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Sketches by Ernest Blaikley

Improve Your Sketches: Best Books on Sketching For Artists

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Quick sketching is a great way to improve your confidence and quality of output as an artist. If you struggle with consistent output then you need a sketching habit to force yourself into creating art every single day.

But how do you sketch every day if you’re not even sure how to do so? There’s no right answer. But there are tons of books to help you find the answers that work for you.

This post is a curated pick of the absolute best art books on sketching and dynamic quick drawing. Your goal isn’t to just scribble, but rather to put down ideas quickly on paper and capture the essence of a figure or object. Once you learn the best techniques you’ll have a lot more fun sketching and you’ll find yourself doing it a lot more often.

How to Sketch

First released just a few years ago, I have to give some credit to this awesome book by Liron Yanconsky. The full title is How to Sketch: A Beginner’s Guide to Sketching Techniques, Including Step By Step Exercises, Tips and Tricks and it’s seriously awesome.

In 360 pages you learn all the fundamentals of sketching like how to approach a sample exercise, what you’re trying to accomplish, and how to lay down marks quickly but with purpose.

The author divulges tips and tricks along the way to help you map out your sketches with values in pencil. Naturally there are tons of exercises meant to help you improve your rendering and construction techniques.

In later exercises you study various subjects like household furniture, fruits, cars, and people walking down the street. You’re given specific tasks and instructions that you should follow rigidly.

Over time you’ll build confidence and be able to break out from the same drawing techniques. This book is huge and it may not appeal to everyone. But it’s a great choice for anyone trying to understand the art of dynamic sketching.


Artist’s Sketchbook: Exercises and Techniques for Sketching on the Spot

If you’re looking for a more recent publication then this book by Cathy Johnson might be an awesome choice. Cathy teaches you how to draw absolutely anything in your sketchbook with tips and live examples from her own work.

Artist’s Sketchbook: Exercises and Techniques for Sketching on the Spot emphasizes demos and live examples to help you see how it’s all done. The book also covers a wide range of mediums like graphite, carbon, charcoal, colored pencil and even watercolor.

Experienced artists share their own sketches and this book acts more like an inspirational guide rather than a step-by-step howto book.

However sometimes this is exactly what you need to get your butt in gear! I wouldn’t recommend this for a complete beginner, but if you’re big into sketching then this should end up on your bookshelf at some point.


Sketching from the Imagination: An Insight into Creative Drawing

This is a beautiful book with beautiful sketches for anyone who needs inspiration. This book will not teach you how to sketch.

Instead you get a bunch of sketches created by 50+ professional artists who share their thoughts and tips along the way. Sketching from the Imagination can be off-putting because the title is disingenuous.

You do get insight into sketching. But you get it from the point of view of specific artists and their own work. You do not get specific exercises or demos to go out in the real world and practice.

But because the work quality is so high and because this book is so dense(320 pages) I have to include it. There aren’t many inspiration-style sketching books that I’d recommend but this one is near the top of the list.


How to Draw

Scott Robertson is a name that every concept artist should recognize. He has decades of experience and teaches at some of the most popular art schools, one of which is ArtCenter in Pasadena.

His incredible book How to Draw is full of exercises, tips, tricks, and shortcuts to help you sketch faster from your mind. This book targets accuracy when drawing from imagination so it does not ask you to draw objects from life.

Instead you’ll learn how to eyeball perspective, how to construct shapes, and how to build inorganic objects from your imagination. Scott’s book is large and the diagrams are well-organized to help you learn as you go.

I recommend this book to literally anyone who wants to learn how to draw. The techniques work best for sketching but everything you learn in this book can apply to creating professional art whether for video games, movies, or just illustration projects.


Beginner’s Guide to Sketching: Characters, Creatures and Concepts

Every book from 3dtotal Publishing is a powerhouse of information and this one is no different. Beginner’s Guide to Sketching covers fundamental tips for quick sketch and brings you back to the basics of drawing.

The book is full of examples in color and black & white so you have plenty of ideas to flip through. Most of the book covers exercises and live demos that you can practice on your own to improve your rapid sketching techniques.

There are some pitfalls to this if you’re a complete beginner. The early chapters to hold your hand while introducing sketching, but the difficulty picks up quickly after that.

If you’re an absolute complete newbie I would recommend How to Sketch in addition to this book. They complement each other nicely and you’ll have plenty of guided tutorials to work through.


The Urban Sketching Handbook: Understanding Perspective

The fundamentals of perspective take years to master and most of that time should be spent practicing. With a guide like The Urban Sketching Handbook: Understanding Perspective you’ll have an easier time seeing environments and spaces to translate them onto 2D paper.

This is one of the newest books in this list and it’s also one of the most unique. You’ll learn how to see like an architect which means drawing and constructing buildings with perspective at the forefront of each pencil mark.

One thing I don’t like is the binding. Flexibinding isn’t something I like because it’s bigger and a little awkward to hold. In this case it helps a lot when you’re out & about, and for such a minor complaint I still think this is a great companion to urban sketching.

Keep in mind this will help you understand spaces and how to accurately portray them. But it is not a primer on perspective.

The author does cover a bit about perspective terminology but to really dig deep you’ll want a real perspective study guide like Perspective Made Easy.


Sketching People: An Urban Sketcher’s Manual to Drawing Figures and Faces

Drawing quickly yet accurately is a big component of sketching from life. This is much easier with stationary objects than people. But there is a way to sketch people and get down figures accurately.

Sketching People: An Urban Sketcher’s Manual to Drawing Figures and Faces is pretty short at only 128 pages. But the book is dense and chock full of great information. You’ll learn about different line styles and rendering techniques for bodies in motion.

You’ll also learn how to see weight and how to gauge a pose’s position based on how someone walks. Later chapters get into rendering fabrics to quickly capture the clothes that someone’s wearing and how they drape over the figure.

Although this is a shorter book it’s also a great read for the price tag. You’ll learn how to capture gestures and facial expressions without confusing deviations in the exercises. Not the best book for complete beginners but definitely a nice addition to your sketching routine once you feel comfortable with a sketchbook.


Drawing Perspective: How to See It and How to Apply It

This is one of the newest perspective drawing books and it covers a lot more than just urban environments. Drawing Perspective: How to See It and How to Apply It does exactly what it says: teaches you how to see and apply perspective accurately.

The author does not assume a masterful knowledge of perspective. But you’ll work through the lessons with less difficulty if you know a little about vanishing points and objects in space.

You follow a number of exercises that force you to create unique scenes from scratch with objects placed in perfect perspective. It’s easy to follow along with each chapter and the exercises are quite pragmatic to help you really learn perspective in action.

If you want to learn real practical perspective I would highly recommend this book. At first you’ll be drawing meticulously slow and it may not feel like true sketching.

But as you practice and improve your process it will get easier and a lot more fun.


The Urban Sketcher: Techniques for Seeing and Drawing on Location

Drawing on location has always been popular but it has never been this easy. Transportation is widespread and cheaper now more than any other time in human history.

The Urban Sketcher: Techniques for Seeing and Drawing on Location is a 144-page book that you’ll want by your side no matter where you’re drawing. Each chapter introduces a new technique followed by exercises to practice on your own.

I find this book to be much more detailed than a typical intro book. You don’t need a lot of prior art knowledge but you should feel OK holding a pencil and a sketchbook in a bustling city.

The primary techniques in this book focus on pencil and pen. However there are some chapters on watercolors. If you’re looking for an all-around book that covers urban artwork then definitely give this a shot.


Creative Sketching Workshop: 21 Sketch Crawl Ideas and Exercises

For a more personal approach to drawing I would recommend Creative Sketching Workshop: 21 Sketch Crawl Ideas and Exercises. You get a ton of cool illustrations submitted by professional artists who offer tips and exercises to help you improve your rough sketching techniques.

You’ll learn how to observe life more accurately and how to capture what you see with exaggeration. This is something most artists don’t know how to teach because most just learn on their own through trial and error.

But if you follow along with these exercises you’ll gain a lot of insight and quickly find yourself clamoring for more sketching tips.


Pen and Ink Drawing: A Simple Guide

When I found out that Alphonso Dunn had a new book out I was thrilled to dig in.

He’s a great artist that runs a prominent YouTube channel with tons of free tutorials. I featured Alphonso in my best art YouTube channels post and he’s definitely an artist that I respect.

His new book Pen and Ink Drawing: A Simple Guide teaches you how to draw strictly with ink in mind.

This is preferable for some beginners since you cannot erase ink marks. This forces you to think about every line and to re-evaluate every single mistake. Alphonso recommends using pens for this very reason, and his book goes into great detail about how you can practice like this on a regular basis.

You’ll learn about pen stroke techniques, shading, paper quality, and the importance of keeping your lines clean.

If you want to get into sketching with ink then seriously consider a copy of this book. Alphonso is a great teacher and his writing style is easy to approach from any skill level.


5-Minute Sketching People

Every artist has different goals for sketching. One is to capture information quickly, another is to improve drawing speed. 5-Minute Sketching People covers both topics as it sheds light on techniques for quickly drawing people in motion.

You’ll learn how to identify the most important elements first to ensure they get captured accurately. This also includes facial expressions and the weight-bearing part of a pose which can be tough to capture accurately.

The author Pete Scully is known for his raw sketches and he has a lot of great tips to share. If you’re already familiar with drawing people on-the-go then this book may not offer a lot of new info.

But Pete’s methods are certainly different than most, and his writing style is crystal clear. So if you’re curious to learn some newer techniques for people sketching you might consider nabbing a copy.

Overall this list is quite comprehensive spanning a wide gamut of sketching techniques from life drawing to imaginary ideas. With all of these books you can study how to sketch objects, people, animals, vehicles, buildings, and basically anything else.

But the surest way to improve is to just practice and put in the hours. You should only buy as many books as you need to currently help you improve.

I think there are plenty of books in this list for everyone that’ll help improve the quality and consistency of sketching sessions. Just be sure if you start reading a new book that you’re also prepared to put in the hours with a pencil too.