The Draw 50 Books by Lee J. Ames fostered my love of drawing

Last week, a parent asked me a question while I was signing THE QUEEN'S HANDBAG for his son.

He asked for advice on how to foster his 8 year old's love of drawing. My advice was something along the lines of 'borrow how-to-draw books, have fun, and keep on drawing'. But I wish I had a better answer. Something more specific. Sometimes it's hard to come up with bite-sized answers to big questions.

And this got me thinking.

What helped me when I was 8? 

What 'how to draw' book was my 'go to' source of inspiration? Suddenly it all came flooding back to me.

A 1980's Draw 50 book. Click to enlarge

The 'Draw 50' books by Lee J. Ames! I was obsessed with them!

They helped me learn to draw! And there were so many of them!

Draw 50 Famous Cartoons
Draw 50 Famous Famous Faces
Draw 50 Boats, Ships, Trucks and Trains

Draw 50 Buildings and Other Structures
Draw 50 Dinosaurs and Other Prehistoric Animals

And so on.

I loved drawing the famous cartoons, like Dagwood, Blondie, Hagar the Horrible, Scooby Doo and Felix the Cat.

I loved drawing the famous faces of Charlie Chaplin, William Shakespear, Muhammad Ali and Elizabeth Talyor. 



These books were hugely popular in Alamogordo Library, which made it all the more exciting to come across 50 new things to draw!

I borrowed them week in and week out. 

The 'Draw 50' books were filled with deceptively simple line-work and iconic imagery, and I loved that about them.

(Deceptively simple line-work and iconic imagery? Wait a second, could it be that Ames' influence is permanently etched into my creative psyche?)

I enjoyed drawing people in the minimalistic way that Ames did. With Ames' guidance, I could encapsulate the character of an icon with a series of simple strokes. This makes me think of THE QUEEN'S HAT books. How many times did I have to draw the Queen before getting it right? Countless drawings were discarded before I devised the few deft lines that somehow captured her character.

A 1980's Draw 50 book. Click to enlarge

I enjoyed drawing iconic cartoon characters, just like the characters in 'Draw 50 Famous Cartoons'.

Fred Flintstone, Felix the Cat and Yogi Bear are all very distinct. What is it that makes them so distinct, so unforgettable? How is it that their personalities pop off the page? Is it their expression? Is it what they're wearing? Maybe it's in their posture? Or is it just how they're drawn?

And isn't it amazing how a simple line can convey an emotion? This is something else I learned from Ames' books. You have to get that line just right. If you don't, the whole picture is off.

Sometimes all it takes is a tiny mark of the pencil to turn a grumpy face into a, well, less grumpy face. 

So, yeah, these were the books that helped me learn to draw better when I was a kid, and they made quite an impression on me. 

A video posted by Steve Antony (@mrsteveantony) on

And they are still in print! At least I think they're still in print, based on the fact that a whole load of new-ish editions are listed on Amazon. Not only are they still available to buy or borrow, but Ames went on to illustrate even more 'Draw 50' books, so now you really are spoilt for choice.

Draw 50 Famous Caricatures
Draw 50 Endangered Animals
Draw 50 Aliens, UFO's Galaxy Ghouls, Milky Way Marauders, and Other Extraterrestrial Creatures
Draw 50 Animal Toons

And so on.

So, the next time someone asks me for advice on how to foster their 8 year old child's love of drawing, I'll know exactly which books to recommend - the Draw 50 books by Lee J. Ames!

Oh, and the Ed Emberly drawing books. But maybe I'll save them for another blog post.

(I'd like to say a special thank you to scrapbookolie98 for sending 'Draw 50 Famous Cartoons' from the States.)