My Favourite Book on Drawing

written by Sophie | Books

Why Draw?

If you draw a lot you get better at painting. If you draw a lot you'll learn to see. If you draw a lot you will learn about values, edges, composition and proportion. Yes, drawing is one of the most useful ways to improve your art. Whether it is daily quick sketches or drawings made over many hours, drawing can never hurt.

I don't draw enough, that's for sure (unless you count painting with pastel as drawing, which it can be) but sometimes I enjoy a really long and detailed graphite drawing. Life drawing too is a great way to train your hand.

But there is a book that has really made a difference in my drawing as well as my painting. Learning various methods on proportion and measuring really has helped me move my painting along.

When you figure out some methods to get proportions right, you can apply this to anything you paint or draw, not just figures or portraits.

This great book on drawing is Anthony Ryder's Complete Guide to Figure Drawing, first published in 2000.

The Artists’s Complete Guide to Figure Drawing

This book explains really well how to draw figures and portraits using the classical block-in and envelope method. Ryder illustrates his explanation with excellent overlays over his own amazing drawings. His drawings feature all over the book and are truly inspiring.

Although I don't follow his method to the letter, it has really opened my eyes to figuring out how to get something onto paper.

In his description of the drawing method he starts with The Block-In. This consists of creating an 'envelope' (the outer lines of the main block that will contain the drawing), which then gets refined in the block-in stage. Ryder discusses his way of measuring, which I am very partial to,  because it does not require a very mathematical mind, but uses the eye to measure the distance it travels from point to point. This way of working is much closer to how I like to work.

Another chapter is devoted to 'Understanding Gesture'; a hugely important, but difficult part of drawing and painting. Gesture will give a drawing or painting life and weight, liveliness and presence. We often can find it, but it can be difficult to maintain it in your art work. Ryder's chapter is worth re-reading now and then.

A chapter deals with The Contour. It is, again, a beautiful chapter that really explains how contour lines can tell a story, create form and direction. Ryder deals with light and shadow extensively and in a clear yet intuitive way.

This book covers everything one could need to draw realistically and creatively. It is not a guide to cold mathematical copying of a model. Instead it highlights the creative process of drawing, it celebrates the act of seeing, comparing and experiencing the model and getting it down onto paper. The techniques taught, even if you just use a snippet of it, are hugely useful and have been a gold mine in my own art development.

Online Course: Classical Portrait Drawing

Explore my take on the classical method of drawing in my online video course Classical Portrait Drawing and try out some of these techniques yourself. 

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Published: November 25, 2019

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  1. Beginner here: Is the commenter that has Ryder’s book saying that he teaches by measuring and putting in the dots? Is that the only method he teaches us or does he show various ways and we choose what we like? Currently, in class, we are taught dotting a drawing, if need be, so would this book of drawing not be in my best interest, as I really struggle with drawing?
    Also regarding the white chalks, from a printing point of view and seeing artists books that have had poor printing quality, I wonder if he accentuated the chalks for better contrast for printing? Just a thought. Thank you for any replies.

    1. Hi Debbie, Ryder does not teach ‘measuring the dots’ as such. He does not show various methods of drawing, he teaches his way (which is a very good way). There are lots of ways to measure proportions and most methods are good. So have a taste of some of them (and Ryder’s book is just one way) and choose whichever suits you best.
      I think the reproductions are quite nice in this book.

  2. I have this book and I find those Ryder’s drawings where he uses white chalk hard to look at. He shows too much. I guess I’m more into constructive drawing, though I use envelope too. I should probably re-read the chapter on gesture.

    I’ve actually seen on a life drawing course someone putting the dots in and measuring the distances between the dots with a ruler, admirable in itself, but the outcome was a bit stiff.

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