Wednesday, 27 June 2012

How to Draw a Horse’s Head

A lesson on drawing a horse head is a great stepping stone into portraiture as animals are a slightly more forgiving subject matter yet offers lots of visual interest. A good photograph of a horse and good quality soft pencils are the requirements. In this lesson, grey drawing paper, or Ingress paper has been used.

Requirement for Drawing a Horse in Easy Steps
How to Draw a Horse
Rachel Shirley
When it comes to drawing anything that presents a fair amount of detail such as a horse, setting aside at least an hour or so of uninterrupted time will increase the likelihood of a satisfactory drawing. More time will be required if undertaking a horse painting. For this drawing exercise, the following art materials was used:
  • Soft pastel pencils. Watercolour pencils or graphite pencils of 2B to 4B are also ideal for shading. Black, dark grey, cream and a white chalk pencil will provide an array of shading tones and highlights for grey paper.
  • Grey paper or any mid-toned paper can be used. Some grey papers have a slight texture such as Ingress paper.
  • A soft eraser.
  • A scalpel or sharpener.
  • And a good quality photograph. An image of a horse head under good quality light will reveal contours of the horse’s face. Avoid shooting into the light or of taking the photograph on a misty day or poor light. Get reasonably close up and ensure the focusing is spot-on. This will reveal the horse hair and detail in the eyes.
Step One: Drawing the Horse’s Negative Shapes

Firstly view the horse’s head outline as an irregular shape rather than as a horse’s head. It might help to draw a faint rectangle on the page in order to ‘frame’ this shape. Within this frame, negative shapes will be easier to make out. A negative shape is the shape of the background around the subject matter itself. Turning the photo and the drawing paper upside down will help make the task a little easier. I applied light strokes via a sharpened HB pencil. A hard nib could create unwanted impressions on the paper; a soft pencil could make mistakes difficult to erase. If experiencing difficulty in drawing the outline of the horse’s head trace the main features or use an enlarger.
Step Two: Shading Highlights to the Horse’s Head

I began with the highlights of the horse’s head. I lightly brushed the chalk pencil over the pale fur and around the face itself. I viewed the subject matter not as what it was, but as a series of light shades. I moved the pencil in the direction of the horse’s fur. As can be seen, the pencil marks mirror one another on each side of the horse’s face. I sharpened the pencil to express the highlights in the eyes and the detail around the snout area.

Step Three: Darker Shades of the Horse

I was careful not to allow the chalk pencil to go over the darker areas, which I expressed with a mid-toned pencil. I used a grey watercolour pencil. You don’t have to add water to it, but use it for shading. A soft pencil is preferable as the delicate mid-tones can easily be expressed by a few soft strokes from the nib. In this case, I worked the grey pencil around the contours of the horse’s cheekbones, the underside of the fur, beneath the eyes and around the snout. Looking for the most subtle tonal shifts and expressing them is more likely to result in sensitive drawing. Stand back from the drawing periodically to ensure the areas of light and shades accurately portray what is seen on the photograph.

Step Four: Working into Detail

Finally, I worked the pencils with a little more pressure once I was happy the tonal shapes were reasonable accurate. With a sharpened white pencil, I reinforced the highlights in the eyes and the extreme highlights of the fur. In similar fashion, I worked a sharpened black pencil over shadows in the fur, the eyes, ears and the shadow beneath the horse’s head. The areas between the horse’s features such as the nose and cheekbones comprise a series of abstract shapes, which if accurately recorded will result in a convincing portrayal of the horse’s features.

Shading Techniques for Horses

Watch out for poorly-observed tonal shifts that could cause the drawing to jar. Is it gradual, or abrupt? The areas around the reigns exhibit sharp detail, where the tonal shifts on the fringe are gradual. The areas around the horse’s snout exhibit a bit of both. I took extra care over this area, as the shadows were quite convoluted. Notice paler areas within the dark recesses of the nostrils.

Corrections can be made by working over the area concerned before going too dark. Be careful not to use the eraser too vigorously or the unwanted pencil marks could work onto the fabric of the paper.

The Final Touches of the Horse Drawing

The last touches will often make or break the drawing. I shaded a little background around the horse’s head to give the subject matter a sense of space. I also neatened off the horse’s outlines, such as the strands of fur on the mane and around the shaded area on the side of the head.

Tutorial on Drawing a Horse’s Head
My book on how to
draw. Click to buy from
The secret to drawing a horse’s head is to get the negative shapes right. I drew a faint rectangular shape in order to ‘frame’ these negative shapes. I then worked on the pale shades of the horse head with light strokes via a chalk pencil. I then worked on the darker areas with a mid-toned or grey pencil. Both tonal shapes must exhibit reasonable accuracy with the photograph. Look out for the contours between the horse’s features, such as the cheekbones and bridge of the nose. Standing back and viewing the drawing as a whole will help highlight accuracy issues with the horse. Finally, I worked into detail, reinforcing lights and darks with increased pressure on the pencil. A sharpened pencil is essential for detail around the fur, eyes and snout.

More Articles on Creating Horse Art Other Animals
Troubleshooting painting a horse's head
How to paint white fur
Anatomy of brown pigment
About artbrushes for detail

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