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The Elements of Drawing (Draw Books) Paperback – September, 1991

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Product Details

  • Series: Draw Books
  • Paperback: 160 pages
  • Publisher: New Amsterdam Books (September 1991)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1871569338
  • ISBN-13: 978-1871569339
  • Product Dimensions: 0.5 x 8.5 x 9.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 15.2 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (19 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #761,974 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews


'Contains new illustrations and interesting notes and explanations to help students through the process of drawing. This classic retains its relevance some 150 years after its first appearance and should be on every artist's bookshelf.' Leisure Painter (June 2007) 'The book is an absolute delight and proves that traditional teaching methods by a good artist and tutor should never be overlooked in our age of digital technology and instant results.' Editor, Leisure Painter (July 2007) --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

About the Author

From his early youth John Ruskin drew obsessively, a discipline
that he not only kept up right through the production of his great
literary works, but which was essential to them. This book is the
result of quite considerable teaching experience - Ruskin had been
giving informal lessons by letter to friends for some time, for he
could never resist giving advice; and he also taught more formal
classes at the Working Men's college, a duty he shared with Rossetti.
It was as a sort of distillation of all this experience that The Elements of Drawing was born; and also from his development as a draughtsman.
--This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

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Customer Reviews

Written in the 1700's I found it to be a very fresh account and framework on how to draw in 2007!
Andrew Borg
I have this book in pdf version on my computer and I wanted a hard copy for easier reading and for carrying from day to day to read during my breaks and lunch period.
James C. Kendall
As an artist I found the book and descriptive language immensly readable (I guess that had to write well as diagrams were incredibly difficult/expensive to include).

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

176 of 178 people found the following review helpful By hamsterdance on November 11, 2001
Format: Paperback
John Rushkin originally published this little volume in the winter of 1856/57. It promptly sold out and went into multiple printings. It is surprisingly still relevant today. Rushkin gives the reader many exercises beginning with a dip pen and ink and later moving to pencil and then watercolor (which in the 19th century was classified under drawing). I was so intrigued I actually bought a speedball dip pen and some india ink and began to practice the many exercises he gives. They work. By the time I finished the ink exercises I noticed a definite improvement from my early attempts compared to the later ones. And I am continuing the exercises.
Another fascinating aspect of this book is the snapshot it gives into the mind of a prominant 19th century art critic. Rushkin not only was a master draughtsman and painter but a widely respected art critic in his day. Monet was quoted by a British journalist to have said, "90% of the theory of Impressionist painting is in Rushkin's Elements of Drawing." A young George Seurat obtained a copy and admitted to having read it carefully. Now I'm no Monet or Seurat but I figure if these guys valued Rushkin's instruction I should certainly pay attention to what he had to say.
Rushkin explains exactly what the goal of each exercise is. He also recommends specific paintings or drawings to examine along with critiques of why this or that area in the drawing/painting is superior or lacking. He strongly believed it more profitable to study in-depth a few highly superior drawings/paintings to a wider assortment of middling/average execution. And he believed this even of famous artist's work - famous or not he advises to ignore for the moment their less masterful work and focus on the truly great ones. Rushkin pulled no punches.
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37 of 37 people found the following review helpful By Douglas L. Kingsbury on March 21, 2008
Format: Paperback
I am enjoying this book. I'm an experienced draftsman, but feel that following the exercises Ruskin outlines in his book are greatly improving my drawing skills. The Watson-Guptill Illustrated Edition, with Notes by Bernard Dunstan, has added a number of illustrations of the work of Ruskin and his contemporaries, which are very helpful. They have also added additional notes to the margins from Ruskin's other writings that offer additional explanations, also very valuable. However, the modern illustrations done especially for this edition seem to me to miss Ruskin's points and may confuse a novice draftsman. Most obviously, early exercises that Ruskin emphasizes are to be done with careful precision in pen and ink are illustrated with quick, loosely executed, pencil sketches. The patience, sensitivity, and craftsmanship that the exercises are designed to develop I find largely missing from the new illustrations created for the book. I still would highly recommend this edition, advising the reader to study the modern illustrations for content but cast a critical eye on their technique.
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13 of 13 people found the following review helpful By Ms. Jess on July 4, 2010
Format: Paperback
Make sure this is the one! I came across THE ELEMENTS OF DRAWING at the library on a random day, when I was a wayward 16/17-year-old (I am now 23). I had always wanted to draw, but found many of the drawing books to be not very useful/helpful (as the introduction states, in the "elements of drawing" copy/edition that I read).

Many modern how-to-draw books do not instill/nurture/teach/inspire one to develop their own artistic sense, and a keen observation/attention to detail, which are two things I managed to attain (and continue to attain), as a direct result of this splendid book by John Ruskin.

It's not an easy book to read -- in fact, I believe Ruskin himself states/warns in the beginning that some parts/activities will be quite tedious (such as the careful manual shading of gradients) -- he does say that if you really, really want to learn how to draw, you've got to be prepared to put your life into it (to that effect). He says something about having the diligence to put in 150-200 hours into learning how to draw (or how to do anything)...and since time = life, I guess that puts what he says into perspective.

John Ruskin's fine definition of drawing is as follows: "all art is but dirtying the paper delicately." I love the way he presented whatever he had to say/teach about art and drawing -- it's a real sharing/transference of knowledge.

Drawing's turned out to be a lifesaver for me. It's helped me to develop more confidence in myself and what I do...I'm very lucky to have had the good fortune to have been guided by THE ELEMENTS OF DRAWING.

P.S. I think I took a grand total of about 4-5 years to actually get through the book from cover to cover (I read it on and off from the time I was 17-22)...but I'm glad I took the time to gradually let my artistic senses develop.

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16 of 17 people found the following review helpful By Mary L. Nowak on November 26, 2006
Format: Paperback
As a long time admirer of art and a first time beginner of actually tapping my artistic well, this text is like having a private mentor guiding you through specific progressive exercises. It's language is quaint and cozy to modern ears, having first been written in 1856. But it is practical, clear and encouraging. It dispells the idea that only certain people can draw. And by focussing on drawing with pencil, it provides the foundation for using any other media. A wonderful find.
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