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Saturday, 2 January 2010

Learn to Draw, Lesson 4: Fantasy Beast/Animal part 2: Starting to Sketch

Learn to Draw a Fantasy Beast or Animal, part 2

Welcome to another lesson in my Learning to Draw series. For an introduction on how this "Fantasy Beast" part of the series will be structured, please go here. For the other parts in this series, go here.

In this part I will talk briefly about finding and setting up a reference to draw. Then I'll present the beginning of my sketch (after 5 minutes) and talk about why it looks the way it does. Get your drawing equipment (traditional pencil and paper or digital doesn't matter) and let's start!

Using a reference

In this project we'll use a reference as a foundation for our drawing. It is usually much easier to draw something you see than something you have to visualize and try to remember or imagine. "Life drawing" is also very good practice in observation and learning how light and shade interacts with an object.

I will use a simple plastic toy model of a leopard for this drawing. You can choose any animal, but my instructions will probably be easier to follow if you pick an animal belonging to the cat family.

I suggest that you put the model to the left of your drawing surface on a white piece of paper or a white background. This is in order for you to easily see the light and shade. I also suggest that you only have one lightsource, coming from the upper left (if you're righthanded and vice versa). The reason for this is that the shadows will only be cast in one direction and those cast by your own hand (if drawing traditionally) will not make it hard to see what you're drawing.

If you find these kind of practical suggestions booring (I sure did when starting out) I suggest that you just start drawing. Through trial and error (and frustrating drawing experiences) you will probably find yourself paying more and more attention to such matters. At least I do.

But what matters most if you're an absolute beginner or want to improve is: Start drawing and keep drawing!

Starting to sketch 

Well then, having the set-up ready (I will use a computer for easy editing and looking down at the model somewhat from above) it's time to start sketching. Try to think about drawing the main shape, the main forms focusing on the big, overall impression and not going into detail.

Also try to get into the habit of not using eraser until it is time for the final polish. You learn a lot more from simply drawing new, "better" lines and leaving the "bad" ones.

Here is what my sketch looked like after 5 minutes of drawing:

Far from being a finished or even good drawing, I still feel that it's a good start. Like a first lump of clay that you can start molding into a sculpture. A framework to build the finished drawing upon. There are parts of this quick sketch that I am definitely not satisfied with. But overall it will do as a start.

Here I have roughly indicated some things I (mostly subconsciously and without paying attention to it) had in mind during these 5 minutes of sketching. If you find it hard to follow what I mean by shapes, rhythms and construction lines of the sketch, I suggest you just remember these three words. If you get serious about drawing and studying the principles behind good drawing you will encounter these (and many other) aspects of a figure over and over again. I suggest that you return to this post after six months of practice and see if you understand these concepts then. If not, give it another half year or so.

This is the reason books (and tutorials) on drawing should be reread over and over. You will find that the more you learn, the more you will understand and be ready to apply of the underlying theory.

Most important though: Draw, draw, draw!

Here are the notes for my five minute sketch:

In the next lesson I will complete this animal sketch and talk about how I did it. After that the time has come to distort the poor cat's proportions and features into something even more hideous and terrifying.

I hope this lesson has been valuable to you. Please give me feedback and let me know what I need to explain further, what has been most helpful or if you would like me to help you with some issues. I regularly try to revise these lessons and need your help to make them as clear and useful as possible.

Also let me know how your sketch is coming along. I would love to post "Reader's sketches" here at the blog as well. Just let me know (through mail or comment) and we'll arrange that.

Now, stop reading and go fetch your pencil. It's time to sketch.

Happy drawing!


  1. Hi!
    I tried to draw a big "cat". It was tougher than I thought it would be. It seems very "stiff" and clumsy. However, I will continue working when you publish your next lesson. You are very encourageing and I´m looking forward to the next lesson.

  2. Glad my lesson could get you drawing and that you liked it. Hope to soon post lesson 5.


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