Field Drawing 101: Tips for Sketching Animals

Creatures in nature provide such a fascination for us. We endlessly study, listen to, photograph, and, if we’re ambitious, draw animals. Perhaps it’s because we can relate to their survival instincts. We recognize the needs of their babies, the maternal instincts of the mothers, the instincts of hiding from potential danger. Our contact with them comes mostly from domesticated pets and even working farm animals, and through our differences, they can remind us of our own humanity.

So what does it take if you want to learn how to draw animals? Michael Dumas has an article, “Field Drawing 101,” that’s included in the Painting and Drawing Animals in Oil, Watercolor, Pastel and Graphite eMagazine (download it here for only $3.99). Here’s a little sneak preview of his advice for sketching.

“White-throated sparrows have leisurely feeding habits, keeping their movements slow with positions often repeated, and their rounded body shapes are simple in form,” says Dumas. “As a result, they’re good models, especially for the beginner. In the top two sketches, I established proportion and gesture with minimal indications of wings, tail and feet–sometimes just a few lines within a simple shape. The second drawing notes the turn of the head, which adds to the options for developing a full pose later. In the two bottom sketches, I applied some tone over the line work to indicate surface markings, feather surface texture and shadows.”

Painting & How to draw animals |

Guilty as Charged (pastel, 17×12) by Margaret Williams-McGowan, featured in Painting and Drawing Animals in Oil, Watercolor, Pastel and Graphite

Learn how to draw animals with sketching exercises

Dumas says that “one valuable step is to practice quick drawing from static models, similar to the warm-up exercises often done in life drawing classes, where you’re allowed only 10 seconds for the first sketch before the model changes position, 15 seconds on the second pose, and so on, up to five or 10 minutes. Drawing from memory after focused observation is also a fruitful practice. And finally, don’t underestimate the value of the sheer volume of drawings over time. Practice is essential. (Agree with this? Tweet it!)

“The common feature of the exercises just described is the need to pare down drawings to the essentials of form and gesture. The same practice is also used in creating variations of posture, angles of view and exploratory sketching to flesh out an idea–the precise skills you need when you draw in the field.”

Which animals inspire you to pick up your sketchbook? Download Painting and Drawing Animals in Oil, Watercolor, Pastel and Graphite to read Dumas’s full article on sketching animals, as well as step-by-step painting demonstrations and artist profiles, and plenty of inspiration.

With warm regards,

Cherie Haas, online editor
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