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The Practice & Science of Drawing – Book Review

Harold-Speed-study_for_april

Firstly, before you are put off by the first few lines of the review of this famous Drawing Book, let me make this clear now: This is an excellent theoretical book on Art and particularly the Art of Drawing.

The Practice & Science of Drawing by Harold Speed is not the average art book we are used to with huge glossy pages and tons of photos. Most of these are, honestly, quite useless. This is not a photo-heavy book, nor does it have any instructional tutorials or step by step projects. But one thing is for sure: This one of the most informative, complete books on Drawing and Art that I have read to date.

“It is not sufficient in drawing to concentrate the attention on copying accurately the visual appearance of anything … as the faculty of accurate observation is. Form to be expressed must first be appreciated.”

Chapter Line Drawing: Practical – p. 103

Who is Harold Speed?
Harold Speed
Harold Speed in 1908

Harold Speed English Artist (Lived from 1872 to 1957). He was a member of Royal Society of Portrait Painters, son of the architect Edward Speed. He studied architecture at the Royal College of Art, then became a painter after studying at the Royal Academy Schools. You can see a collection of his works at the National Gallery.


In this book, Harold Speed has put more focus on artistic theories, the meaning of Art, some philosophy and in-depth explanations on techniques. This is what makes this book an extremely valuable resource for those of us who want to go further than just grab a pencil and draw. The analysis of artworks, technical concepts and ideas conveyed within, is priceless

Harold Speed Method of drawing

Selection of Quotes from The Practice and Science of Drawing

The book starts quite slow and broad. It’s only after about page 50 that it gets interesting when it goes into the chapter Mass Drawing. In this chapter, the author goes into a great comparison of two drawing techniques by Michelangelo and Degas.


Later in chapters such as ‘The Study of Drawing’ he goes into great detail to make a case for the importance of studying the forms:

But at the same time he should study mass drawing with paint from the purely visual point of view, in order to be introduced to the important study of tone values and the expression of form by means of planes. And so by degrees he will learn accurately to observe and portray the tone masses (their shapes and values) to which all visual appearances can be reduced; and he will gradually arrive at the full realisation of form—a realisation that will bring him to a point somewhat similar to that arrived at from the opposite point of view of an outline to which has been added light and shade

Chapter: The Study of Drawing – pp. 80-81
Harold Speed red chalk drawing of figure of Boreas

The Line Drawing: Practical Chapter progresses to the practice of drawing and a few technical methods are explained in-depth.

In the case of foreshortenings, the eye, unaided by this blocking out, is always apt to be led astray. And here the observation of the shape of the background against the object will be of great assistance. The appearance of the foreshortened object is so unlike what you know it to be as a solid thing, that much as it is as well to concentrate the attention on the background rather than on the form in this blocking-out process. And in fact, in blocking out any object, whether foreshortened or not, the shape of the background should be observed as carefully as any other shape.

Chapter: The Line Drawing: Practical – p. 93
Harold Speed drawing study love leaving psyche

In the chapters of Rythm and even earlier in the book, Harold Speed speaks very strongly again about copying accurately anything, but to consider and seek rhythm and variety:

…all those who have aimed at an absolute perfection have usually ended in a deadness.

Chapter: Rhythm – p. 133

Later in the book, you will find it goes into great detail on subjects such as composition, variety of lines, mass drawing, proportions, portrait art and many other subtopics.

Finally, the author in a chapter on procedures gives some very practical advice on the importance of rest, intention and the best way to capture the best impression from life.

Look well at the model first; try and be moved by something in the form that you feel is fine or interesting, and try and see in your mind’s eye what sort of drawing you mean to do before touching your paper. In school studies be always unflinchingly honest to the impression the model gives you, but dismiss the camera idea of truth from your mind. Instead of converting yourself into a mechanical instrument for the copying of what is before you, let your drawing be an expression of truth perceived intelligently.

Chapter: Procedure – p. 266

  • Harold Speed hair study red chalk drawing
  • Harold Speed drawing study love leaving psyche
  • Harold Speed Apollo study drawing
  • Harold-Speed-study_for_april
  • Harold Speed Method of drawing
  • Harold Speed red chalk drawing of figure of Boreas
  • Harold_Speed_1908
  • Harold Speed demo of light and shade
  • Michelangelo demo of forms

This is one of the best books out there on the Art of Drawing. It remains in the Top 15 most popular art books of all time, and for a book on the topic of Drawing, this is a huge achievement in itself.

This book is useful for beginners to enhance visual literacy, yet is most invaluable when one is just over that stage and a little more experienced.

The copies of this book are widely available on various Libraries around the world including Gutenberg Archive Online Library itself, Amazon, Google etc. 

For an even more in-depth dissection of this incredible art literature, I recommend you check the post on James Gurney art blog

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