15 June 2012

Drawing Lessons From The Great Masters by Robert Beverly Hale

My first review will not be about my first art book. But it's certainly one of the best. My art books generally fall into two categories. The first is books that I read once, and then when I open it again it's just for the pictures. The second is books that doesn't have very fascinating text, and that I only use for the pictures. Drawing Lessons From the Great Masters by Robert Beverly Hale belongs to neither of those categories. This is a book that I've read two times cover to cover, and many, many times a bit here and there. It's a great book, and everyone interested in drawing, realistic or otherwise, should have it.

You know a book is serious when it has foreword, preface, and introduction. The version I have is the 45th anniversary edition, so it has a foreword by Jacob Collins, which is nice. Another thing that is nice is that while there is quite a bit of text in this book, it's divided into very manageable chunks, with lots of gorgeous pictures in between. The different chapters deal with different very basic principles of drawing like Line, Planes, Mass, et cetera. Every chapter begins with a few pages of solid text explaining the principle in question, and then several images illustrating that concept. All the images are printed as large as can fit the page, and on the left side is a miniature version of the drawing and text pointing out how the artist has used a certain principle in the drawing, with the points marked on the miniature.

The real strenght of this book is that while the concepts covered could be considered the basics of drawing, they're really, really important basics, and explained so clearly. One of the ideas that really resonated with me is how you can use primitive forms, like spheres, eggs, blocks, to inform your drawing and shading of a figure. This is something Hale stresses again and again. Some of the concepts can feel a bit dogmatic, like how Hale goes on about how any experienced artist always knows to delete cast shadows because they destroy the form. But even this idea is very well illustrated by the plates, and you soon realize that many of these artists actually were very aware of when a cast shadow confuses a form, and when it enhances it.

The drawings featured in this book is mostly from the renaissance and the baroque, with a few 19th century artists, the latest of which is probably Degas. The reproductions are all grayscale, even if the original drawing was done in red chalk on toned paper. This isn't such a big problem however, the reproductions are still of a very high quality.

There is also a sequel called Anatomy Lessons From the Great Masters, and I've heard that it is inferior to this book. However, I haven't read it myself, so I couldn't really tell. If anyone has it, please chime in!

Drawing Lessons From the Great Masters
Robert Beverly Hale
Soft Cover, 271 pages
paper quality is a nice non-glossy paper ideal for making notes on, if you're so inclined.
ISBN-13: 978-0-8230-1401-9
ISBN-10: 0-8230-1401-0

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