The best books on the drawing techniques of great masters and great mistresses

Susan Dorothea White Author Of Draw Like Da Vinci
By Susan Dorothea White

Who am I?

A practising artist for more than 60 years, my main source of inspiration is people and the natural world. I work in a variety of media including painting, sculpture, and printmaking. Drawing is the foundation of my art and I always keep a sketchbook handy. As a left-hander in a right-handed world, drawing became my main means of expression from an early age, when I instinctively wrote back-to-front with my left hand but was made to use my right. In addition to my art practice, I have taught drawing and developed a teaching method based on 7 principles that are outlined in Draw Like da Vinci.  

I wrote...

Draw Like Da Vinci

By Susan Dorothea White,

Book cover of Draw Like Da Vinci

What is my book about?

Leonardo da Vinci's drawings are among the most magnificent ever created. But how did he achieve his effects? Choose his materials? Define his approach? Susan Dorothea White, an internationally known artist and teacher, helps students gain an invaluable understanding of Da Vinci's techniques for depicting the human form and dealing with perspective, line weight, light, shade, and character.

The basic principles of drawing are explained through Leonardo's art. White analyses the fundamentals into seven Ps of drawing – Perspective, Proportion, Perception, Position, Placement, Planes, Priority. Illustrated with drawings by Leonardo and over 100 of her drawings, the book contains exercises on different techniques, including goldpoint and chalk on emery paper. Being a left-hander helped White decipher Leonardo's technique.

The books I picked & why

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Leonardo Da Vinci: A Singular Vision

By Martin Clayton,

Book cover of Leonardo Da Vinci: A Singular Vision

Why this book?

This is my favorite book on drawings by Leonardo, with the best from his broad œuvre of head studies, figures, children, anatomy, plants, horses, mechanics, buildings, water dynamics, and aerial landscapes. The quality of the color reproductions is superb. The text is insightful with quotes from Leonardo. I love the silverpoint figure drawings with white chalk highlights on blue paper that Leonardo prepared himself. Leonardo’s understanding of anatomy, combined with the flesh-colored line of oxidized metal, make the figures leap from the page.

I was astonished to learn that Leonardo used black chalk under-drawing in his anatomical ink studies. The correlation between Leonardo’s studies and his paintings is enlightening – in drawings for The Last Supper, Leonardo expresses the anguish in the head of St Philip with a few skillful lines and captures the look of disdain in the head of Judas in red chalk on red ground. I learned that Leonardo’s iconic drawing of hands was a study for Ginevra de’Benci. She lost her arms when the lower third of the painting was sawn off. This revelation inspired my drawing Surgery Reattaching Ginevra de’Benci’s Arms and Hands.

Hokusai: The Great Picture Book of Everything

By Timothy Clark,

Book cover of Hokusai: The Great Picture Book of Everything

Why this book?

Hokusai, my favorite artist, described himself as "the man mad about drawing." Mad about drawing myself, I never cease to learn from studying his woodblock prints. This publication contains a rare collection of Hokusai’s original brush drawings. Most of his countless originals were lost when they were glued to a woodblock during the printing process. This book covers the scope of Hokusai’s subject matter of landscapes, flora and fauna, everyday life, and the supernatural, and reveals his sense of humor. I consider Hokusai ‘The Leonardo of the East’ – both artists drew everything with masterful skill and shared a common humanity. Hokusai’s skill with brush alone is phenomenal. He creates subtle tones, expressive movement and varies the thickness of his line down to a single hair.  

Australian Aboriginal art

By Ronald Berndt,

Book cover of Australian Aboriginal art

Why this book?

I have a deep admiration for the art of indigenous Australians with their connection to nature and mother earth. I grew up in outback Australia near a pre-historic sacred site with an awe-inspiring cave drawing of a giant serpent. This book, written by several scholars, is a comprehensive resource on Aboriginal art. The illustrations cover traditional bark paintings and cave drawings, some dating back more than 30,000 years. The authors’ analysis of symbols is informative. I consider Aboriginal artists to be the first anatomists. Long before Leonardo, they were drawing the inner structures and organs of humans and animals. 

The Life and Work of Rosalba Carriera (1673-1757): The Queen of Pastel

By Angela Oberer,

Book cover of The Life and Work of Rosalba Carriera (1673-1757): The Queen of Pastel

Why this book?

I discovered the extraordinary artist Rosalba Carriera when I saw an exhibition of her pastel portrait drawings in Venice a decade ago. She has perfected the art of pastel drawing with a technique that is so skillful that the transition in color and tone is undetectable – she virtually paints with pastel. I find her portraits as good as the oils by famous artists. Rosalba Carriera deserves to be better known – I was thrilled when this book on her life and work was published in English in 2020. Studying her work helped me to understand the limitless possibilities with pastel and to improve my own technique.

Käthe-Kollwitz-Sammlung der Kreissparkasse Köln: Katalog Der Handzeichnungen (The Kollwitz Collection of the Kreissparkasse, Cologne)

By Eberhard W. Kornfeld, Jutta Bohnke, Gunther Thiem

Book cover of Käthe-Kollwitz-Sammlung der Kreissparkasse Köln: Katalog Der Handzeichnungen (The Kollwitz Collection of the Kreissparkasse, Cologne)

Why this book?

This is an exceptional book on Kollwitz’s drawings with outstanding reproductions of rarely seen works. I find Kollwitz’s humanity deeply moving. As an Expressionist, she champions the plight of the poor and oppressed, especially women and children. Working in the mediums of sculpture and drawing, Kollwitz is a master, or rather a mistress of the human form. A sculptor myself, I appreciate the depth of form in her figure drawing and her use of broad strokes to define planes.  

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