Drawabox.com | On 'How to Draw' and Other Resources
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Disclaimer from the author:

I would like to preface this article by saying that "How to Draw" is one of my favorite learning resources of all time. Without a doubt, I have used this book to solve more problems than any other, up until this point in my journey. Scott Robertson is one of my artistic heroes, and the one whose footsteps I wish to follow as an aspiring industrial designer. This is not a rant trying to convince anyone that they should not invest in this book. It is merely a series of warnings on putting too much significance on a resource without weighing its benefits to that individual's goals.

There are two main reasons I zero in on Scott Robertson's "How to Draw":

1. Its title, in its vagueness, promises more than any other. Literally answering the most common question of "How do I learn to draw?", coupled with Robertson's (well earned!) reputation, causes it to become the siren's song to many young artists and distracts them from an honest evaluation of their needs and how best to meet them.
2. It is broad, and in being so, forces a beginner through too much, too quickly. With a figure drawing book, you at least stay on one topic: the human figure, but with "How to Draw" you get some perspective and camera lens information, cars, airplanes, environments... It's a little much and can dilute precious time that could be spent on more focused, deliberate practice.

Is H2D what you need?

"How to Draw" (commonly referred to as H2D) by Scott Robertson is regarded by many self-taught artists as the pinnacle of resources - and for some it may very well be. To start with, is "How to Draw" what you need? We must be mindful and honest with ourselves when it comes to artistic goals, but as a beginner or intermediate, it is not surprising or bad to not fully know what our goals fully are. US college students change majors an average of three times before graduating, and about 80% of students change at least once.

So let's do a very quick question and answer session to help you: What do you like to design and draw? Sexy anime people? Epic vistas? Weapons? Portraits? Mechs and vehicles? Animals? Objects you find in your every day life? Let's break it down to organic (humans, animals and such) and inorganic or hard surface (objects, weapons, and vehicles). Say you want to draw hard surface objects and epic architecture: then, yes, H2D is probably a book you need to have on your shelf. What if you tend to focus on organic subjects? Then for now let's say you don't need H2D, but that doesn't mean you shouldn't look at it, reference it (more on that later), or have it for fun. Don't let the common consensus of H2D as mandatory reading force you to fall in line without considering just how that applies to you. Doing so could easily lead to you taking a more meandering road than you need to - effectively wasting your time.

That's right, instead of grinding pages of mirroring complex planes you could be focusing on the human body, which is one of the most difficult and demanding subject matters of all. It's not about how much time you draw, it's how much you can extract and learn from every moment you draw that we want to maximize. Mileage is and will always be important, but you want to make every mile count for as much as it can towards your destination.

Does that mean you can ignore perspective? Haha, no- it doesn't. The fundamentals are still critical for all artists, and like death and taxes, perspective is an unavoidable aspect of our universe. Fortunately, there are more accessible sources for learning and honing your perspective:

These books offer much more digestible and approachable explanations on the theory and application of perspective. For the artist who wants to aspire to character design or key art (splash art), they already have so many things to learn and balance: draftsmanship, form, anatomy, gesture, etc. Falling into the technical trap of H2D too early just isn't worth it.

Using H2D the 'wrong way'

So far I've already made one big claim: many of you reading this do not need H2D as much as you think. Now for my next big one: You have been using "How to Draw" incorrectly!

For many of us, the only books we ever read are linear fiction and non-fiction, and maybe the occasional textbook in high school, where we skim for answers to a fill in the blank worksheet. This is not how reference material is utilized. Think of it like the old choose your own adventure stories, except instead of the possible endings being a mystery, you know your desired end goal and you have a table of contents to guide you. I see so many people reading this book like a story from cover to cover. Some take it a step further and do some exercises - which is a step up - but we can still do better.

Let's take our flabby box student, now slightly hardened by few hundred boxes, who wants to draw an epic fantasy car. Well that's chapter 9! If box student reads through the book linearly, he or she has now wasted time on things like environments. Unlike Drawabox, these chapters do not build on one another, gradually taking you towards their goal - they cover entirely different topics.

Or let's say the student thinks they need to go through the entire book, grinding on every exercise they find. Time has now been wasted that could have instead been spent developing skills in a targeted fashion, also known as deliberate practice. Remember: especially with self teaching, it's all about maximizing what we can extract from our time, not just brute forcing in hours.

So let me reiterate: "How to Draw" is not a class. It doesn't have an inherent requirement to be gone through cover to cover. That approach would be daunting and unfocused. Not everything builds off the chapters preceding it, especially after chapter 6. I even knew one person who CUT THEIR COPY OF H2D IN HALF, splitting the book between chapters 6 and 7, which I honestly thought was a fantastic, if a little horrifying.

Using H2D the 'right way'

I've gone on about how people are using this and other reference books incorrectly. Here is my personal strategy to using reference resources to effectively learn without wasting time and getting lost in the weeds:

  1. Pick a project: do you want an environment? Vehicle? Let's start simple and we can add complexity later.
  2. Brush up on the relevant chapter(s), drawing along with the examples and doing exercises along the way.
  3. Even while you work through these, do not hesitate to jump in and make a mess! Celebrate falling short of your own hopes and expectations! This is how we grow, not only as artists, but as human beings.
  4. You've drawn something, there are things you like, and most assuredly some things you don't like. EVALUATE. Find where you missed the mark, and get fresh eyes to help you.
  5. Go back in your reference book(s), materials, courses, what have you, and find out how to improve the shortcomings. Ideally, you will also have suggestions from your a group of people who generously critiqued your work as well - don't have such a group? There are plenty of different communities on Discord, Facebook, etc. Find one.
  6. Identify how to fix your mistakes, maybe do some practice exercises on it, or even a "micro project". For example, if you are consistently struggling with perspective on your cars' wheels, draw a bunch of blocky forms representing cars, and just focus on drawing the wheels until it starts to feel and look better, while referencing the sections in the book about cylinders.
  7. Move to the next project. Try not to go back and keep fixing and noodling the previous one, beyond a point. The point of reflecting upon and learning from our mistakes is not to eliminate them from the record - but to carry that forward into our next endeavor. Uncomfortable once guided me away from that mindset, "A project exists within a certain context - where you are in terms of being able to convey the vision in your head, where you are in terms of even conceiving of that vision, and your relationship with the project as a whole. If you keep going back to fix it, you're essentially taking the part of you that has moved on and you're trying to shoehorn it back into the context you've moved on from. You squeezed the learning from it, now it's time to tackle the next challenge rather than stagnate."

Eventually you will probably go cover to cover in H2D or any other reference book, but it won't be a passive "read, try to convince yourself you're learning by doing a few mirrored planes with no context, and move to the next page". It will be internalized, and you will eventually need to reference less and less. This goes the same way for anatomy, to an extent, although the human body is a lot more holistic. Just keep drawing and messing up. Targeting your weaknesses brings your average skill up and that is how we improve in anything.

Next time you're trying to think of how to continue to improve and asking the internet for advice, don't blindly follow the advice of the many and immediately try to digest all of H2D like it's a Dr. Seuss book. Instead, treat H2D like a translation dictionary: Are you even going to this country? (do you need this exact resource?) Would you sit on the airplane and try to read lists of words cover to cover? No, to be more effective, you would focus first on the basic grammatical structure, then branch out to the important words and phrases and refer to the book to fill in your gaps (targeted practice).

My hope in sharing these thoughts is to have students begin to more critically assess potential avenues of learning, be it books, classes, etc., to extract what they need more effectively, and to improve skills more efficiently. With any skill development, it is an iterative process, and there is no one perfect way for everyone to learn. Above all, remember that to improve you have to be doing. Reading and watching tutorials have their place, but not until you get into the thick of things will you push yourself to new levels.

An easier alternative to H2D

If you are still interested in a book that takes a constructive approach to drawing like Drawabox and want something a little less intense than "How to Draw" I recommend "Sketching: The Basics" by Roselien Steur and Koos Eissen. Being an industrial design book, it focuses on subject matter addressed in lesson 6 as well as some basic rendering and color theory, but it is still very useful for drawing. It presents constructional drawing in a less clinical, precise way than H2D, with many tips on how to get drawings "correct enough" without getting lost in the weeds.

Jordan Null is a former aerospace engineer and currently aspiring industrial designer, who counts both Scott Robertson's How to Draw as well as the Drawabox lessons among the resources primary he's used to pursue his goals.

This is an advertisement. Most of the links here are part of Amazon's affiliate program (unless otherwise stated), which helps support this website. It's also more than that - it's a hand-picked recommendation of something I've used myself. If you're interested, here is a full list.
The Art of Brom

The Art of Brom

Here we're getting into the subjective - Gerald Brom is one of my favourite artists (and a pretty fantastic novelist!). That said, if I recommended art books just for the beautiful images contained therein, my list of recommendations would be miles long.

The reason this book is close to my heart is because of its introduction, where Brom goes explains in detail just how he went from being an army brat to one of the most highly respected dark fantasy artists in the world today. I believe that one's work is flavoured by their life's experiences, and discovering the roots from which other artists hail can help give one perspective on their own beginnings, and perhaps their eventual destination as well.

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