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Tips for Drawing Dogs (and Other Furry Critters)

January 5, 2011

But first… did you remember to fill out my survey? Thanks!

This year I had the opportunity to do a few commissions for dog portraits. Surprisingly, I found that I really enjoyed it.

A change of subject matter help improve your overall drawing skills by giving you new challenges. If you’re getting comfortable with drawing people, or even if you’re just starting to learn how to draw, try your hand at a dog or other furry creature. The following tips will help you in your venture!

Drawing dogs employs the same principles as people portraits: identify darks and lights, accurate line drawing, appropriate values, etc. The extra challenge? The fur. Drawing realistic fur is very different from drawing smooth skin; it’s also different from drawing human hair.

Fur is incredibly cool to draw. You’d think it would be boring and tedious, but it’s really quite meditative. The keys to drawing realistic fur are layeres, texture and value.

Layering pencil strokes to create the illusion of dog fur.

 Fur is made up of layers of many hairs. Therefore, your drawing of fur must be made up of layers of many pencil lines.

Short, hatch-like marks for short fur (left), and long, fluid strokes for long fur (right).

If you are drawing short fur, your lines must be short. If you are drawing longer fur, your lines need to be long.

Start with a line drawing, then map out the fur using a 2H pencil. Fill in the mid-tones with a B pencil, then darken the shadows with a 2B.

To really build up layers, start with a fairly hard pencil. Use a 2H to map in your values and the direction of fur growth. Then layer a B on top for the mid-tones, and last create your shadows with a 2B.

Using a 2H pencil, you can create texture on white fur or highlights.

Even in the lightest highlight, you will see some hairs. This is because the light is reflected off each hair rather than smooth skin. Here you see the 2H pencil lines showing through. This goes for white fur, too. Even when a dog’s fur is white, you need some faint lines to show the texture.

Hair grows away from the eyes, down the face and up the ears.

Pay really close attention to the direction of fur growth, especially around the face and chest where the direction changes a lot. Getting this accurate goes a long way towards creating a believable likeness. On the face, hair tends to grow away from the eyes and the nose.

When you can't tell how hair growing in different directions transitions, create some ambiguous shading.

Unless you have an excellent reference image, there will likely be areas where you can’t identify where the change in hair growth occurs, areas where the hairs seem to collide. When you draw this, create some ambiguous shading to allow for a smooth transition.

The soft, but sudden transition from light to dark creates the illusion of a shiny fur coat and defines the shape of the dog's skull.

Another characteristic of dog fur is its shine. Make sure you retain your highlights and realize that you may have very light areas right next to very dark areas. This shine is what communicates the musculature and structure of the dog underneath the fur.

Hopefully these tips will help you as you learn how to draw dogs. Challenge yourself and give it a try!

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From → Drawing

3 Comments
  1. Thanks for the great tips. I have always struggled with getting the right balance of shade for the fur and hair texture.

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