The best books on anatomy and drawing

James Gurney Author Of Imaginative Realism: How to Paint What Doesn't Exist
By James Gurney

Who am I?

My name is James Gurney and I've been a professional illustrator for National Geographic and Scientific American for over 40 years. Although I went to art school, everything I know about drawing and painting comes from studying art instruction books, and from sketching directly from nature. I'm best known for writing and illustrating the New York Times bestselling Dinotopia book series, published in 32 countries and 18 languages. I designed 15 dinosaur stamps for USPS and a set of five dinosaur stamps for Australia Post. My originals have been shown in over 35 solo museum exhibitions. My book Color and Light has sold over 200k copies and was Amazon's #1 bestselling book on painting for over a year.


I wrote...

Imaginative Realism: How to Paint What Doesn't Exist

By James Gurney,

Book cover of Imaginative Realism: How to Paint What Doesn't Exist

What is my book about?

Most art instruction books show you how to draw or paint something you can see: a still life, a landscape, or a portrait. But what if you want to make a realistic picture of something that you can only imagine? This book shows you the time-tested methods used by artists since the Renaissance to bring your dreams into reality.

The books I picked & why

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The Art of Animal Drawing: Construction, Action Analysis, Caricature

By Ken Hultgren,

Book cover of The Art of Animal Drawing: Construction, Action Analysis, Caricature

Why this book?

Disney animator Ken Hultgren shares an approach to drawing animals that emphasizes the unique characteristics of all the major types of mammals. His style features action poses ranging from straight to cartoony. His pen-and-ink drawings are usually accompanied by a skeletal analysis to help students see the hidden structure. He never loses sight of the lines of action flowing through a pose, something that both realist painters and cartoonists can benefit from.


Bridgman's Life Drawing

By George B. Bridgman,

Book cover of Bridgman's Life Drawing

Why this book?

Bridgman's legendary figure drawing demonstrations at the Art Students League of New York have inspired generations of artists, from Norman Rockwell to Frank Frazetta. His dynamic, chunky form analysis reminds students of the big shapes and how they interlock with each other, which is easy to overlook when faced with the subtleties of the actual figure. 


The Human Figure

By John H. Vanderpoel,

Book cover of The Human Figure

Why this book?

John Vanderpoel, who studied in France at the Académie Julian, offers a classical approach to figure drawing, noteworthy for its timeless grace. His approach focuses on the important planes of the figure understood in terms of simple light and shade. Male and female models are analyzed in many detailed drawings of parts, such as the head, neck, torso, and limbs. The plates are so good that it would profit a student to systematically copy all of them.


An Atlas of Animal Anatomy for Artists

By W. Ellenberger, H. Baum, H. Dittrich

Book cover of An Atlas of Animal Anatomy for Artists

Why this book?

This is a useful reference book, dominated by large and carefully drawn plates. The animal kingdom is represented by a small number of familiar domesticated mammals: horse, dog, cow, and goat, together with a lion. Each animal is shown in neutral poses in side, top, and front views, with skeletal and muscular dissections for comparison.


The Artistic Anatomy of Trees

By Rex V. Cole,

Book cover of The Artistic Anatomy of Trees

Why this book?

This book is a good one to consult when one needs a reminder that not all trees look the same. Cole draws upon the Victorian tradition of close observation of nature, and he analyzes trees at the level of roots, branches, stems, blossoms, leaves, and foliage masses. The book transcends the limits of a botanical treatise by exploring artistic issues, such as the grouping of masses and the simplification of contours. The text is profusely illustrated with black-and-white explanatory drawings, as well as compositions by early masters.


5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in drawing, anatomy, and figure drawing?

5,215 authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about drawing, anatomy, and figure drawing.

Drawing Explore 56 books about drawing
Anatomy Explore 27 books about anatomy
Figure Drawing Explore 10 books about figure drawing

And, 3 books we think you will enjoy!

We think you will like Drawing Lessons from the Great Masters, Figure Drawing: For All It's Worth, and Figure Drawing: Design and Invention if you like this list.