Drawing Dogs – some Tips, Tricks and Tools
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How do you draw a dog when they don’t sit still for very long? The answer is either you draw very fast or you take photographs! Dogs are not like cats (yes you knew that already) in that they come in so many different shapes, sizes and breeds that they need a lot of close observation before drawing them.
It is very easy when you are trying to draw a dog to end up with a picture of either a teddy bear or a rat! The key to drawing anything well is in your own eyes – the better you look, the better you will draw. In fact the best looking people always draw the best pictures (lol). After all, look at Salvador Dali (although you may disagree).
There’s plenty of room for improvement in this area for me too.
When drawing anything, you need to spend most of your time looking at the object or scene in front of you and a much smaller amount of time looking at the paper you are drawing on. As in all drawing exercises, if you are looking at your paper more than you are looking at the object you are trying to draw, you will end up drawing the image you have in your memory and not the actual object. Chances are then that you will end up with a cartoonish and inaccurate version of the thing in front to you.
Most dog owners absolutely dote on their precious hounds (except for one of my friends, whom I won’t name, she got the dog because her kids begged her and she’s a nice mum). A portrait of a dog makes a lovely personal gift, but it does take a lots of careful observation and practice.
We have two dogs right now, both Jack Russell types (one mixed with I’m not sure what), with totally opposite personalities. Roxy roams all around the country side and if you call her, will look you in the eye and before trotting off in the opposite direction. Jet is a timid little thing who would sit on your lap all day if she was allowed. I could sketch Jet ad-infinitum but Roxy has to be photographed if you’d like to have more than a feeling image of her rear end disappearing around a corner.
Start with some very rough sketches first.
Dogs have distinctive features, any dog owner would recognise their own animal in a line up. The ultimate aim is to try and capture some of the dog’s personality in the picture and in order to do that it would help to spend time watching the dog and start with some very rough quick sketches. Dogs seldom keep still for long unless they are sleeping so you have to draw very fast!
Find a comfortable position next to the dog where it is sleeping or sitting. As the dog will be moving all the time, don’t worry about drawing a perfect likeness, these exercise are about warming up your eyes, hands and mind, they are teaching you to observe. Use a large sketch pad, an easel, small table or drawing board for support, and a soft pencil (4B or 6B) or sticks of charcoal. Make quick sweeping movements with your hand, don’t spend too much time getting those lines perfect. Add bold areas of shading, I love using charcoal for these types of sketches as you can quickly and easily draw a large range of shading.
Each sketch should take between 30 seconds and two minutes, you could draw several images on the same page. If you use charcoal, you can prevent the drawings from smudging afterwards by spraying them lightly with hairspray. (Best done outdoors!!) Draw at least twenty pictures, each one will be different.
On to the detailed drawings.
For any detailed work it’s helpful to work from a photograph. Take a number of photos of the whole dog and the head. Select an image and if possible scale it up to that you can see as much detail as possible without compromising on the image quality.
I love using coloured sketch paper in soft neutral tones when drawing with chalk pastels. I pick a shade of paper that is a base colour in the object I am drawing. In other words, if the dog is mostly brown, or white and brown, then I choose a pale beige paper. If it’s a black or white dog, I would pick a grey shade, or a light brown to bring out the brown tones in their eyes.
The key features of a dog are their head shape, proportions, eyes, ear sizes and hair (colour and texture). Some breeds of dogs have square boxy heads while others have long pointed snouts. They often have distinctive spots and splotches.
Two areas that people struggle with are 1. Measuring proportions and 2. Drawing hair texture.
- Proportion: There are some little tricks you can use for getting proportions as accurately drawn as possible. I use a ruler to compare measurements on the photograph to my page. It may feel like cheating but it really helps! If you measure the distance between key features (like the eyes for example) on the photo and then do the same on your drawing you will get a sense of where things ought to be. you may be surprised at times by how close of far apart the measurements appear in comparison to where you would have placed them naturally. You will have to scale the ratio up if your drawn image is bigger than your photo. The other handy little tool to make is an acetate grid. This is a clear sheet of acetate plastic with inch blocks drawn over the whole sheet in a grid pattern. Place the grid over your photograph. Draw a grid on your sketch paper very lightly in pencil with the same sized blocks. Now copy block for block from the photo onto your page, only drawing what you see in each block but making sure the edges of each adjacent square flow seamlessly into one another. Once again you will have to scale the grid in proportion to the image you are drawing, making sure to keep the aspect ratio.
- Hair: It is impossible to draw each and every single strand of hair on a dog (or a human head). The best way to achieve this is to look for blocks of light and shadow so that you can suggest the texture through shading. It sometimes helps to squint your eyes a little when looking at the subject to distinguish where the light and dark areas are. Start working lightly and gradually build up to darker shadows.
These drawing could take you a couple of hours each at least. Be patient and kind to yourself! You may not like your first few drawings but you need to draw several before you build up the confidence and practice. Just don’t give up! Start by lightly drawing the outlines in an HB pencil. Then using pastels or coloured pencils, select tones that are closest to your subject matter. Pencils are better for fine detail and pastels are good for big areas.
Remember, this is meant to be fun so just relax and enjoy it! 🙂
Some tips for drawing with chalk pastels:
- As they smudge easily and your fingers quickly become covered in a light coloured dust it can be tricky to work cleanly. Keep a damp cloth at hand to wipe your fingers as you work.
- Try and keep the ball of your palm lifted off the paper.
- If possible start working from the top left of the page if you are right handed or top right if you are left handed.
- Start with the darker shades first and work lighter shades over the top.
- Try not to overwork the colour layers as they muddy easily.
- Spray your finished piece with a fixative to prevent smudging (normal hairspray works too, use sparingly)
Here are two of my sketches using a combination of coloured pencil, chalk pastel and charcoal:
For rough sketches:
- A3 Sketch pad 100gsm (refers to the paper thickness)
- A range of drawing pencils from 4H to 6B
- Charcoal sticks
For detailed work:
- A4 Pastel paper sketch pad 90gsm in assorted colours
- Soft coloured pencils
- Chalk pastels. When you buy a box of pastels you end up with a limited range of colours, If you check your local art supplies shop you may be able to buy chalk pastels individually to supplement your collection.
- A range of drawing pencils from 4H to 6B
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These are the products that I use and I would recommend for their quality, all of them are of the highest standard and, if cared for, will last many years.
And to finish, I highly recommend this book ‘Drawing with Colour’ by Judy Martin, filled with beautiful work and helpful tips in a range of media. It is hard to read this book and not feel inspired afterwards: