Animal drawing requires observation

     Animals are one of the most popular subjects for paintings, drawings and sculpture.  From the Stone Age to the present, artists have been inspired by animals.   But even with all this interest and heritage, some artists shy away from drawing and painting animals because they feel the subject is too complex. 

     Other artists want to paint realistic animals, but don’t take the time to observe and understand how specific animals look and move.  They paint what they THINK the animal looks like rather than observing and drawing accurately.  Artists who use this approach quickly find that there are animal “experts” all around who will spot flaws and loudly comment on them.  Even the average viewer can look at a picture of an animal and see that it is not “right.”

     For example, a fairly well-established wildlife artist displayed his work and one beautifully painted picture showed a mare and foal in a stall with a blue ribbon pinned to the wall.  The technique was flawless, but several people commented that something didn’t look right about the animals.  Finally a woman who raised and trained horses saw the painting and asked, “Why would someone paint an ugly thoroughbred mare with a pony foal?” 

     She pointed out that the horse and foal were of different breeds and did not appear to be related; the foal was abnormally small for its apparent age and its head was too big, and the mare had numerous flaws — including a hoof defect that would make it difficult for the horse to walk normally.  Definitely not blue-ribbon winners!

     You don’t need years of study to draw accurate pictures of animals.  Like most drawing and learning, the clue is observation and using what you already know along with what you see.  For example, let’s say you want to draw a cat.  What do you know about cats?

     We know a cat has four legs, a tail, fur and whiskers.  But that’s not enough information for an artist.  To catch the personality and feeling of a cat, you need to know its physical characteristics as well as some of its habits and activities.  In other words, you can’t draw a cat in the same way you’d draw a dog.  A cat moves, behaves, and is built quite differently from a dog.  Even the cat’s eyes are vastly different from those of a dog.  Artists have to know and understand something about cats before they can paint one convincingly.

     When drawing any animal, look at the characteristics of the animal’s body, head, tail, surface covering and proportions.  For many animals, there are “ideal” proportions. Not all animals will fit the “ideal” for their species, but it will give you a basis on which to base your judgment of a specific animal if you are striving for an accurate portrait.  Using the length of the animal’s head to measure other parts of its anatomy can be helpful. 

     As an example of proportional thinking, let’s look at some of the proportional checks for a horse.  The horse’s body and legs fit into a square.  The length of the head is about the same as the depth of the body.  The body will be about two and a half heads long from point of chest to furthest point of hindquarters.  There are a number of other proportion checks, but these few examples show how to look at an animal and make comparisons on proportions.    (“Hmm, this horse is a little shorter than the ideal, and her shoulders are higher than most horses’.”)

     Another thing to think about:  If there are two different kinds of animals in the same picture, they must be in proportion to one another.  For example, horses and cows are about the same height, but the cow is longer, heavier, and has a more angular body than the horse.  Both dogs and cats may be house pets, but some dogs are much larger than cats, and some are smaller.  If animals and humans are in the same picture, their sizes must also be in proper relationship to each other for the picture to look realistic. 

     It is important to set your own standards for work of any kind, but especially so when it comes to realistic animal art, because animals are so familiar to so many people.  If you want to paint real-looking animals of any kind, observation and knowledge are the keys to success.

Published by on November 2011. Filed under Archives, Art-to-Art Palette Journal, Bugle Section. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

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