly poignant.
Plus the CD full of poses should be more than enough material to keep you practicing your figure work on a daily basis.
However anyone with a bit of experience in figure drawing will not get much from this book. The CD can be valuable to anyone, but you could also get high-quality photos for a bit cheaper from Proko’s website.
Sketching People: Life Drawing Basics
What I like most about this book is how it goes into detail about facial expressions and clothed figures. Most artists think of figure drawing as nude poses in an art studio. But how do you draw people at the park or walking down the street?
This is why Sketching People: Life Drawing Basics can be such a valuable life drawing book. It helps you draw poses as they move so you can memorize the poses and get them down quickly without the model being stiff as a rock.
My biggest complaint is that the book is a tad short with only 128 pages. But you learn so much including gesture, body language, weight, and even rendering drapery/clothing which is a rare topic in figure books.
Human Figure Drawing: Drawing Gestures, Postures and Movements
A big part of learning and growing as an artist is screwing up. Making mistakes is part of the process and you have to learn how to embrace that rather than fear it.
I think this would be the perfect book for someone who already has some experience but wants to get better at realizing their own mistakes.
Part of being an artist is critiquing your own work and fixing your own mistakes. And the exercises in this book will help you get past the fear of making mistakes to turn them into valuable learning lessons.
The Anatomy of Style: Figure Drawing Techniques
This is one of the newer books in my list and it’s also one of my favorites. The Anatomy of Style covers foundational techniques for capturing realistic yet stylistic figure drawings.
This may seem like a contradiction since realism seems like it would inherently have no style. But the best artists know that true realism isn’t just hyperrealism. Realist art takes life and emphasizes certain areas while still staying true to the form.
The Anatomy of Style gets a huge recommendation from me just because of the illustrations and teaching style. It forces you to think about different parts of the figure and how to accentuate your drawings to give them a sense of style.
You will get a few exercises but most of the book covers tips, suggestions, and techniques shared by Patrick J. Jones. This book is perfect for aspiring illustrators, animators, and concept artists who use figure drawing as an exercise rather than a final product.
Figure It Out! The Beginner’s Guide to Drawing People
I’ve read plenty of criticism surrounding Christopher Hart’s work and I personally find many of his books to be hit or miss. I think this is also true of Figure It Out! for the reason that not everyone will find value in the writing.
It’s only 140 pages and it’s targeted primarily at illustrators. This book will not help you improve your fine art skills or help you draw with pristine accuracy.
Instead it’ll help you identify the figure and learn how to break down shapes and gestures into simpler lines. Most of this book is about idealized versions of human figures like male/female body types and head shapes.
If you’re looking to develop your own style as an illustrator this book can be very helpful. But for any other purpose it’ll be a complete waste of money.
Principles of Figure Drawing
This is one meaty book with just over 270 pages in total. The author Alexander Dobkin has written many books and has a fantastic style of writing that draws you into the work.
Principles of Figure Drawing covers a step-by-step approach to the figure. You’ll learn how to identify landmarks and how to measure the figure for accurate lines. Then you’ll get deeper into the boney landmarks and muscle masses to help you render with accuracy.
There’s no doubt this is one of the most detailed figure drawing books on the market.
It’ll help you learn all the fundamentals of a great figure drawing and build your confidence when starting a new piece.
You also get a handful of diagrams and photos to help you analyze the figure from the inside-out.
Classic Human Anatomy in Motion
Animators should consider this book a must-purchase item. The author Valerie Winslow is incredibly talented and her method of teaching really clicks(at least for me).
Classic Human Anatomy in Motion looks at figure drawing through the lens of motion. Humans are mobile creatures and our movements are limited based on joint structures and musculature.
Valerie teaches artists how to see the figure for the movable body that it really is. You aren’t just looking at static forms; you’re analyzing forms that can move in 3D space, and they’re all connected. This book is full of charts and diagrams to help you see these movements and keep them in mind while you’re drawing.
You also get a handful of tips for both short poses and long poses in the figure room. Since animators are mostly concerned with movement this book is absolutely vital to their practice. But I think this book can be just as useful to illustrators and concept artists who want to create realistic characters from imagination.
Drawing Atelier – The Figure: How to Draw in a Classical Style
Classical atelier schools are traditionally from Europe but have found an audience in North America. These schools teach from the old masters and force artists to consider best practices & techniques for creating realist art.
Drawing Atelier – The Figure written by Jon deMartin is a tome of figure drawing techniques and exercises. Jon has over 20 years experience working as a fine artist and he knows how to teach in the atelier style.
If you can’t afford a local atelier or just don’t have one nearby then this book can be a decent replacement. Jon teaches you how to properly measure, how to study a figure, and what to look for when making your first marks on the page.
His exercises include short poses and long poses and this book should help you develop the necessary skills to improve your figure work.
Figure Drawing Master Class: Lessons in Life Drawing
Even though this book is a bit lighter than others it contains absolutely everything needed for a beginner to excel at figure drawing.
Later you get into more technical aspects like measuring solid landmarks and using the head as a comparison tool for the rest of your figure. The goal here is accuracy and Dan knows how to get you there even with zero prior experience.
The book contains a handful of diagrams and many figure drawings from the old masters like Michelangelo and Da Vinci. In my opinion this is a #1 must-have figure book for anyone just getting started.
Freehand Figure Drawing for Illustrators
Figure drawing is a big piece of fine art but it’s also crucial to every artistic career path. I’m guessing almost everyone reading this post wants to do something in the entertainment field from concept art to animation or comics.
Realistic drawing is valuable to all these careers, but so is drawing from imagination.
Keep in mind this book will not make you skilled at figure drawing. You’ll always need to get in front of a model to really learn the life drawing skills that accompany drawing from imagination.
But the techniques in this book help you memorize forms, gestures, and theoretical mannequins that you can apply to any figure you want to recreate.
Force: Dynamic Life Drawing for Animators
I’d consider this book more like an “extra” and it’s primarily geared towards aspiring animators. Force: Dynamic Life Drawing for Animators looks at life drawing from the standpoint of an animator who needs to put down poses quickly while considering the movement of the body.
The author Mike Mattesi has a way with teaching that just makes sense. His writing style is perfect for a beginner who wants to understand why figure drawing is so important for animation.
You’ll learn techniques for analyzing poses to study where the weight goes, how the joints hold, and how the muscles contract to form the pose. This draws on anatomy but also considers form and rhythm to help you recreate these poses from scratch.
I do think illustrators and concept artists could get some value from this book. However it’s not a must-have book for anyone other than animators. And from all the animation-based figure drawing books to choose from I can say confidently that Force is my #1 pick.
There is no single book here that can take you from novice to expert without effort. Books can offer tips and exercises, but you need to put in the work if you want to see improvement.
There is a lot of value in figure drawing and most top entertainment studios actually pay for their artists to get studio time. You’ll absolutely need to practice figure drawing if you want to break into the industry whether it’s concept art, animation, or a related job like background painting or visual development.
Complete beginners and more experienced experts can all find some great books in this list. Browse through the titles again and if anything catches your attention be sure to check it out.