Sketching It Out: Learn to Draw | Collection Development

When considering titles to satisfy readers’ creative urges, librarians now have a wider range of genres, subjects, and styles to choose from than ever before. Under the category of drawing instruction titles alone one will encounter basic drawing guides aimed at beginners; step-by-step guides that readers can copy line by line; sketchbook guides; and manuals and handbooks on drawing comics, cartoons, manga, and graphic novels, plus a host of other highly specialized subjects. As with any sort of collection development, librarians building a learning to draw collection should consider trends, interests, and demographics of their users and their local community. For example, do you have a large constituent of retired seniors who may be looking for a new hobby?

Since many learn-to-draw books focus on a specific subject, it is possible to choose instruction books that intersect well with other popular areas of the library like travel, animals, or graphic novels. Readers seem to prefer analog format over ­ebooks in this category. This is not all that surprising when you consider that these titles function as workbooks, with readers often preferring to flip through them as they work with pencils, charcoal, or other materials on paper. Most titles included here are not offered by their publishers in ebook format, but exceptions are noted.

Trends to keep in mind

The strongest trend in how-to-draw books has been the emergence of an approach that is holistic, rather than purely technical or stylistic. More and more drawing instruction titles currently take the whole creative process into consideration. In addition to providing pragmatic guidance on mark making, drawing tools, and materials, contemporary authors will often discuss long-term work practices, inspiration, and the nature of creativity itself. This greatly broadens the potential range of drawing instruction books, since holistically oriented titles are very likely to be of interest to more experienced artists who have long mastered basic techniques while also suiting the needs of beginners. Sketchbook and journal instruction books are the logical extension of this shift in viewpoint as they deal primarily with experimentation and emphasize process over end product. This type of art instruction title scarcely existed in decades past, but lately there is a wide selection of this variety available from which to choose. Some recommendations for sketchbook and journal how-to texts follow in the list below.

Another trend in how-to-draw works has been the broadening scope and variety of comics, cartooning, manga, and graphic novel instructionals. Quite a few sequential art instruction books are recommended. Within this category, both holistic-oriented and technique-focused titles can be found.

The art of weeding art instruction

Learn-to-draw collections, particularly those featuring basic manuals and step-by-step guides, will not need constant weeding. Drawing tips and techniques never become truly outdated, but the illustration or layout style may. This type of book is liable to suffer faster than average from wear and tear, so librarians should check copies periodically and replace popular titles as needed. Collection maintenance here is more a matter of acquisition than weeding. You may want to consider including a few sketchbook guides or comics how-to titles if you have never had these categories before.

Besides sketchbook and journal instruction titles, a few basic drawing guides are listed below. Most of them are meant for beginners who have never tried to draw, though a number of more advanced guides that discuss general drawing principles are also included. When many people hear “learn to draw,” they think of step-by-step copy guides. There are many hundreds of titles of this type out there. Indeed, this sort of how-to book at one time constituted the majority of drawing tutorials. If you are collecting for younger audiences, you will want to delve deeper into this category. A few recent titles of this variety are listed below.

Some drawing how-to books focus on highly specific subject matters in detail. Titles on fantasy, fashion illustration, birds, and botany are included in this list. Depending upon your readers, one or more specialized drawing instruction titles may be right for your library.

Books designated with a star (Library Journal Reviews starred review) are core purchases for most libraries.


Croton, Guy. The Wrinklies’ Guide to Drawing: New Pursuits for Old Hands. Prion, dist. by Trafalgar Square.2012. 192p. illus. index. ISBN 9781853758393. $17.95.

Aimed at older adults who have never been artistic and also those who have not drawn in decades, this guide affirms that anyone can draw. Its exercises and instructions are simple and clear, with fewer illustrations than similar books, but many readers will appreciate the straightforward approach.

Dodson, Bert. Keys to Drawing. North Light: F + W. 1990. 224p. illus. index. ISBN 9780891343370. pap. $22.99.

This long-popular guide uses simple black-and-white pencil drawing illustrations to help beginners to develop their skills and dexterity through a series of short exercises.

Library Journal Reviews starred review Edwards, Betty. Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain: The Definitive, 4th Edition. Tarcher: Penguin. 2012. 320p. illus. index. ISBN 9781585429196. $32.95; ISBN 9781585429202. pap. $19.95.

This updated classic combines the latest findings about cognition and the brain from the field of neuroscience with exercises from earlier editions to help readers be more perceptive, to draw what they see, and to be better problem solvers.

Hale, Robert Beverly & Terence Coyle. Anatomy Lessons from the Great Masters. Watson-Guptill. 2000. 272p. illus. index. ISBN 9780823002818. pap. $21.95.

Readers will be guided through basic drawing principles and the human form with exercises modeled after well-known old masterpieces, including works by Leonardo, Rembrandt, and Michelangelo.

Leblanc, Yves. The Art of Perspective. New Holland, dist. by Sterling. 2011. 144p. illus. index. ISBN 9781847738158. $19.95.

Leblanc presents perspective drawing in a fresh way by using geometry, detailing concepts thoroughly, and applying the technique to a wide range of subjects. Best for intermediate- and advanced-level readers.

Nelson, CraigThe Drawing Bible. North Light: F + W. 2011. 304p. illus. index. ISBN 9781440314445. pap. $22.99.

Color photographs of paper, material, tools, and finished drawings in this practical and technically oriented manual give it visual punch and help it to feel modern. Also available in an electronic edition.


Dahl, Anja. Draw Animals with Expression and Personality. Search Pr. 2011. 64p. illus. ISBN 9781844486953.pap. $17.95.

Dahl uses color, texture, and varied drawing instruments to help intermediate-level users to depict the individuality of common animals.

Massey, Carole. Drawing Masterclass Portraits. Search Pr. (Drawing Masterclass). 2012. 96p. illus. index. ISBN 9781844487479. pap. $19.95.

Suitable for older teens and adults, this guide examines drawing the human face and head in greater depth than its peers do.

Whittle, Janet. How To Draw Exotic Flowers in Simple Steps. Search Pr. (In Simple Steps). 2011. 32p. illus.ISBN 9781844486366. pap. $9.95.

Books in the this series are the simplest of the already simple step-by-step format, showing color-coded contour lines built up in a minimum of steps to form a finished drawing. The series also focuses on plants, animals, people, horror, and fantasy.


Library Journal Reviews starred review Barry, Lynda. What It Is. 2008. 209p. ISBN 9781897299357. $24.95.

Library Journal Reviews starred review Barry, Lynda, & Kevin Kawula. Picture This: The Near-Sighted Monkey Book. 2010. 204p. ISBN 9781897299647. $29.95.
ea. vol: Drawn & Quarterly. illus.

Many librarians have found themselves at a loss how properly to catalog these companion volumes by renowned comic artist and author Barry. They are ultimately part memoir, part creative workbook, part comic, and part tragic, and while many kids and teens may enjoy them, much of the subject matter is quite mature. Each book deals with drawing pictures and telling stories in varying proportions, and both examine from many angles the notion of keeping visual journals. Barry has said that her goal is to inspire readers, and she succeeds.

Bleiweiss, Sue. The Sketchbook Challenge: Techniques, Prompts, and Inspiration for Achieving Your Creative Goals. Potter Craft: Crown. 2012. 144p. illus. index. ISBN 9780307796554. pap. $21.99.

Bleiweiss encourages a spirit of fun, creativity, and experimentation in readers of all levels, with tutorials designed to loosen up the reader’s mind and hand.

Campanario, GabrielThe Art of Urban Sketching: Drawing on Location Around the World. Quarry: Quayside.2012. 320p. illus. ISBN 9781592537259. pap. $26.99.

Showcasing sketches drawn in cities all over the world, this title provides tips and encouragement to readers to try their own urban sketches. Solid crossover appeal with a library’s travel section.

Hall, Kass. Zentangle Untangled: Inspiration and Prompts for Meditative Drawing. North Light: F + W. 2012. 128p. illus. index. ISBN 9781440318269. pap. $24.99.

Get more out of doodling: inspiration, relaxation, meditation, and even finished drawings. With an electronic edition.

Martin, Judy. Mastering Sketching: A Complete Course in 40 Lessons. Interweave. 2011. 176p. iIlus. index. ISBN 9781596682801. pap. $19.95.

Martin explores a range of subjects and media, and these 40 lessons are a good basic guide for starting a sketchbook and developing it as a daily creative practice.

Maslen, Mick & Jack Southern. The Drawing Projects: An Exploration of the Language of Drawing. Black Dog Pub. 2011. 240p. illus. ISBN 9781907317255. pap. $29.95.

This unusual volume profiles the working process of ten contemporary emerging and established artists working in the medium of drawing, with 15 related projects for the reader to work through.


Library Journal Reviews starred review Abel, Jessica & Matt Madden. Drawing Words & Writing Pictures: Making Comics: Manga, Graphic Novels, and Beyond. 2008. 304p. ISBN 9781596431317.

Abel, Jessica & Matt Madden. Mastering Comics: Drawing Words and Writing Pictures Continued: a Definitive Course in Comics Narrative. 2012. 336p. ISBN 9781596436176.
ea. vol: First Second. illus. index. pap. $34.99.

These two inclusive guides for cartoonists are set up as workbooks, covering principles and providing lessons and exercises that readers can work through. Drawing is suitable for beginners, while Mastering is aimed more at intermediate and experienced cartoonists. Both volumes could be used as college texts for courses on sequential art.

Library Journal Reviews starred review Brunetti, Ivan. Cartooning: Philosophy and Practice. Yale Univ. 2011. 88p. illus. ISBN 9780300170993. pap. $13.

Brunetti’s thoughtful handbook takes the medium very seriously but is still loads of fun for fans of comics, cartoons, manga, and graphic novels. These art forms rely as much upon the written word as they do upon the visual, which Brunetti discusses beautifully and eloquently in words and pictures.

Campos, Cristian. 1,000 Ideas by 100 Manga Artists. Rockport: Quayside. 2011. 320p. illus. ISBN 9781592537143. pap. $24.99.

This reference work presents short interviews with and sample artwork from 100 artists from Japan and around the world who either work in manga formats themselves or have been strongly influenced by manga art.

Cooney, Daniel. The Complete Guide to Figure Drawing for Comics and Graphic Novels. Barrons Educational.2012. 192p. illus. index. ISBN 9781438000985. pap. $24.99.

This new comics drawing guide emphasizes the human figure as a vehicle for graphic storytelling. It is suitable for beginners through intermediate-level users.

Eisner, Will. Comics and Sequential Art: Principles and Practices from the Legendary Cartoonist. Norton. 2008. 192p. illus. index. ISBN 9780393331264. pap. $29.95.

This guide by one of the veterans of the industry provides a solid framework in the principles of drawing comic art.

Kardy, Glenn. How To Draw Manga: Getting Started; Basic Tools, Tips and Techniques for Aspiring Artists.Graphic-Sha. 2004. 128p. illus. ISBN 9784921205003. pap. $19.99.

A good general guide for readers who have just discovered manga style. The series is translated into English from the Japanese.

McCloud, Scott. Making Comics: Storytelling Secrets of Comics, Manga, and Graphic Novels. HarperCollins.2008. illus. 264p. ISBN 9781435261945. $31.95.

McCloud’s Understanding Comics, which came out in 1994, surprised many by using the new form of graphic nonfiction to explain comics and their history and to place them in the broader cultural context. Storytelling Secrets now employs the same graphic nonfiction format to explore the principles and creative processes of making sequential art.

Richmond, Tom. The Mad Art of Caricature! A Serious Guide to Drawing Funny Faces. Deadline Demon. 2011. 175p. illus. ISBN 9780983576709. pap. $24.95.

This popular and comprehensive guide by a successful illustrator and caricaturist who has worked for Mad Magazine demonstrates how to emphasize and exaggerate portraits to amuse, flatter, and entertain.


Artist Daily Workshop: Mastering Portrait Drawing with Susan Lyon. 60 min. Interweave, 2010. DVD ISBN 9781596682757.  $29.99.

An overall approach to portrait drawing.

Drawing Lessons for Beginners. 4 vols. 115 min. Coyote Creek Prods., 2007. DVD ISBN 9781931021586. $95.

These DVDs run the gamut of realistic drawing subjects and techniques, from simple shapes to still life to people and animals.

Drawing on “the Other.” 45 min. Artists in Residence, 2003. DVD $25.

In this unique take on the drawing how-to DVD, artist Clara Crockett demonstrates techniques inspired by puppetry and performance art.

Drawing Power! With Michael Moodoo. 7 vols. 346 min. Moodoo Prods., 2007. DVD set $219.99; ea. vol: $29.99.

These popular step-by-step drawing videos for kids focus on subjects kids love like animals, dinosaurs, and fairy tale characters.

Learn To See, Learn To Draw. 92 min. On Air Video, 2008. DVD $19.95.

Develop new basic drawing skills and build upon them.


Laws, John Muir. The Laws Guide to Drawing Birds. Heyday. 2012. 128p. illus. ISBN 9781597141956. pap. $24.95.

Laws, the author of a popular birding field guide series, branches out here to the artistic depiction of birds, providing visual tips only a birding expert could offer.

Martin, Rosie & Thurstan, Meriel. Exotic Botanical Illustration with the Eden Project. Batsford, dist. by Sterling. 2012. 144p. illus. index. ISBN 9781849940313. $29.95.

Taking a practical approach, the authors discuss the basics of illustrating plants foreign to Western Europe and North America, pointing out special challenges of working with this delicate subject matter.

Myles, Socar. Fantasy Art Drawing Skills: All the Art Techniques, Demonstrations, and Short Cuts You Need To Master Fantasy Arts. Barron’s Educational. 2012. 128p. illus. index. ISBN 9780764147531. pap. $21.99.

Aimed at beginners, this guide helps readers translate their most imaginative visions into images of characters, creatures, and fanciful worlds. Myles anchors the lessons in reality, demonstrating the transformation of human figures into fantastical beings.

Takamura, Zeshu. Fashion Illustration Techniques: A Super Reference Book for Beginners. Rockport: Quayside. 2012. 224p. illus. ISBN 9781592537952. pap. $27.99.

This thorough guide for beginners and intermediate-level artists covers a variety of perspectives on fashion figure drawing. With pose, rendition, color, and garment drawing exercises to sharpen skills.

Umoto, Sachiko. Illustration School: Let’s Draw Cute Animals. Quarry: Quayside. 2010. 112p. illus. ISBN 9781592536450.  pap. $15.99.

Aimed at younger audiences, this step-by-step guide encourages readers to have fun and make these drawings their own. The series also covers happy people, small creatures, and plants.

Heather Halliday, MLIS, BFA, works with visual materials as photograph and reference archivist at the American Jewish Historical Society in New York City. She is a graduate of Pratt Institute School of Library and Information Science. She has previously worked in museums, art libraries, stock photo agencies, and bike shops. Her undergraduate degree from the Cleveland Institute of Art is in studio art, with a photography major and a painting minor

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