I do volunteer work with the Art Students’ League of Denver and my present duties involve helping them catalogue their small library. Subsequently I have seen a lot of art books. Other local libraries and my own collection have supplied even more. I’d like to share my thoughts on some of the better books I’ve seen: “how-to” books and books on individual artists, styles, and types of art. To start with, I’ll write about a rather beat up book on sketching I discovered at the Denver Central Library.
Some Elements of Sketching by Geoffrey Fletcher
Although one of my drawing teachers told me there are at least fourteen methods of drawing the human figure, I have generally seen two basic approaches, both for figures and other subjects. One could be called the organic approach, “start from the top, draw what you see, don’t stop until you reach the bottom, and make corrections as you go along.” The second is more step by step, “measure carefully, first make these kinds of lines, then this sort, then follow up with shading in the following manner.” Of course there is a lot of overlap, and both methods are capable of producing beautiful art and competent creative artists. One or the other method may be better at different stages of our learning. I’ve found the step by step approach worked best when I knew nothing and now that I am becoming more competent, it is easier, albeit still painfully slow, to “draw what I see.”
Which brings me to the book; Some Elements of Sketching, by an admitted admirer of Ruskin, is definitely in the organic mode. The author sees himself as more of a giver of advice on how to approach drawing than a writer of a how-to manual.
Written in the 1960s, it offers a sketchy (pun intended) approach to sketching and drawing. The author offers strong suggestions as to what to do and not do, illustrating and explaining his ideas with his own and other artists’ drawings. He covers mainly outdoor subjects, but I would view this book as more of a supplement, (an informative, interesting supplement), to more detailed books on landscape drawing that you would also want to have.
A final note: Fletcher might be considered a proto-Urban Sketcher and his book, The London Nobody Knows is apparently a quirky classic in that genre. Another book I would love to see.