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Take your drawing skills up a notch

Drawing: A Contemporary Approach  is a great book to help take your drawing skills up a notch

Most of us get some drawing basics in school, and the training gets a little more sophisticated when we take foundation classes for animation or art programs. But if drawing really excites you, here’s a way to ramp up your skills beyond what school may offer. With drawing currently taking its place as a serious medium, that may well mean exhibitions and sales if that’s your dream.

Along with looking long and hard at master works and talking to fellow students whose drawings you admire, books can be a terrific route to bumping up your skill set. I’ve been looking for a good book on drawing both to recommend to readers and something that would inspire me in my own work. For now at least, this book nails it. 

What makes Drawing: A Contemporary Approach by Sale and Betti a little unusual is that the book focuses on analyzing how drawing elements such as line, tone, texture, and color can be assembled to create the illusion of space.

Many books on drawing cover this in one way or another but what makes this book special is the way the order of the content is directed to that end. What that means is you can start at the beginning and trust that by the time you finish the book and its exercises, you will have gained more than a little insight into how to generate the illusion of objects in space with only a pencil. Once you’ve mastered that, you can apply it to any subject you find compelling.

Focusing on space as the end goal allows the authors the freedom to illustrate their points with a wide range of styles and themes, so much so in fact that the book could be presented as an overview of modern and contemporary drawing. (If you're only looking for an overview of contemporary drawing, Phaidon’s Vitamin D has far more current masterworks.) That being said, the excellent illustrations in the Sale and Betti book present a very broad practice and there is much here to identify with for a wide range of artists.

Published by Wadsworth, the book is distributed by Cengage Learning. And even though it’s pricey, it’s certainly well worth the investment. (Note that the book has been out for many years so be sure to get the latest edition – sixth as of 2014. The illustrations in earlier editions lean far more to student work.)

The book comes in three formats: large format paperback, as an Advantage Edition in a loose-leaf format, and as an ebook. The loose-leaf format allows you to carry around one chapter at a time if you like to study in coffee shops. It’s an interesting concept but note that the pages are too heavy to be stapled, even in single chapter packets. If weight and bulk are a concern, the ebook option might be best.

If you want to test drive a chapter, check out this PDF sample of the first chapter.

With its suggested exercises, this textbook is very highly recommended for the following areas of study: drawing at the high school, college, and university levels. It’s also very highly recommended for libraries that collect texts on art and drawing. In spite of the cost it’s also highly recommended to individuals interested in improving their drawing skills and boosting their knowledge of drawing within a contemporary art context.