It’s easy to find books or tutorials that will teach you how to draw specific things. If you type “how to draw cats” into Google you won’t find any scarcity of Youtube viraterdeos or books on the subject.
The books on this list aren’t about that. Rather than giving you a formula for how to draw specific subjects, they will give you a holistic approach to drawing in general.
Like many people, this was my introduction to observational drawing. Through a series of simple exercises, Betty Edwards helps you make the transition from thinking in terms of symbols (i.e. football shapes for eyes, stick figures, etc.) into being able to more accurately perceive and represent what you are looking at.
I’ve heard some argue that the left/right brain stuff lacks scientific merit, or that it’s a marketing gimmick. Ultimately I don’t think it matters as long as it helps beginning artists learn to make the mental shift that observational drawing requires and this book does a good job of that.
There’s also a companion workbook that you can use to do all the exercises in the book. It’s not essential, but it comes with some of the tools you’ll need to complete the exercises.
Next to Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain, Bert Dodson’s Keys to Drawing is the most often recommended drawing book for beginners.
The book covers a lot of the same ground as Edwards’ book. For example, both introduce exercises like blind contour drawing, and drawing negative spaces. The difference is primarily in presentation. Dodson’s book is much more grounded in typical art terminology and doesn’t focus on developmental or neurological basis for these concepts the way that Edwards does.
Whether you prefer Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain or Keys to Drawing will have to do with your own personal preferences. I think they’re similar enough that you won’t be missing out if you choose one over the other.
I’m a little hesitant to recommend the Language of Drawing to beginners. Not because it’s not effective; I think it’s the best drawing curriculum available. It’s just that it can be difficult to properly progress through the exercises without some guidance from an experienced instructor. I had the benefit of studying at Anthony Waichulis’s studio where he could step in and point out mistakes and prevent me from repeating them and developing bad habits. I imagine it would be much more difficult for someone studying on their own. Of course, smartermarx.com is a useful resource where you can ask questions and get feedback.
I’m also cheating a little because LoD isn’t a book. It’s three DVDs and a binder to keep the exercise materials. One of the things I like about it is that it leaves out any extraneous information and gets right to the excercises.
Of course there are other books that will be useful to beginners, but I think it can be helpful to narrow your scope to just a few resources. That way you can avoid being overwhelmed by too much information.
If you know of any drawing books that are good for beginners feel free to makes suggestions in the comments.