For my next book review, we’re going to look at A Guide to Drawing (Fifth Edition), by Daniel M. Mendelowitz and Duane A. Wakeham.
This book is a lot more dense than your typical “How to Draw” books. In fact, it’s actually a textbook taught in college art classes.
I never went to art school, but I’ve always wanted to go beyond simple drawing books and use what a real art school student would use so I did some online searching and found the University of Missouri’s Drawing I syllabus posted helpfully online by Art Professor, Lampo Leong, PhD. Thanks, Professor!
The syllabus has a list of textbooks for the class and while they were probably all brand new at the time of the class and cost the students a pretty penny, I found them easily on eBay and Amazon for a few bucks each. Another benefit of the survey style learning I’m doing.
The syllabus suggests getting the sixth edition of the book, but having been a college student myself, I know there’s probably fuck all difference between the fifth and sixth editions, and the fifth was cheaper.
Unsurprisingly, there is currently an EIGHTH EDITION of this textbook (they discovered new ways to draw, y’all) and as of this post, the best used price on Amazon was $65, to buy it outright is $137, or you can RENT IT (lawd) for $22. The fifth edition cost me $4.
The chapter subjects are as follows:
The Nature of Drawing
Learning to See
Copying and Sketching
The book is an excellent place to start a serious study of drawing. It’s foundational, but challenging. At over 300 pages in fairly small print, there is a LOT of densely packed information here. Probably one of the most valuable parts of the book is scattered throughout each chapter in the form of drawing assignments the book calls “Projects.”
Each chapter has many Projects and every one of them are incredibly helpful practice exercises. If you want to improve, DO NOT SKIP THE PROJECTS. That goes for any instructional art book now that I’m thinking about it. At over 300 pages, 17 chapters, and typically ten or so projects per chapter, A Guide to Drawing has kept me busy for the past several months. As I went through the projects I often felt as though I was really in a college class and doing assigned homework. It’s one of those things where it’s not necessarily a ton of fun, but the end result is you really learn the material. It made me appreciate the sentiment I often hear from art school graduates; that they often felt like they were plodding through meaningless work instead of all the fun projects they envisioned creating, but left school feeling as though they really learned the fundamentals of how to create art. I think that’s one of the benefits of using a book like this as opposed to a more general one.
And also, it was $4.
Many, if not most of the projects had me practicing ideas and concepts I probably never would have on my own. Ideas like abstraction, composition, value, and perspective. The maybe, not-so-fun, parts of art that you have to get a grasp on if you want to create your best work.
Another helpful addition to the book are the Sketchbook Activities. These are not singular exercises, but overarching ideas to take into your drawing studies in the future. Things to keep in the back of your mind to keep thinking critically about how and what you are creating.
One of the aspects of this book that I found most helpful was its focus on basic concepts, sketches, and rough drawings. There’s nothing more intimidating than picking up an instructional art book filled with fully rendered, finished pieces. This book is full of rough sketches from some of the masters of art, historical and modern. It helps you see that every artist begins somewhere and every piece of art begins as something simple and approachable.
Having spent several months reading every chapter and attempting every project, no matter how unappealing they seemed, I think A Guide to Drawing was tremendously educational and I’m really glad I took the time to go through it. I highly recommend it for artists looking to build their skill of the fundamental concepts of drawing. Even artists that have been drawing for a while can benefit from the concepts and projects within. Plus, if you pick up a used copy, it’s just so darn affordable for the wealth of information it contains. I can see myself keeping it next to my desk and referring to its concepts for a long time to come. A wonderful book.