Preface and Philosophy

    I'd like to start by pointing out some general things about "how to draw" books. Personally, I've never really found them as useful as they claim to be. And I can tie this in to some of my thesis research, oddly enough. :)

    In the language of problem solving research, a problem is something you don't yet know how to do, and an exercise is something you do know how to do and just have to work through. In solving a problem, you often make false starts, go off in directions that don't work, and generally bang your head against the wall a lot. In working an exercise, you go from beginning to end in a pretty linear fashion, knowing where you need to go next at every step. Things that are problems for novices are often exercises for experts.

    Most "how to draw" books treat art as an exercise. Follow this procedure and you'll get a finished product. This is the way professionals do it (leaving out high art vs low art arguments, please). When the guys in PLEX draw a new robot, they lay out the blocks and rods and stuff, sketch in details, erase the old lines, add more details, etc. But a novice trying to follow this method will often be limited to just reproducing the pictures in the book, it doesn't really help you learn to draw. I can copy stuff and have it look far better than my own work. It's a lot harder to incorporate lessons into my own style. In an average art instruction book, I might manage to absorb one or two lessons from it after some work, but otherwise just use the book for inspiration.

    So, in the long run, the most useful parts of any "how to draw robots" book will be:

  • Parts that show the very basics of design elements (how to put together body parts) and posing. Even experienced amateur artists often need help here.
  • Catalogues of design elements that can be adapted (like a bunch of hands, or heads, or guns). Again, good for teaching the new artist, but also useful for experienced artists to raid for ideas.
  • Complete robots that are representative of various styles or a complete look at a single style (for books sold as "how to draw property X"), so you can see what sort of thing you need to shoot for or have examples to work from. (For non-robot books, insert "shoujo girls" or "manga heroes" or "still life fruits" in place of robots as relevant.) As an aside, if the book is focused on a particular distinctive style, it helps to say so on the cover. I might not be interested in learning how to draw Star Wars droids, for instance, and if that's all the book covers I'd rather not waste my time or money.
    On the other hand, certain things tend to show up in lots of How To Draw books like the proverbial Fox Terrier of Gould's essay, and they're usually (if not always) wasted space.
  • The obligatory two page spread of "the tools of the trade". In addition to being pretty useless at the best of times, they're rapidly becoming obsolete as even beginners will be grabbing tablets and doing everything on computer.
  • Sections on "advanced techniques". These tend to be way above the heads of most of the target market, but old hat for any experienced artists picking up the book. They're always too short to cover enough to be worthwhile.
  • "The exciting new world of computer art!" These are common in the more recent books, but given the rate at which computer tools change, it's pretty pointless to put this sort of stuff in a paper and ink book that may be on shelves for years.
to the How To Draw page.