The best books on figure drawing

6 authors have picked their favorite books about figure drawing and why they recommend each book.

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Bridgman's Life Drawing

By George B. Bridgman,

Book cover of Bridgman's Life Drawing

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. 


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 Human Figure

By John H. Vanderpoel,

Book cover of The Human Figure

Vanderpoel was JC Leyendecker‘s teacher in Chicago. You can’t go wrong by going back to the source. Underneath JC’s style, is rock solid form and structure. With slightly archaic language that takes a while to understand, this book offers huge insight into the structural thinking of how to draw and interpret the human figure.


Who am I?

In the “meme-ification” of the world, the long-form version of learning and practicing skills is getting lost. True discovery happens after a thorough and deep understanding of the subject. Truth is a multilayered, complex exploration that is hard to sum up in a single sentence. 


I wrote...

Graphic L.A.

By Robh Ruppel,

Book cover of Graphic L.A.

What is my book about?

Graphic L.A. is part practical instruction, part guided meditation on the importance of color values and objects in art. By reducing environments down to basic shapes and colors (or "symbols"), Robh builds astounding images. Robh documents the progression of building an image while referencing basic techniques. By using color with surprisingly bold brushstrokes, he produces images of incredible depth with intricate handling of light and shadow. It is a rare exploration into simplicity without resorting to minimalism.

Human Anatomy for Artists

By Eliot Goldfinger,

Book cover of Human Anatomy for Artists: The Elements of Form

Eliot Goldfinger’s book is very precise, reliable, and not too lengthy. Its systematic approach reminds me of a medical anatomy book, but it has been adapted for artists. The book is consistent in its depictions of human anatomy, and you will find each anatomical structure depicted from set angles: front, side, top, etc. It’s not always easy to find reliable human anatomy references, but this is one of them.


Who am I?

I’m a traditional sculptor with more than 25 years of experience. Being a dyslectic student in the 2000s, I developed a systematic approach to translating medical anatomy texts into visual information that I could use while sculpting.  All the anatomy books for artists at the time were text-centered. My reference sketches became quite popular among colleagues. It was clear that visual artists perceive information best when it’s visual, and that is how I got the idea for my first book. Now the Anatomy for Sculptors handbooks are bestsellers among visual artists striving to better understand the human form.


I wrote...

Anatomy For Sculptors: Understanding the Human Figure

By Uldis Zarins, Sandis Kondrats,

Book cover of Anatomy For Sculptors: Understanding the Human Figure

What is my book about?

This anatomy handbook for artists gives you everything you need to create realistic human body forms. Of course, only long hours of practice can hone your skills and let you become a masterful visual artist. Having a live model in your training also makes a big difference, but one is not always available. However, reliable anatomy references can be an excellent substitute – as long as they really are good!

Only about 2-5% of the book is text! Anatomy For Sculptors: Understanding the Human Figure contains visual references for hundreds of body postures and motions. Regardless of what composition you choose for your artwork, you don’t have to guess anymore. This book will show you the exact form of every muscle from any angle.

Artistic Anatomy

By Dr. Paul Richer, Robert Beverly Hale (translator),

Book cover of Artistic Anatomy: The Great French Classic on Artistic Anatomy

Dr. Paul Richer was a professor of artistic anatomy at École des Beaux-Arts at the beginning of the 20th century, and Robert Beverly Hale, an American artist and instructor of artistic anatomy, translated Richer’s text and extended it with his own valuable commentary. This book is an absolute classic. It’s somewhat similar to Goldfinger’s book, only with a more significant emphasis on the movements of upper and lower extremities. It’s got precise drawings of the skeleton, side-by-side drawings that show anatomical structures with and without the skin. Side-by-sides help you recognize anatomical structures in real life. I got a lot of inspiration from this work when I made my book.


Who am I?

I’m a traditional sculptor with more than 25 years of experience. Being a dyslectic student in the 2000s, I developed a systematic approach to translating medical anatomy texts into visual information that I could use while sculpting.  All the anatomy books for artists at the time were text-centered. My reference sketches became quite popular among colleagues. It was clear that visual artists perceive information best when it’s visual, and that is how I got the idea for my first book. Now the Anatomy for Sculptors handbooks are bestsellers among visual artists striving to better understand the human form.


I wrote...

Anatomy For Sculptors: Understanding the Human Figure

By Uldis Zarins, Sandis Kondrats,

Book cover of Anatomy For Sculptors: Understanding the Human Figure

What is my book about?

This anatomy handbook for artists gives you everything you need to create realistic human body forms. Of course, only long hours of practice can hone your skills and let you become a masterful visual artist. Having a live model in your training also makes a big difference, but one is not always available. However, reliable anatomy references can be an excellent substitute – as long as they really are good!

Only about 2-5% of the book is text! Anatomy For Sculptors: Understanding the Human Figure contains visual references for hundreds of body postures and motions. Regardless of what composition you choose for your artwork, you don’t have to guess anymore. This book will show you the exact form of every muscle from any angle.

Figure Drawing

By Andrew Loomis,

Book cover of Figure Drawing: For All It's Worth

This figure drawing guide is a classic, and for good reason. Artist Andrew Loomis wrote this book for those who have graduated from the fundamentals of drawing and are ready to embark on their artistic careers. The focus is on aesthetic as well as practical, and leans toward a more commercial approach rather than fine art, but will be helpful to both disciplines. Loomis includes chapters on anatomy, planes and lighting, drawing from living models, the figure in action, and costume, among others. He discusses idealization and other tricks of the trade to help the reader produce superior work. Explanatory sketches and examples of some of his own best sketches appear on almost every page. Originally published in 1943 this book continues as a solid reference for artists struggling to perfect their own skills.


Who am I?

Born at the base of the beautiful Wasatch Mountains, I began exploring and sketching the world—as most children do—at a very early age. I continued to pursue not only my artistic path through traditional schooling, higher education, and endless hours of practice, but also my love of storytelling. Intrigued by Science Fiction and Fantasy, many of my projects reflect elements of the fantastic, but I also appreciate the beauty and elegance in fine art masterpieces. I studied illustration and graphic design at Utah State University and the Academy of Art University in San Francisco. I currently live in Salt Lake City with my beautiful wife and four boys, where I continue to write, paint and draw regularly.


I wrote...

Draw It With Me - The Dynamic Female Figure: Anatomical, Gestural, Comic & Fine Art Studies of the Female Form in Dramatic Poses

By Brian C. Hailes,

Book cover of Draw It With Me - The Dynamic Female Figure: Anatomical, Gestural, Comic & Fine Art Studies of the Female Form in Dramatic Poses

What is my book about?

Draw It With Me: The Dynamic Female Figure art book explores anatomical, gestural, comic/anime, and fine art/life drawing studies of the human female form in dramatic poses and angles, offering step-by-step examples and process descriptions using these varied artistic approaches. To help inspire and educate the novice and master artist alike.

With over 200 full colorfully illustrated pages by award-winning artist/illustrator and #1 Amazon bestselling author, Brian C. Hailes, this book features supine, standing, seated, leaping, flying, crouching, fighting (and more) dynamic female figure sketches and masterpieces, using varying media and from differing angles / light sources with many photo references of the models included.

Anatomy for Artists

By 3dtotal Publishing (editor),

Book cover of Anatomy for Artists: A Visual Guide to the Human Form

I’ve always felt that a foundational knowledge of human anatomy is an absolute necessity for anyone serious about becoming a figurative artist. It’s like learning how to dribble if you want to play for the NBA. Although I used a different anatomy book growing up, An Atlas of Anatomy for Artists by Fritz Schider, I feel that Anatomy for Artists is a more solid choice for today’s up-and-comers. It’s an extensive compendium of high quality, detailed photography, and drawings, showing the human figure in a variety of shapes, sizes, and poses. It consists of stunning photography and comprehensive drawings showing the muscular structure of figures of varying body types. These male and female references will act as an invaluable starting point for artists trying to create art based on the human form.


Who am I?

Born at the base of the beautiful Wasatch Mountains, I began exploring and sketching the world—as most children do—at a very early age. I continued to pursue not only my artistic path through traditional schooling, higher education, and endless hours of practice, but also my love of storytelling. Intrigued by Science Fiction and Fantasy, many of my projects reflect elements of the fantastic, but I also appreciate the beauty and elegance in fine art masterpieces. I studied illustration and graphic design at Utah State University and the Academy of Art University in San Francisco. I currently live in Salt Lake City with my beautiful wife and four boys, where I continue to write, paint and draw regularly.


I wrote...

Draw It With Me - The Dynamic Female Figure: Anatomical, Gestural, Comic & Fine Art Studies of the Female Form in Dramatic Poses

By Brian C. Hailes,

Book cover of Draw It With Me - The Dynamic Female Figure: Anatomical, Gestural, Comic & Fine Art Studies of the Female Form in Dramatic Poses

What is my book about?

Draw It With Me: The Dynamic Female Figure art book explores anatomical, gestural, comic/anime, and fine art/life drawing studies of the human female form in dramatic poses and angles, offering step-by-step examples and process descriptions using these varied artistic approaches. To help inspire and educate the novice and master artist alike.

With over 200 full colorfully illustrated pages by award-winning artist/illustrator and #1 Amazon bestselling author, Brian C. Hailes, this book features supine, standing, seated, leaping, flying, crouching, fighting (and more) dynamic female figure sketches and masterpieces, using varying media and from differing angles / light sources with many photo references of the models included.

Constructive Anatomy

By George B. Bridgman,

Book cover of Constructive Anatomy

I would call Bridgman’s approach to the figure, contour simplified. Countless artists and students since the 1920s have used this and other books by Bridgman, who taught for nearly 50 years at the Art Students League in New York, for a solid foundation and understanding of human anatomy. I think his unique way of discovering the vitalizing forces in the human form and realizing them in drawing carries the student pleasantly over one of art's most severe hurdles. Bridgman's superb anatomical sketches, of which there are nearly 500 in the book, also bring clearly to fruition his lucid theories of how to draw the human body in its structure and its complex movements. And he simplifies them in a helpful way.


Who am I?

Born at the base of the beautiful Wasatch Mountains, I began exploring and sketching the world—as most children do—at a very early age. I continued to pursue not only my artistic path through traditional schooling, higher education, and endless hours of practice, but also my love of storytelling. Intrigued by Science Fiction and Fantasy, many of my projects reflect elements of the fantastic, but I also appreciate the beauty and elegance in fine art masterpieces. I studied illustration and graphic design at Utah State University and the Academy of Art University in San Francisco. I currently live in Salt Lake City with my beautiful wife and four boys, where I continue to write, paint and draw regularly.


I wrote...

Draw It With Me - The Dynamic Female Figure: Anatomical, Gestural, Comic & Fine Art Studies of the Female Form in Dramatic Poses

By Brian C. Hailes,

Book cover of Draw It With Me - The Dynamic Female Figure: Anatomical, Gestural, Comic & Fine Art Studies of the Female Form in Dramatic Poses

What is my book about?

Draw It With Me: The Dynamic Female Figure art book explores anatomical, gestural, comic/anime, and fine art/life drawing studies of the human female form in dramatic poses and angles, offering step-by-step examples and process descriptions using these varied artistic approaches. To help inspire and educate the novice and master artist alike.

With over 200 full colorfully illustrated pages by award-winning artist/illustrator and #1 Amazon bestselling author, Brian C. Hailes, this book features supine, standing, seated, leaping, flying, crouching, fighting (and more) dynamic female figure sketches and masterpieces, using varying media and from differing angles / light sources with many photo references of the models included.

Figure Drawing for Artists, 1

By Steve Huston,

Book cover of Figure Drawing for Artists, 1: Making Every Mark Count

Steve Huston is one of my heroes. I love his art and I love how he talks about art. Steve walks with his feet firmly on the ground and lavishes the feel of the dirt between his toes. He talks about the lofty goals of being human and creating art in the most down-to-earth, practical ways.

And that's not a side-note to his how-to-draw book, that's the central message of this how-to-draw book. See the world, be in the world, trust and love your own senses, make contributions to the world. This book is filled with gorgeous drawings and a warm invitation to ways of seeing and drawing and conceptualizing the human figure.


Who am I?

Drawing and painting people has been my passion and my profession for a couple of decades now. Fine art, comic books, animation, illustration – as long as I'm drawing people, I'm happy. I love the challenge of trying to capture (or create) a living, breathing, thinking person on paper. And I love talking about art books with other artists. Which ones are great, which ones miss the mark, which ones have tiny hidden gems in them. This list is a mix of books I love, and books I heartily recommend.


I wrote...

Vanishing Point: Perspective for Comics from the Ground Up

By Jason Cheeseman-Meyer,

Book cover of Vanishing Point: Perspective for Comics from the Ground Up

What is my book about?

There are tons of books for drawing a red barn in a field or a still life with a fruit bowl and a wine bottle, but what if you want to draw Times Square as seen from the air? Or an Alien city or an underground labyrinth? Or anything else that only exists in your head (so far)? Where do you put the vanishing points? How many of them do you need? What if you want to do weird curvilinear-perspective fisheye-lens stuff? Vanishing Point is a perspective drawing book that focuses on drawing imagined scenes, as well as observed ones.

Figure Drawing

By Michael Hampton,

Book cover of Figure Drawing: Design and Invention

This book really “clicks” with how I imagine the figure and how I draw. There are a hundred ways to learn to draw, and you need to find the one that clicks with how your brain works. But ways that don't click still strengthen you. Even if Hampton's approach isn't the right one for you in the long run, learning it and trying it out will only make you a better artist. There's great stuff here about visualizing form, and simplifying form while keeping everything living and breathing instead of stiff and posed. This is a great book for people who want to draw from imagination as well as from observation.


Who am I?

Drawing and painting people has been my passion and my profession for a couple of decades now. Fine art, comic books, animation, illustration – as long as I'm drawing people, I'm happy. I love the challenge of trying to capture (or create) a living, breathing, thinking person on paper. And I love talking about art books with other artists. Which ones are great, which ones miss the mark, which ones have tiny hidden gems in them. This list is a mix of books I love, and books I heartily recommend.


I wrote...

Vanishing Point: Perspective for Comics from the Ground Up

By Jason Cheeseman-Meyer,

Book cover of Vanishing Point: Perspective for Comics from the Ground Up

What is my book about?

There are tons of books for drawing a red barn in a field or a still life with a fruit bowl and a wine bottle, but what if you want to draw Times Square as seen from the air? Or an Alien city or an underground labyrinth? Or anything else that only exists in your head (so far)? Where do you put the vanishing points? How many of them do you need? What if you want to do weird curvilinear-perspective fisheye-lens stuff? Vanishing Point is a perspective drawing book that focuses on drawing imagined scenes, as well as observed ones.

Anatomy for Fantasy Artists

By Glenn Fabry,

Book cover of Anatomy for Fantasy Artists: An Essential Guide to Creating Action Figures and Fantastical Forms

This book is a great choice for artists that are interested in drawing humanoid fantasy characters or superheroes. It takes a close look at drawing action poses and includes many sketches and example drawings. It also includes photo references to use. It isn’t as much of a step-by-step tutorial book, but a great reference with lots of advice on creating your own dynamic characters.


Who am I?

I have been drawing fantasy creatures and characters for over thirty years now, and have collected hundreds of fantasy, art, and art instruction books over the decades. Both drawing and reading are a passion of mine, so I am happy to share some of my favorite fantasy art books that I have in my own personal library.


I wrote...

Drawing Fantastic Dragons: Create Amazing Full-Color Dragon Art, Including Eastern, Western and Classic Beasts

By Sandra Staple,

Book cover of Drawing Fantastic Dragons: Create Amazing Full-Color Dragon Art, Including Eastern, Western and Classic Beasts

What is my book about?

Drawing Fantastic Dragons teaches you all the tricks and techniques you’ll need to create your own amazing dragons and bring them to life in distinct and dramatic colors. With easy-to-follow, step-by-step instructions, you’ll discover how to draw all types of dragons. Packed with example after example, this hands-on guide features dragons of all shapes and sizes, and includes a special section on how to draw unique beasts. It also features a special section on adding claws, scales, horns, beards, and other details to your dragons. 

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