How to draw animals

Recommended supplies (Amazon links): Kneaded eraser, drawing pencils, sketchbook.

When drawing any kind of character, it’s important to remember the basics. A horse, dog, cat, etcetera all have musculature and thus we can go back to using basic shapes to outline this. Going back to our How to Draw Superheroes post, we’ll can use these same methods to draw pretty much anything we want.

As I see it, the main challenge for drawing animals vs humans is that most of us just aren’t as familiar with how their muscles work. Being human, we know how far a wrist can comfortably bend; we can effectively “strike a pose” in the mirror to see how natural it is and make an informed decision about whether to go with it or not. On the other side, even someone deeply familiar with an animal might still have some difficulty imagining a realistic pose, and it’s pretty unlikely that an animal is going to accommodate you by posing, even if you ask really really nicely.

So it’s perhaps even more important that we consult our friend Google to get some great reference images. I’m going to be going with a horse, just because their hair is short enough that we can see their muscles in action. And yes, it’s all about the muscles – they’re the driving force behind any movement, they’re what’s directly underneath the skin.

Step 1 shape out your animal

Start out with basic shapes. Be non committal about it until you like what you see!

Using basic shapes again, we can map out the muscles and create the pose. Keep in mind that different animals bend their joints in different ways. Most (all?) four legged mammals’ hind knees bend inwards toward their center of mass.

Step 2 draw your lines

Using a kneaded eraser, lightly brush away your shapes until you can barely see them. Then get to work with your heavier lines. Draw in details as they become relevant, at a joint or a shoulder.

Step 3 detail and shading

When shading, there are two ways I go about it. I shade with the viewpoint as the light source, then shade with an imaginary light source. This means that when thinking of your drawing as a 3-dimensional object, the sides are going to be shaded. Any concave part of the object should receive a bit of shading. Then, add the shading from the perspective of wherever you choose your imaginary light source to be. And although the following technique works better with charcoal pencils, you can use the tip of your finger to blend your lines around. Add highlights by erasing parts with your kneaded eraser, then use your finger to blend the shading back into the part you erased.

As always, keep practicing, and have fun!

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Matt Smith is an art teacher currently living in Michigan.

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