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Art Book Review: Fantastic Creatures and How to Draw Them. Is It a Good Sketchbook?

Updated on February 2, 2018
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Iris Hopp is a professional concept artist and illustrator, working on a range of projects from theme park visualization to board game art.

Sketch-Book, a book for notes and drawings. Fantastic Creatures and how to draw them. An express-course.
Sketch-Book, a book for notes and drawings. Fantastic Creatures and how to draw them. An express-course.

Who is this art book for?

The Fantastic Creatures Sketch-Book is for hobbyists or anyone looking to have some fun. It teaches some drawing techniques, but doesn't discuss animal anatomy or biology. If you're a professional creature designer, this book is not for you.

This is important: it's not for instructors, professional illustrators or creature designers. I don't want you to be disappointed! It's for having fun and getting more familiar with sketching mythological animals.

It's light and enjoyable and gets you to draw along. An express-course as it says on the cover, for if you've dabbled a little bit and want to go through a fantasy creature drawing binge.

Age-wise it's aimed at teens and adults. If you have a gifted kid, they might be able to tackle it. Working on all the little scale and fur details requires some patience, so be warned! The upside of that is the satisfaction you get from every finished drawing :)

The Best Parts of The Book: makes a good gift

1. The format is unique and fun.

2. It's a lighthearted, low-pressure book

3. Sketching along gives you a nice feeling of satisfaction

Because of that, I think the book is ideal as a gift, for a student who draws as a hobby or a busy mom who wants some quick fun here and there. From what I see around me, animals and humans are the most drawn subjects of all. I'm sure there's gonna be a lot of love for this book.

Why is this book format genius?

If you want to get good at drawing, you need to practice.

My frustration with art books is... me not doing the exercises. A lot of excellent art teaching books have a list of exercises at the end of the chapter or sprinkled in the text. But sometimes I get bored and just read the book. Without doing any drawing.

In the Fantastic Creatures Sketch-Book, every creature has blank space for you to practice it, so skipping that just feels wrong. Like you haven't really "done" the book. The amount of empty space also encourages you to draw a little extra and fill it all up.

The novel format is absolutely genius. It's why I'm a fan of the book. You need to draw to get good. It's how you get those amazing "before & afters" of famous artists I've put in 3000+ hours of drawing. And this book is like, "hey, here's some space for you to draw, right now!". Perfect.

For the tracing exercises, I changed little details to make it my own.

Contents: how to draw & the fantastic creatures

The book doesn't delve too deep into anatomy or proportions, that's why I consider it a hobbyist book. You do get some solid tips on drawing techniques as well as a good view of the sketching process. More fun is the variety - there's beasts that look like tattoo art and then there's stained glass type of drawings and postcard logos. A little bit for every purpose.

You got the typical creatures like werewolfs, unicorns and centaurs and the ones that make a mythology nerd more giddy - like leprechauns and hippogriffs. There's even a sphinx!

The first exercise can be tough. As you go through the book, you get more familiar with drawing these creatures. It pays off. There's also enough variety to give you a break or a big challenge at flipping the next page :)

Putting scales on this guy was a challenge! About a third into the book, this was my favorite design of them all. You'll also get to draw an Asian dragon a few pages later!
Putting scales on this guy was a challenge! About a third into the book, this was my favorite design of them all. You'll also get to draw an Asian dragon a few pages later!

Step-by-step view of the sketching process

The Bad: Sometimes there's just not enough space

For the very first exercise, I felt that the artist had shrunk his drawing to fit the page. I couldn't fit mine in! Well, I could but not all the little fur and scale details that were part of the exercise.

I couldn't recreate the left side image in the small space :/
I couldn't recreate the left side image in the small space :/

What will you have learned by the end of the book?

Above all, you'll have practice in drawing fur and feather and other little details like creating a stone skin.

You'll pick up more ideas for posing creatures - popping out of a hole in the ground, spreading their wings and curling their tail or just looking damn intimidating with all their razorsharp teeth showing.

There might also be a few creatures that you didn't know before - I hadn't heard of the hippocampus, for example.

Then there's also the different drawing styles that they show. So you'll practice some realism as well as polygonal-style drawing.

It's versatile for sure!

Practice makes perfect, so you're guaranteed to be better at drawing fantasy creatures after finishing the book. The sketchbook doesn't focus on creating your own creatures though, mostly on following a formula for existing ones. It's also focusing on line drawing with a pencil or pen, no color.

I also think the book teaches you to be patient! Oh god, drawing every little scale is not my cup of tea, so that was a good exercise in patience. :P


Here's an example of the drawing technique tips in the book.
Here's an example of the drawing technique tips in the book.

Using Rings as a Binder is Also Smart

Before getting the book, I was a bit worried about drawing in it. With regular books, I never want to write write or doodle in it, not even using a marker!

No need to worry. It felt natural from the start. Why? Well, of course the pages give you drawing space, the book tells you to use it and there's those dots on the pages that show it's for drawing. But in the end, it's those rings.

So I thought it was pretty clever to give it a ring binder. This way it feels like a sketchbook from the moment you hold it. The pages also have little dots to help you measure proportions when sketching. Good design decisions all around.

The ring binding used makes it feel more like a sketchbook

You get plenty of blank pages to create your own designs

The balance between text, demos and blank space for your own drawings was perfect. After all, drawing makes you a better artist!

Yeah, that’s the theme through-out: keep on drawing, sketching, doodling, scribbling.

They were a mix of motivation to draw more and an opportunity to play around with what you learned - and try something new.

I appreciated the blank pages to let me be creative ;)
I appreciated the blank pages to let me be creative ;)

My Final Thoughts About This Sketch-Book

In summary, it's a good little fun book. Above all, I love the format that gets you to draw as you are learning. Content-wise it's not in-depth, rather touching a lot of existing creatures and styles instead of delving into biology and animal anatomy. Well, it does say "express-course" on the cover!

To figure out if you should get the book, answer these questions:

1. Are you interested in fantasy creatures like werewolfs or centaurs?

2. What is more important: learning biology of having fun?

If you need to study biology, get a different book! If you want to doodle around for fun, get this one.

And because it makes you draw so much, you get to brag once you finish it!

What do you think? Are you going to get the Fantastic Creatures Sketch-Book?

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