How to draw animals (9 simple tips)

Sketching animals can be a fun and challenging way to improve your observational skills. In this tutorial I show you nine simple ways of getting better at drawing animals.

Key points

  • Gesture drawing is key: Gesture drawing captures the essence and movement of animals quickly and effectively. It's essential for sketching animals in motion or resting, focusing on the overall form rather than intricate details.
  • Diverse perspectives enhance realism: Sketching animals from various angles and perspectives adds depth and dimension to your work. This practice challenges your understanding of animal anatomy and improves your drawing skills.
  • Incorporate color for vibrancy: Using colored pencils, markers, watercolors, or inks can bring your animal sketches to life. Quick-drying colors allow for continuous sketching without delays, maintaining the looseness of your drawings.

Introduction to learning how to draw animals

Of all the approaches to animal sketching, gesture drawing is the most effective.

Unlike human figure drawing models, animals don’t often stay in the same pose.

Which is why it's essential to draw animals using a quick, loose, sketching approach.

Drawing what you see, quickly.

This quick gestural approach takes practice to get the hang of, but will pay off the more frequently you do it.

If you're just getting started with drawing, check out my guide for learning how to be creative in drawing.

1. Avoid details when you draw animals

A lot of lessons on sketching for beginners get caught up in drawing too many details.

Drawing isn't about capturing what you're looking at photo-realistically.

Instead, draw loose contour drawings.

When you're sketching animals, it helps to focus on drawing the larger shapes of the animal.

Not just the shapes of the animal's body, but also the shapes created by light and shadow.

Also, looking at the animals more than you're looking at your paper.

Trusting that your hand will make lines that capture the gesture and likeness of the animal.

Remember, you're not trying to draw every single strand of hair, each bit of fur, or scales.

Instead, you're drawing the overall action and movement of the animal.

Using only loose lines. There's no such thing as a mistake when you're sketching animals.

2. Draw animals from different angles

As with any type of animal sketching from life, its easy to stay in one spot and draw.

Depending on the animals, they may be sleepy and stay in one spot for most of the day.

Try to avoid sketching animals from just one angle.

Instead, move around and change your perspective of the animals you're drawing.

Sketching is an exploration to help you better understand the movement and anatomy of different animals.

Constantly challenge yourself when you're making art.

Force yourself to move around to draw different angles of animals.

Angles and perspectives you haven't drawn before.

3. Sketching to grow your mental library

Animal sketching frequently will help build your visual library.

You'll end up knowing how to draw virtually every animal the longer you sketch animals every day in your sketchbook.

Quick and loose gesture drawing is the most effective approach for sketching animals in your sketchbook.

Through these quick animal sketches, you'll grow your visual library of animals.

Understanding the main shapes and structure of animals.

As you draw animals, focus on observing how they move so you understand the animal anatomy.

4. Sketching animal movement, weight, and volume

Simplified contour lines and are a great way of capturing the key elements of an animal sketch.

These elements are movement, volume, and weight.

As you sketch animals, your goal is to convey energy.

You accomplish this by observing and drawing the large forms and shapes of the animal.

Pay attention to how these elements of the animal interact in a relationship with one another.

5. Draw animal characteristics

As you're sketching animals, observe the characteristics of each animal.

Look at how they interact with other animals, observe how it sits, walk, run, sleep, and eats.

Each animal is different.

Even if they're part of the same species.

Aim to translate unique characteristics when you draw animals.

6. Draw animals from a variety of angles and perspectives

You don't always have to draw animals from a head-on perspective. Get creative with different angles and perspectives.

Try filling a page with quick sketches using as many different angles as possible.

An elephant looks entirely different walking away from you than he does coming at you or in profile.

If you can draw animals from all sorts of perspectives, your drawings will improve drastically, and it'll be easier to create the illusion of depth on a two-dimensional surface

7. Draw more detailed animal sketches

After you’ve established a page of gesture sketches, move to a more studied drawing of say 20 to 30 minutes.

You might want to start this drawing with a gesture and then work it up into something a little more finished, maybe using some value drawing techniques.

If your gestures were successful, you should find it easy to establish large forms quickly.

You can then focus on drawing textures to sketch a more detailed drawing.

Also, include the entire scene when you draw animals.

For example, when you practice things like urban sketching, don't forget to include the animals in your sketch.

Pick interesting vantage points from which to draw the animals.

Take your time, move around and observe before plopping yourself down to draw.

Don’t wait for the animal to come to you – “find” the pose for yourself.

8. Animal sketching with color

If you want to maintain your drawing's looseness, use color pencils, markers, watercolors, and inks.

Also, feel free  to switch utensils; for example, using a colored pencil instead of a regular one may help you see things from a new perspective.

It is generally best to use quick-drying colors so that you can keep sketches coming without much down time in between.

9. A sketch can be a complete work in its own right.

Remember to have fun.

You can quickly become frustrated if you over analyze your sketches.

But this is what makes sketching so enjoyable. There are no mistakes.

Which is also why I recommend sketching in pen when you draw animals.

When you draw animals, fully embrace a messy and loose quality in your sketches.

Avoid perfection and photorealism.

The goal is to have fun and capture a moment.

You'll know when you draw animals correctly if you feel like you're drawing too many lines and your drawings are messy.

Trust that your hands will capture what your eyes see.

Animal sketching is equally, if not more about seeing and observation than it is making lines on paper.