A couple of years ago I was house-sitting for a friend in Portland and spent an evening browsing her extensive book collection. She had many great books but two especially caught my eye. The first was "Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain" by Betty Edwards; the second, "The Natural Way to Draw" by Kimon Nicolaides. I have always had a strong inclination to draw but have never really been able to progress beyond a certain level–especially of realism. That is, until I picked up these two books, started reading and devoted an hour or more to the exercises every day. These are no ordinary 'how to' books. They go way beyond a simple mechanical approach to learning how to draw and both aim to bring out the reader's natural creativity.

If you have been looking around for a good book on learning how to draw, I would definitely recommend starting with "Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain" by Betty Edwards. This is a book aimed at everybody and not solely for artists (though artists would certainly gain a lot from it). It is not your ordinary 'how to draw' book, but teaches you 'how to see' as well. Based on several decades of research and teaching, the book is extremely well laid out, with brief discussion on the psychophysiology of perception, has some inspiring quotes and anecdotes, provides many examples of previous students' accomplishments, and will require the reader to go through an exercise at the end of each chapter in order to put these methods into practice.

For most people "Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain" is enlightening and an extremely satisfying approach to learning how to draw which, even from the first few exercises, almost always has astounding results. The basic premise of the book is that the right side of the brain is more suited for drawing and Betty Edwards will teach you how to access this area. She identifies the five basic skills of drawing: the perception of edges, spaces, relationships, light/shadow and perception of the whole (gestalt). Each chapter of the book deals with each of these basic skills and provides exercises to aid both your mechanical and perceptual development. Along the way, you will learn to ignore your 'symbol system' which developed during childhood in the left side of the brain and is predominantly used for speech. Once you can shut this down (and it doesn't take long) your approach and ability to draw will have a dramatic change for the better.

"Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain" can have you drawing excellent portraits in less than a week from either photos, other drawings, or real life. You will be astounded at your rapid improvement and new skills in realism. However, if you feel like you need to push further beyond simply 'copying' what you see, "The Natural Way to Draw" by Kimon Nicolaides is considered the best 'how to' book on drawing (and, according to Whole Earth Review, 'the best how-to book we've seen on any subject'). The difference between the two books is dramatic. Betty Edwards will have you drawing amazing, lifelike portraits in a few days, whereas Kimon Nicolaides will require at least a year of your time, for 3 hours a day!  There are sixty exercises to go through and, because each exercise builds on the previous one, you must work through from beginning to end. This book is considered by many artists to be a kind of 'bible' and, indeed, if you commit to the time required, your crossover from being a good sketcher to a great artist will be assured. Rather than copying still-life, you will begin to feel the flow of movement in your subject and also through your pencil and on the paper. If you can find it at your local book store, flip through the pages and see if this is the kind of book for you. Since it requires so much of your time (and, often requires access to a nude model) you must be truly dedicated before delving into it.

These are just two of many 'how to draw' books out there but are certainly ones that I would consider to be amongst the best. Rather than presenting a daunting list of all the books and techniques out there, I have presented a list of just two because this is all you will need to begin your journey of rediscovering your creative talent. Look the books up, have a browse, read a few lines and then draw!