A few notes on drawing horses

The horse is one of the most challenging subjects for an artist.

The horse is one of the most challenging subjects for an artist.

     Many artists will agree that the horse is not only one of the most popular subjects in art, but also the most difficult to draw.  One reason is that they have some distinctive features that can’t be ignored or disguised.  Another is that they are so large they often occupy major portions of the picture area, so their position must be well planned. 

     In addition, many people know a great deal about horses.  An artist who wants to draw and paint horses with any degree of success had better know what they are doing.  If you make a mistake in rendering horse anatomy, or even in drawing the tack (saddles, bridles, etc.) it will annoy a knowledgeable person the way a misspelled word annoys a proofreader. 

     Some inexperienced artists will try to disguise their lack of knowledge of horse anatomy.  For example, because the horse’s hooves are difficult to draw, a beginning artist might hide the hooves in tall grass or deep water.  But sooner or later, an artist who wants to depict realistic-looking horses will have to learn how to make an accurate drawing of the animal, either through direct observation or careful study of photographs.

     Looking at an animal anatomy book is a big help in learning about the horse’s physical makeup.  If you understand how the bones and muscles affect the overlying skin you can make a much more effective drawing.  A look at the skeleton of a horse reveals that the  position of the ribcage and front legs of the horse restricts side-to-side movement, but the hind legs are much looser, letting the horse twist and kick sideways effectively (as any horseperson will tell you). 

     The neck bones are positioned low so the horse can keep his head down while grazing without having to bend or splay out his front legs.  The tail, like that of other animals, is an extension of the spine, but it curves downward and can swing side to side but not so much upward.  Another important characteristic of the horse is his eyes.  They are bigger than many other animals’ eyes and placed so he can see a large semicircle on each side of his head. 

     Drawing the horse’s ankles (fetlock and pastern) and hooves gives many artists fits.  The best thing to do is get photographs of a horse (if you don’t have a live horse handy) and draw these parts in every position.  Remember that the size and angle of the hooves is going to vary with the kind of horse you’re drawing.  A Thoroughbred or Arabian may have a longer pastern and smaller hoof than an average saddle horse; these variations give extra spring for ground-covering strides.  The longer the pastern, the more it will bend, giving a springboard effect.  On the other hand, a work horse will have a stout fetlock, short pastern, and heavy hoof. 

     Because so many people know and understand horses, getting the proportions of the animal right is key to a good drawing.  A standing horse’s body and legs (without the head and neck), when seen in profile, will actually fit into a square.  You can use the length of the head to measure body proportions; an average horse’s body is about 2 ½ heads long, give or take a bit, and the length of the head is just about the same as the depth of the body.  One thing that many people don’t realize is that the knee of the horse’s foreleg is lower than the hock of the hind leg.

     If you have a horse available, draw him over and over, in every position possible.  Make close-up drawings of his hooves and head.  If you don’t have a real horse, obtain an accurate model horse figurine (such as a Breyer or Peter Stone model) which can be turned so you can see all angles and parts, and do the same kind of practice drawings.  If all else fails, use photographs.  If you seriously want to draw horses well, there’s no substitute for hours of observation and practice drawing.  Work at it until you can draw a believable horse from memory, without a model.  The payoff will come when a horseman or horsewoman looks at your work and says “Now, that’s a horse!”

By Kay Sluterbeck/AAPJ

Published by on May 2013. Filed under 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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