Learning to draw from your imagination is essential for entertainment art. Animators, illustrators, concept artists, these types of artists can all draw from their imagination with incredible accuracy.
Awesome resources like Drawabox can help you pick up these skills for free. But at some point you’ll hit a wall and want to expand your knowledge.
If you can’t afford a teacher or the incredible Proko courses then you might grab some books instead. And that’s why I curated this list of the absolute best books to improve your imaginative drawing skills no matter where you’re starting at.
Figure Drawing: Design and Invention
Hampton’s figure drawing book is exquisite and it covers so much about proper figure drawing for animators. When you draw from life it’s always important to capture likeness, but you also want to capture gesture too.
Figure Drawing: Design and Invention places a heavy focus on inventing the figure based on references and past experiences. The more you draw figures from your head the better you’ll get.
This can be done easier if you learn the basics of human anatomy and use surface level features to dictate your sketches. Over 240 pages you’ll learn how this all works and why so many artists love this figure drawing book.
It’s one-part anatomy, one-part gesture, and one-part drawing technique all rolled into one. Absolutely one of the best guides for animators and character designers.
Perspective Made Easy
When you create something from your mind you need to envision how it should appear on the flat surface. This requires a believable perspective and this is often something you’ll make up in your head.
If your skills aren’t up to that level yet then you’ll want to practice the fundamentals of perspective first. I recommend Perspective Made Easy because it’s a cheap guide that anyone can learn from.
Note this is one of the core fundamental skills that every artist should learn. But perspective is unique because it’s also something a complete beginner can start learning and see drastic improvements in their work.
No matter what your skill level this book is a great place to start with perspective and apply that directly to your imaginary work.
How to Draw
But suffice it to say this book is amazing for any imagination-based artist.
Scott Robertson teaches concept art and industrial design at ArtCenter. He’s a well known figure in the art world and he has a way of teaching that just makes sense.
If you follow the lessons in this book you’ll radically improve your perspective drawing skillset. This is useful no matter what type of imaginary work you do so it’s well worth going through these exercises.
But I recommend this book more for a semi-skilled beginner since the difficulty ramps up pretty fast.
The Art of 3D Drawing
Creating something on paper(or a digital screen) is all about a suspended disbelief. You want to create the illusion that something is a 3D object even if it’s placed on a 2D piece of paper.
The Art of 3D Drawing explains this topic in great detail covering the basics of how pristine rendering adds to the viewer’s belief. Early chapters discuss basic tools along with color mixing techniques for traditional mediums.
But most of these exercises look into how cubes and 3-D geometric objects should be crafted on paper.
Many of these lessons do feel random and this book is meant specifically for early artists just starting on their journey. But it’s a reliable book for anyone trying to draw from imagination and nail down a successful process along the way.
Force: Dynamic Life Drawing for Animators
Traditional life drawing takes place in a studio where you draw from a model. Most fine artists aim to replicate reality as accurately as possible.
But when you draw from imagination you won’t always need to get into this much detail—especially for cartooning. That’s why Force: Dynamic Life Drawing for Animators is a must-read for any serious animators or comic artists.
You’ll learn how to capture figures with rhythm, form, and believable poses that take gravity into mind. You want to design figures that make sense and seem believable based on the context of your drawing.
With this book you’ll learn how to study force and how this applies to your imaginary poses.
I would argue this is a must-own book for any serious entertainment artist. Even if you aren’t animating characters, you are drawing them in poses or situations that need to feel realistic. And this book is full of guidelines to help you achieve that naturally from your mind.
Force: Drawing Human Anatomy
Force: Drawing Human Anatomy is a killer follow-up to the previous book. This focuses more on anatomy and kinesiology of the typical human body.
Every artist learns anatomy for a different purpose and it’s not always necessary to master every part of the human figure. This book helps you learn only some of the major muscles and how these play a part in human movement.
You’ll learn the general aesthetics of all muscles that can be seen while the body moves. This also includes the differences between a stretched & squashed muscle depending on the pose.
I don’t think every artist needs a copy of this book until they’ve advanced further with their skills. Once you’re studying anatomy and doing a lot of life drawing then consider adding this title onto your bookshelf.
From basic cylinders to complex cars and buildings, this book teaches you how to draw shapes right from your imagination.
Draw 3-D is an excellent reference guide for complete beginners who simply don’t understand anything about art. If you’re brand new to drawing I do recommend other books that cover the fundamentals first.
However if you only want to start out doing 3D drawing from your head then you’ll learn a lot from this title.
It’s primarily geared towards younger children & teenagers so you can’t expect much in the way of detailed writing. It’s not really an “adult” learning resource, but if you have zero artistic experience then this might be the level you’re at!
How to Render
Scott Robertson wrote a second book titled How to Render that follows the exercises after his smash hit title How to Draw.
In this follow-up book you’ll learn everything about rendering on the page using your imagination. Once you learn how to look at objects and materials you’ll see how light reflects off certain areas.
Cast shadows, core shadows, and reflected light are just some of the terms you’ll learn. Granted there are tons of lighting books made for artists and this is really more of a rendering book.
So if you don’t know much about lighting I recommend grabbing a light/shadow book along with this one. It’ll speed up the learning process and make your life easier when following Robertson’s exercises.
Light, Shade and Shadow
When it comes to lighting & shadows there are only so many books that cover the fundamentals along with imaginary drawing principles.
My top pick is Light, Shade and Shadow by E. L. Koller. This very short instruction book spans 80 pages with dozens of lessons on how to apply lighting to your drawings.
You’ll learn primarily by studying geometric objects and how they reflect/work with light. There is no single correct way to master the fall of light and shadow. Instead you just need to study photos, study life, and do lots of practice work.
This book offers a strong guide for beginners without getting into too much realism. It’s a great read for artists leaning towards web comics, mangas, graphic novels, or simple illustration work.
Pencil Drawing Techniques
Pencil Drawing Techniques by David Lewis is perhaps the oldest book in this entire list. It was first published in 1984 making it well over thirty years old.
However the lessons inside are still incredibly practical because, believe it or not, drawing hasn’t changed a whole lot in the past few decades!
Throughout this book you’ll learn how a simple pencil can offer so much control in your artwork. Shading, line quality, texturing, and form design all come from the same graphite pencil.
You’ll study an array of topics through these lessons and they’re only the beginning. I specifically recommend this for beginners who want to draw from their head while learning some best practices for basic drawing.
Many concept artists & animators lean towards constructionist art because it’s easier to construct something from your mind rather than to clone an exceptionally realistic drawing. That’s why certain books are so useful for anyone drawing imaginary ideas.
And this list offers more than enough to get you started towards learning(and mastering) the art of drawing from imagination.