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Drawing Animals

Drawing Animals

by Hugh Laidman

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A valuable guide by a well-known teacher and artist, this volume abounds in expert advice on methods and techniques for drawing animals, offering 26 lessons with step-by-step drawings of wild and domestic creatures. Author Hugh Laidman directed the U.S. Marine Corps art program, was commissioned by the National Gallery of Art to do work for NASA, and was a successful


A valuable guide by a well-known teacher and artist, this volume abounds in expert advice on methods and techniques for drawing animals, offering 26 lessons with step-by-step drawings of wild and domestic creatures. Author Hugh Laidman directed the U.S. Marine Corps art program, was commissioned by the National Gallery of Art to do work for NASA, and was a successful syndicated cartoonist. In Drawing Animals, his breadth of skill and experience has been successfully distilled into a concise, easy-to-follow and beautifully illustrated guide.
Laidman offers knowledgeable advice on methods and techniques before proceeding to the heart of the book: expertly rendered instructional drawings of more than two dozen animals, from cats and dogs to elephants and gorillas. The emphasis throughout the text is on understanding animal anatomy and behavior as a guide to creating natural, expressive drawings, while developing an individual style and approach. Artists at all levels, beginner to expert, will find this book a source of inspiration as well as instruction.

Product Details

Dover Publications
Publication date:
Dover Art Instruction Series
Product dimensions:
8.26(w) x 10.94(h) x 0.45(d)
Age Range:
12 - 17 Years

Read an Excerpt


By Hugh Laidman

Dover Publications, Inc.

Copyright © 2003 Elizabeth Hill
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-486-13848-0



Birds, particularly those with strong, distinctive features, are relatively easier to draw than four-legged animals. It's wise to practice drawing a few birds before you try to draw other live animals. This does not imply that anyone can draw birds, but rather that the birds used here for practice lend themselves to the basic shapes shown on pages 17 through 21. A further advantage in drawing birds is their habit of continually posturing.

If you wish to make a deeper study of birds, you should learn their anatomy and the way it compares to that of other animals, but here you are trying only to get little practice with not particularly difficult subjects.

The toucan is a good subject. Beginning with the simple oval forms (1), try a scribbling technique (2). Simple flat tone is a helpful approach (3). Bring any one of these starts to the relative stage of completion shown in (4).

The aracaries (5) through (10) follow similar procedure, but have a considerably more fluid line. The line drawing (7) points up this feature of the bird.

In (1) we catch the simple lines of action of the macaw. In (2) the bird begins to take shape in line. In (3) the parrot has been further completed with the first steps in general light and shade. In (4) the tones of (3) are simplified and the important passages are stressed.

The aim of (5) is to catch the action of the smaller parrot in as few lines as possible. This is done by drawing many beginnings and correcting line after line on the original drawing or, using tracing paper, and by making one drawing on top of the next, in each instance getting closer and closer to the feeling desired.

Once the simple design of (5) is well under control, steps (6) and (7) follow.

Try the same progressive steps with (8), (9), (10), and (11).

The pelican belongs to a group of birds who have all four toes connected by webs. In this group are the cormorants, the snake birds, the gannets, the boobies, and the tropicbirds, all of whom have large beaks and throat pouches, but nothing compared to the pouch of the pelican.

(1) through (3) are progressive steps of a white pelican preening. (4) through (7) is the brown pelican doing little or nothing. (8) through (12) is a white pelican doing even less.

The hornbill, like the other birds shown so far, is a bird with prominent features and therefore a good practice subject. (1) through (6) show progressive steps, using ovals to start. Attempt to analyze and draw (7) and (8) using the simple line-to-tone process.

The king vulture is an ideal subject for practice drawing. Although for ages man has looked down upon the vulture, its value as an efficient sanitation department is beginning to be recognized. It may appear complicated at first, from some angles—(3), (6), (9), and (12)—but it can be simplified in the initial stages of drawings—(1), (2), (4), (5), (7), (8), (10), and (11).

The harpy eagle is easily distinguished by its erectile crest feathers. In steps (1) and (2) this feature has been forgotten in favor of the basic form of the head and body. Not until (3) and (4) do the crest feathers, the harpy's enormous claws, and its other distinctive features get drawn in any detail. Concentrate on the over-all pattern first and tend to the detail only in the final stages.

The face-on view (5) of the harpy seemed to miss the typical appearance of the bird. The vulture (6) points up how special characteristics of the bird, in this case the feather collar, becomes important only after the foundation drawing is well thought through.

There are geese, and there are swans, and there are coscorobas that look like a cross between the two. (1) through (4) shows how to start with the simple egg-shaped body, attach the wings, get into the overall tonal pattern, and then, finally, the detail.

This page and many such pages of Canada geese preceded the working drawing of the two geese in a swamp on pages 42 and 43. The working drawing was the beginning of a painting.

The Canada goose is a favorite target of the sportsman. These birds were located at a game farm where a number had sought and obtained asylum during their annual migration.



All cats, from house cats to lions and tigers, are notable for their graceful action. A member of the cat family seldom makes a jerky or awkward move. By comparison with the dog or horse, the cat's head is smaller and in most cases, more globe shaped. The rib cage is smaller, and the body longer. The average cat has a less pronounced muzzle than the average dog. Most dogs are scent hunters, while cats are sight hunters, which may account for the cat's relatively small nose.

Compare the skeleton of the lion above to the skeleton of the house cat, page 58.

Drawings (1) through (5) simulate the steps taken in drawing step (6). The action of the lion is fluid, and, in most of the quick sketches shown, relaxed. Many of these sketches point up the fact that the long body rests on legs suspended from the shoulder in front, high on the hindquarters in back. When drawing any animal, remember to "draw through"—let the lines follow around.

Rough as the sketches are on page 47, the process used in reaching completion is the same as that shown in steps (1) through (6).

The tiger is the largest of the cats. A large tiger may weigh up to 650 pounds, as compared to a large lion's 500 pounds. Ten feet from nose to the tip of the tail is not unusual for the tiger. The skull differs from that of the lion in that the nasal bones extend higher on the forehead than the jawbones, instead of stopping at nearly the same line. This gives a flatter frontal angle to the tiger's head than that seen on the lion.

The tiger's stripes are not necessarily the same on both sides of the animal, and, for that matter, the markings vary considerably from one tiger to the next.

Like all cats, they are able to change from a completely relaxed attitude to a taut, every- muscle-in-action stance in a split second.

In (1) the approach to the sketch is blocklike. The action, the proportion, the personality of the cat, are the targets. (2) and (3) are refinements and corrections of the first lines. It is not until (4) that the tiger's stripes become important. When the stripes do come into the picture, they are used to help show the tiger's conformation.

Preliminary steps (1) and (2), leading to the finished sketch (3), illustrate two possible beginnings for drawing a tiger. In (1) the blocking is done with rather rigid lines, while in (2) an oval was used. Steps (4) and (5) lead to the finished sketch (6). (4) demonstrates the simple rhythmic line.. (5) uses the "block" approach. (7) begins with a quick impression of the action, while (8) is "doodled." Either one could lead to the more realistic sketch (9).

The cheetah, shown in progressive steps (1), (2), and (3), can reach a weight of 140 pounds and attain speeds in excess of 70 mph. He is tall, between 30 and 36 inches, and has a relatively small head and slender body. The claws are semi-retractile. The cheetah differs from the leopard in appearance. Its markings are oval rather in a rosette pattern.

In (1) the preliminary pattern generally is a triangle. The aim of step (2) is to develop the flowing lines of the cheetah. In (3) detail is added to finish the sketch without losing the action of (2).

Another long-legged cat, with a small head and large ears, is the serval cat. His dark spots are on a tawny background. On the back these spots become elongated. The serval is about 20 inches tall. It feeds chiefly on small mammals, but is not above an insect snack now and then, especially beetles. Somehow, the serval combines the impression of a gangly teenager with that of a ballet dancer, as shown in (4), (5), (6), and (7).

A composition of three tigers later used as a working drawing for a painting.

The sketches (1) through (4) are preliminary thumbnails done for composition.

The two combative black panthers were drawn in very large scale using a stick of vine charcoal. (1) through (3) show the method.

The skeleton (a) is that of a house cat; (b) is a simplification of (a). Cats have relatively small heads. In silhouette, they do not show much of a "tuck-up." The expression "tuck-up" is generally used to describe the silhouette of an animal's underbody. A dog with a large chest sweeping back to a small waist, such as a borzoi, might be said to have a pronounced "tuck up" as compared to the almost straight line from chest to rear section in most cats.

In drawing cats, be they highbred or low, it is a good idea to compliment the owner on his pet. Most avid cat fanciers are, in themselves, a breed apart. This is most evident at a cat show where the owners, sitting and currying their pets, are completely oblivious of anyone unless that person happens to be a TV cameraman on assignment. Cat owners of one breed generally see nothing outstanding in another breed.

The general shape of the cat's head fits nicely into a circle (a). The sitting cat (b) displays a curved back line.

Draw an accurate line interpretation of a cat (1). Using this drawing as a guide, indicate only the surface design of the cat's coat (2).

Attempt to capture the feeling of the cat (3) in a minimum number of strokes. Indicate the basic shadow pattern (4). Concentrate on characteristic details of eye, mouth, nose, and whiskers (5).

This is a "barn" cat, unidentifiable from an "alley" cat except that it appears better fed. Sketch (1) is the cat drawn with a minimum number of lines. Sketch (2) begins the first indication of light and shade. In (3) the scruffy appearance is featured. The study of the head (4) completes the preparatory work for the sketch (5).

Everything about this pedigreed cat speaks of a different background from that of the "barn" cat—not only the beautifully groomed, long fur, but the way it poses. The long fur can be trouble for the artist because it hides the underlying structure. As you draw steps (1) through (4), attempt to eliminate all but the most telling passages.

Cats of indiscriminate lineage, like the cat shown in steps (1) through (3), generally have a resigned appearance. The Siamese, in (4) and (5), has an action that seems to suggest the snake. The highly bred and strongly marked tabby in (6), (7), and (8) gives the feeling of a coiled spring.

Beginning with a couple of ovals for body form and dots for eyes and nose (1), steps (2) and (3) bring us to a finished drawing of a pedigreed cat. Steps (4) and (5), with the same beginning, lead to a rather attractive, but less distinguished cat. Starting with sketch (6), the angle of the surface on which cat (8) sits has been changed. In (9) leading to (10) the perspective of the surface more closely follows (6).

The long fur on the Persian is not the only distinctive feature of the breed. The face has a pug-like appearance. This single feature is analyzed in steps (1) through (6).

Action compatible with the setting seemed called for in drawing The Cat in the Colosseum. Although the cat is motionless, a feeling of action was necessary. This action was caught in sketches (1) through (3). In (4) the background was roughed in along with detail on the animal to emphasize the devil-may-care appearance of the Colosseum cat.

The preliminary sketching that precedes sketch (5) of the reclining cat illustrates the thinking of the artist. In (1) simple ovals place the sketch on the page. (2) indicates the general position of the legs and ears. In (3) the form of the cat is blocked in. (4) is the first indication of the texture of the long fur. The texture of the cat's fur was finally drawn in (5) with the side of the pencil.



Although canines differ greatly in appearance, their basic structure is the same. Within the category of dogs alone, full-grown animals can range from the Chihuahua, who can nest comfortably in a man's hat, to the Irish wolfhound, capable of carrying a child.

The fur coat of the German shepherd reveals the contour of the solid form beneath. The rough coat on the wolfhound is short enough to indicate the hound's structure. The Great Dane, with his short, shiny coat, lets the artist see muscles in action. The form is less apparent in long-haired dogs, but the artist must be constantly aware of the underlying structure. He must not just draw hair.

Dogs also vary greatly in temperament. In drawing a specific breed, the artist must think of the nature of the dog. In drawing a terrier, he attempts to capture the feeling of exploding energy. The wolfhound was originally bred to run down his quarry and make his own kill. He has a powerful, fluid action. Even in repose, there is a feeling of grace and strength.

All small dogs are not highly strung terriers. The Lhasa Apso is no terrier. He is considerably less high-strung, and although capable of action, his is not a nervous action.

Know something about the dog before you draw. With knowledge of the breed, you can bring out its special characteristics.

Compare the dog skeleton (a) with the skeleton of the bear (b). Note the proportion of rib cage to overall frame and the relative curve of the vertebrae. They are both canines, but close similarities stop here.

The dog walks with his heel raised from the ground. The bear walks with his heel on the ground. Both bear and dog have their legs hinged high on the body. This is true of most animals.

A large ellipse for the basic body shape and a small ellipse for the head are the beginning of the drawing of the bear (1). With a swinging gesture line, the head and body are connected and the legs indicated. Over this diagrammatic sketch, the fur, eyes, paws, and other details are drawn (2).

The stance of the second bear (3) seems to suggest a more rectangular approach—a small block for the head, a larger one for the body, with the limbs indicated in simple form. How this stage is executed will determine whether or not the next stage (4) will convince the viewer that the bear is sitting.

(5) is the doodling approach, with pencil constantly in motion, seldom leaving the page until in (6) the finish is a mass of doodled fur.

In (7), after going through any of the basic approaches, emphasis is on the details of claws, paws, eyes, and muzzle.

The grizzlies and big brown bears are sometimes known as "dish-faced bears" (8). Look at the profile of the polar bear's head (b) on page 19. It is quite distinctive.

Wolves closely resemble dogs, but there is a marked difference between the dog and the spotted hyena (1). The spotted hyena weighs from 120 to 155 pounds, is some 30 inches tall, and can run 30 mph. Although a nocturnal animal, I saw this one in daytime walking far behind a haphazard parade of lions. The lionesses and cubs were intent on a prospective kill. The hyena was drooling over the prospect of leftovers. The hyenas (3) and (4) were in the Bronx Zoo and were considerably less menacing. (5) through (7) illustrate the hyena's powerful jaws and heavy shoulder section. Unlike the wolf (2), it has a bristly mane and short hind legs. The hyena's short hind legs tend to give it an awkward looking walk. Its reputation for cowardliness and its unearthly cry are facets that the artist should bear in mind when drawing the animal.

At first glance, the German shepherd looks like a well-groomed wolf. The differences are caused by life style and function.

Beginning with a circle, the eye, muzzle, and lower jaw are indicated (1). The first rough lines that will become the ears are drawn, with their function in mind. They are quite efficient ear horns, able to face and catch sounds from any direction, much like the fox and the jackal.

In (2) the lines of (1) are augmented and enforced. In (3) the details of light and shade complete the head. (4) is a beginning, using a combination of almost ruler-like lines and curves that lead to (5), where we have employed a bit of tone, along with more fluid lines.

The Irish wolfhound (1), (2), and (3) and the Great Dane (4) and (5) are two of the largest domestic breeds. These progressive steps were drawn in attitudes typical of each.

The strong backlighting on the Australian silky (1) and (2) points up the conformation of the animal hidden under the long fur. (3), (4), and (5) demonstrate how the artist must constantly keep underlying form in mind. Unless this form is correct, the little dog will not look like he belongs to the dog family, something he has difficulty doing even on an average day.

The stance and attitude of the poodle would make him recognizable without any of his varied hairdos. Whereas an old hound dog might appear overly relaxed, the poodle seems, at all times, like a tightly wound spring.

Step (1) catches the form of the dog in the simplest of lines. (2) is the light-and-shade pattern, while (3) employs a doodling technique to indicate the typical poodle coat. (4) begins the portrait with a circle. In (5) we finish with the light-and-shade pattern over the basic form. Catch the action of the animal in as few lines as possible (6). Execute the final drawing in as few tones as you can (7).


Excerpted from DRAWING ANIMALS by Hugh Laidman. Copyright © 2003 Elizabeth Hill. Excerpted by permission of Dover Publications, Inc..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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