Thursday, March 18, 2010

BOOKS: how to draw animals, plants, flowers and nature

The Best Books about Drawing and Sketching now includes some new modules which identify some of the best instruction books for drawing animals, birds, plants, flowers and nature in general.

These subjects are popular and seem to generate an awful lot of very basic 'how to draw' books. However many fail to connect the 'start with a basic oval' to more sophisticated drawings which reflect reality even when sketchy rather than hyper-realistic. I've seen more than a few which seem to be written by people who seem to lack basic drawing skills! Others may be helpful to the complete beginner however an awful lot of them which I look at in book shops are to my mind a complete waste of time and money.

As such there's a lot of scope to sort through what's available and to identify recommendations of books which do support the development of good drawing skills and an understanding of the subject matter.

There tends to be a more limited choice of books appropriate for those at an intermediate or advanced stage (ie those serious about drawing). This is one of the main reasons why I started my information site in the first place. I wanted to identify - and share - the really good books about drawing and sketching which do exist and which people are enthusiastic about.

How to draw animals, birds, plants, flowers and nature

In relation to drawing animals, birds, plants, flowers and nature in general, I decided to take a look at those which were very much about drawing and sketching (as opposed to painting) and then try and identify those which were worth highlighting.

I do want to emphasise that I don't think I've got the best of the best as yet - and that there are bound to be more which are worth recommending - which is where you come in (see the end for how you can help)

How did I choose the recommended books?

I used three key criteria
  • recommendations by those who had bought the book and had written reviews - especially if these were people who could draw themselves and/or 'sort the wheat from the chaff'. This included consulting the bibliographies of books written by artist/authors I trusted to provide sound recommendations. It's always really nice to see authors who are unselfish about recommending books that they didn't write and which are published by other publishing companies.
  • the reputation of the individual author in terms of their own competence and ability to draw, teach and/or write books. For some this included my own personal knowledge of them as authors and teachers using the written word.
  • the popularity of the book - if supported by numerous recommendations from people I didn't know. I took a look at those which were the best sellers on Amazon and researched the titles which I didn't own.

I was certainly helped if I knew individuals personally - either in terms of those making recommendations or those writing the books!

Besides looking at the books which sell well I also tried to look at both ends of the spectrum - at the older books which might get neglected by book stores and books recently published or updated or being published this year.

One of my goals was to identify those books which sell steadily year after year - because they're good and they get perennial word of mouth recommendations from those who buy them. A particularly good example of this is a book listed below which is only in print because a number of artists/illustrators and animators lobbied hard for it to be reprinted when it went out of print.

In relation to the newer books, I wanted people to be aware of where are good new books which are worthy of their attention. Plus I've got review copies of some new books listed but not yet published and am in the process of drafting book reviews - and I know I'll be recommending them!

Which are the recommended books about drawing plants and flowers?

A number of the botanical art books include good sections devoted to drawing. However some books are heavily biased towards drawings and the ones recommended fall into this category.

I've very fortunate to be able to say that I know or have corresponded with four of the authors highlighted - and know the very very high standards which they set for their drawing - and how keen they are to share what they know with others.

Two NEW books for 2010 which get highlighted are:

Botany for the Artist: An  Inspirational Guide to Drawing Plants
Botany for the Artist: An Inspirational Guide to Drawing Plants by: Sarah Simblet (Published in February 2010 - 256 pages (hardback) published by Dorling Kindersley.)

Author Dr Sarah Simblet teaches at the University of Oxford, has drawings in national and private collections, including the Royal Academy of Art, London and Ashmolean, Oxford and is the author of two excellent drawing books.

I have a copy and it is simply splendid. Book review coming soon.

Botanical Sketchbook

Botanical Sketchbook by: Mary Ann Scott (Due to publish in April 2010)

This book has been developed from the sketchbook kept by Diploma student Mary Ann Scott. She was awarded a Distinction with her Diploma in Botanical Art by the Society of Botanical Artists.

Written with Margaret Stevens, the President of the Society of Botanical Artists in the UK. I've got a review copy and my book review is coming soon.

Which are the recommended books about drawing nature?

There are fewer books about drawing nature and how to keep a nature journal - and yet this is an increasingly popular subject, particularly as well beocme more environmentally aware.

Two books which get highlighted are by two bloggers I know personally who are both artists, authors and teachers - Irene Brady (Nature Drawing with Irene Brady) and Cathy Johnson (The Quicksilver Workaholic). Both enjoy a popular following.

Illustrating Nature: Right-Brain Art in a Left-Brain World by: Irene Brady

This book is for ages 13 and up, from college students and art-loving teens, to adults looking for a new career or simply wanting to develop their creative skills.

Written by an award-winning nature book author and college-level instructor in scientific illustration, the text is superbly crafted to make sense to the creative person of any age.
The Sierra Club Guide to  Sketching in Nature, Revised EditionThe Sierra Club Guide to Sketching in Nature, Revised Edition by: Cathy Johnson

Revised and updated with 280 sketches and paintings, this new edition will appeal to the large market of nature lovers, aspiring artists, botanists, birdwatchers, teachers, hikers and naturalists

To see the rest go to BOOKS: Drawing Nature

Which are the recommended books about drawing animals and birds?

This was a subject area where recommendations tend to come from both fine artists and people who are illustrators and animators - with the latter being very picky as to which books they think are best!
It was interesting to find that the books which people recommend the most tend to be fairly old. At the moment, I've limited the recommendations to books which cover a variety of animals although I may develop modules which focus in particular on wildlife and domestic pets.

Two books which get a lot of mentions are

The Art of Animal Drawing: Construction, Action Analysis, Caricature by: Ken Hultgren

Originally published in the 1950s, this former Disney animator offers expert advice on drawing animals both realistically and as caricatures. Over 700 illustrations. A number of animators lobbied Dover to re-release this book when it went out of print - and they did! This books gets top recommendations from a number of artists and illustrators.
The Weatherly Guide to Drawing Animals by: Joe Weatherly

This book focuses on learning how to draw animals using solid drawing principles. An approach to drawing animals from life (a challenging and somewhat frustrating exercise) can be learned from the principles layed out in this book. The importance of drawing from imagination and methods to go about it are also a key topic. Anyone interested in learning how to draw animals or who take their current animal drawing to the next level are likely to find benefit from this book.

To see the rest go to BOOKS: How to draw animals and birds

Which books do you recommend?

In researching references and recommendations on the internet, I found lots and lots of very brief reviews. I'd really love to see people using their blogs more to share their 'favourites' and to provide more in-depth reviews of the books they recommend. I also have modules which lists book reviews - and I'd love to be able to add in blog posts providing good quality reviews to these.

I'd be very interested to know which books you would recommend in any of the above categories - and why.

Also if you've written a book review of a favourite book, do please let me know.


  1. Thank you for the kind words for the Sierra Club Guide to Sketching in Nature! It was SO much fun to do...

  2. Your recommendation for Illustrating Nature ~ Right-brain Art in a Left-brain world is greatly appreciated. It warms my soul to know I can help others connect with nature through their art.


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