We artists do love to buy books. Especially books that promise to teach us how to charles bargue drawing course book pdf or paint better.
In fact, we spend so much time buying books it’s a wonder we have any time for drawing. I have a special weakness for art instruction books. There’s something about the possibility of learning new drawing and painting skills that has a special pull for me. I have more art instruction books than I care to think about, and certainly more than I need. From all my book buying and reading, one thing stands out above all else. Most of them were useless!
Still, in all the books I’ve come across there is a very short list of real gems that I’ve found have really helped me in my bid to grow artistically and develop my drawing skills. I recommend them without reserve. They account for a very small percentage of all the art books I have, but they’re the only ones I really needed to buy. If you’re teaching yourself to draw, I recommend you get these three books and work with them constantly and consistently for two years.
If you put the effort in, I think you’ll be amazed at how far you can develop your drawing skills. For a book to make it onto this list, it has to be one that I’ve come back to again again. It has to have been of practical use, so it will have included practical exercises, not just theory or glossy pictures. It will have proved itself so useful to me, that I doubt I could have got as far as I’ve got without it.
And it will be evergreen: Still as useful to me now as it was when I first started working with it. And worth working through in its entirety multiple times. In many ways, that’s the true test of the usefulness of an art book. So here’s a list of the books that I’ve personally found the most useful.
This is hands-down the best art instruction book I’ve ever read, ever worked with. I suspect that many of the people who own this book have read it without actually doing the drawing exercises it describes. That’s a mistake, because the exercises are extremely practical and informative, and will teach you timeless fundamentals of drawing. The language might be difficult for some people. Speed was English, and wrote this book at the turn of the last century.
All work is a product of its time to an extent, and there are some passages that are a little embarrassing to read, and some ideas that no longer carry much weight. But if you’re serious about developing your drawing skills, there’s no better book in my humble opinion, both from a practical and philosophical point of view. James Gurney recently published some good blog posts about this book, if you want to see some more of the detail. Although this book has a lengthier and weightier title, everyone I know just calls it the Bargue Book. This book will teach you a method that will help you learn to see.
It will teach you focus, and patience. It will bloody well teach you to draw, if you follow the method to the letter, strive for absolute accuracy and don’t stint on your practice. Look closely at the way the hatching has been done, how the values are created, the subtlety of the marks, and try to match all of those as closely as you can. It will be very hard. It will teach you an incredible amount about drawing. Now, you don’t have to copy every plate.
To get a huge amount of benefit from this book, you just have to copy a few of them. But copy them really intensively, till you can’t tell any difference between your own drawing and the original. Then watch what happens the next time you try to draw something from life. If you want to improve your composition skills, this book is the one.
I think an art book should be. It is filled with practical exercises. It is very short on theory and justification. There is zero author ego. After the short introduction, Dow gets right out of the way and just presents you with a load of practical stuff to do.
But it doesn’t give you everything, this book, and like the Speed book, it was written some time ago and will require some interpretation on your part. You’ll have to think, and unfortunately I have a feeling that we’re less and less used to doing that for ourselves these days. But more than any of the other books here, it allows you to grow as an artist and as an individual. I’ve included this one as a runner up. It’s often seen as a beginner’s book, and sometimes gets a hard time from people who have advanced beyond the beginning stages of drawing.