Thursday, May 18, 2006

Keys to Drawing

"Anyone who can hold a pencil can learn to draw with some degree of proficiency"
Bert Dodson

" Keys to Drawing" by Bert Dodson is one of the first drawing books that I bought after I got back to doing art after a break of over 15 years. It opened my eyes, stimulated my enthusiasm for drawing again and provided me with some really excellent guidelines about what to think about when drawing.

My edition is a North Light Books paperback published in 1990. Amazon indicates the current edition was updated in 2001 and, although I've not seen that I think it unlikely that it departs much from the sound advice provided in earlier editions.

I see the synopsis on Amazon says that it "Describes the drawing process, discusses proportions, light, depth, texture, pattern, design, and imagination, and tells how to evaluate one's work." And it does do all of those things - but it also does a lot more. He has 55 keys to drawing which are introduced as he goes through each of the topics in turn - and he provides lots of practical exercises to see how they can be applied.

It needs to be pointed out that this book is NOT a manual for how to draw in a hyper/photo realism manner - there are other books that do that.

What I like most about this book is it starts by encouraging people who want to develop their drawing to develop their own 'handwriting' for their drawing. Dodson explains:
  • how we draw is as individual to us all as how we write.
  • all artists combine freedom (intuitive, looser, sketchy drawing) and control (analytical, precise, careful drawing) in their work - they just do it differently
Speaking as somebody who has never had much of an affinity with 'herd mentality' I just loved the idea that this author wanted me to be me - and not like him or somebody else. What's more in illustrating the different ways in which people draw he introduced me to a better understanding of how different master artists, such as Delacroix, Rembrandt, Matisse, Van Gogh, Degas, Morandi and Kollwitz approached their drawing. Consequently I began to understand an awful lot more about how drawing is done and why it looks as it does. What's more the images of their drawings in his book impressed me so much that they have stayed firmly lodged at the front of the drawing bit of my brain over the years.

One of the especially helpful bits about the book is that it encourages the development of self-evaluation right from the start. This means that the things one needs to think about when drawing become internalised that much quicker. It really helps the budding artist to become much more self-reliant and less dependent on others for insight into how they are doing.

This is a book that I can pick up and reread and dip into over and over again and never ever get bored.

It's one of the best 'how to' books on drawing that I've ever read
and I can highly recommend it to all of you who are:
  • interested in the art of drawing,
  • wanting to develop your own skill in self-evaluation and/or
  • wanting to develop your own individual style of drawing.

Buy Keys to Drawing on or Amazon.UK (These are Amazon Associate Links)


  1. hello Katherine,
    Bert Dodsons book is still after years THE source for me in terms of creative development in drawing. It is one of the cheapes books on drawing that I bought as a bargain and it is the best. About 2 weeks back I went through the book again and decided to find him on the net if possible to send him a thank you for this outstanding book. I was surprised to find him and to get a very friendly answer with the information that there will be a second book published in fall this year. It will concentrate more on the creative side of drawing.
    It´s already listed on amazon.

  2. Thank you so much Martin for that info - if you can e-mail me his contact info I'll let him know about my blog post. And I'll be keeping an eye out for the new book too!

  3. SOLD!! If both of you recommend this book than I must have it!! Martin and Katherine I love your work and consider both of you masters at the drawingboard consistently producing beautiful drawings! Off to Amazon!


  4. same for me, away to Amazon, thanks!

  5. I haven't read it but he's saying exactly what I believe :) !

    This is the way I teach - painting/drawing is a language, a means of expression with marks and colours as its vocabulary. It's as individual as our ways of writing and speaking, the choices of vocabulary we use at any time.

    I really hate the sort of teaching that says 'THIS is the way to do it', producing clones.

    I was lucky to have imaginative teachers myself who believed the same :)


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