Drawing Skills Pt II : Animals

OCA p 66 : Drawing Animals : Research

Instruction:  “Look at how Renaissance masters such as Leonardo and Durer depicted animals.  Make notes and try to find some images to include in your learning log”

Albrecht Dürer
Sheet of Studies with Sketches of Animals and Landscapes 1521
Pen and black ink with colored washes (fig 1)

Fig 1 : Durer : sketches

Fig 1 : Durer : sketches

I was fascinated by these drawings for several reasons.  Firstly the mix of animals and landscapes (possible explanation below (1). Then there was the mix of animal species and the delicate way he has of drawing them; the use of soft marks for the Lion’s mane and firm marks for the short fur of the monkey; the attention paid to musculature and bone formation shown particularly in the backbone of the male lion and the rippling muscles of the female in the foreground.

(1)  [Notes (from http://secretgardening.wordpress.com/2012/03/05/the-animals-in-that-country/)

“This drawing was not discovered until 1917, when it was removed from a sixteenth-century engraving to which it had been attached. The animal sketches, which include lions, a lynx, a chamois, and a monkey, were most likely made in 1521, when the artist visited the zoological garden in Brussels. The landscapes on the left half of the sheet were probably added later, after Dürer had returned to Germany.”]

Fig 2 : Durer : Parrot

Fig 2 : Durer : Parrot

My next choice is “Parrot”, Albrecht Dürer,  c. 1500. Pen, with watercolour on paper.

I chose this drawing for its incredible feather marks.  So beautifully and painstakingly accurate and, again, attention to the smaller shapes of muscle in the body, which I never thought of in a bird.


Leonardo Da Vinci

Fig 3 : Da Vinci : Cats and more

Fig 3 : Da Vinci : Cats and more

Fig 3 is Da Vinci’s “Cats and more”.  This is a strange mixture of cats of various types in all sorts of poses but in the bottom right hand quarter is a dragon.  I have not been able to find out any more about how these sketches came to be or why Da Vinci included the dragon.  The marks are clearer and stronger in some ways than Durer’s work; the fur depicts shape and form beautifully.

Fig 4:  Da Vince : Horses legs

Fig 4: Da Vince : Horses legs

Fig 4 : “Horses legs” by Da Vinci really shows the anatomy and the care and detail that went into his drawing habits, leading to great skill and dexterity.

This has been an interesting and informative exercise, if not a little daunting to realise the effort, practice, dedication to detail and accuracy that is needed to be a great artist.



Exercise : Grabbing the Chance : OCA p67

Fig 5 : My daughter's cats

Fig 5 : My daughter’s cats #73

As I don’t have any animals it was really hard to complete this exercise.  I went to my daughter’s house to draw her cats but they were out playing!  I grabbed a few sketches (fig 5) as best I could using pencil, graphite and ink.

Fig 6 : Quick sketches from photographs

Fig 6 : Quick sketches from photographs : #74




When I came home I did some quick sketches from photographs which I’m not at all pleased with (fig 6).  I certainly learned how hard it was for me to capture the essence of an animal so lots of practice needed.



Research Point : George Stubbs

George Stubbs (1724-1806) was an artist who was particularly famous for his paintings of horses.

fig X : Stubbs. First layer of stripping process

fig X : Stubbs. First layer of stripping process

When he was a boy he used to draw left-over animal bones from his Father’s tanning yard.

Later in his career, and with his penchant for accuracy to the smallest degree he actually dissected horses to find out the muscle formations, tendons, bones etc so that he could translate that level of detail into his drawings.  He stripped the horse apart layer by layer with the help of his partner, Mary Spencer, drawing everything he came across on his journey.

Fix X : Stubbs.  Final layer

Fix X : Stubbs. Final layer

The two pictures above and left show the first layer drawing and his final layer with just the bones left.

After many months of this gory research he published a book called “The Anatomy of the Horse” which featured eighteen plates etched by the artist from his drawings.  He also included very specific scientific observations.

All in all George Stubbs was a wonderful artists; an anatomist and a writer.

Sources:  http://diffusion.org.uk/?p=1062   &   http://www.uh.edu/engines/epi906.htm

Anatomy of a cat : OCA p 68 Research point

Fig X : bones of a cat

Fig X : bones of a cat


A cat has many similarities to a horse but with a longer tail bone structure.

Cats are much more flexible too and can contort themselves into various yogic positions!

Their vertebrae seem a little further apart than the horse’s which gives them the ability to bend and stretch it in a way a horse cannot.

Fig X : cat anatomy by J Rae

Fig X : cat anatomy by J Rae








Exercise : Fish on a Plate : OCA p 69

Slimy fish!  I didn’t enjoy handling the fish at all but I did enjoy drawing it and colouring it.  As there was only one fish and it was on a plain plate I put it onto a pretty piece of cloth that complemented the colours in the fish skin.

Fig 1 : practice : sketch #

Fig 1 : practice : sketch #75

Firstly I drew the fish a few times in various media to find out how I wanted to progress (fig 1).

I then drew the composition out on A3 paper (There was no Bockingford available locally) and completed the work using coloured pencils, watercolour pencils and inks (fig 2 below).  I used some pearlised ink which does not show on the photograph but one can see it on the original piece when turned to the light.

I enjoyed the task of capturing all the different colours that I would not have noticed without the intensity of study.  I thought the green of the plate and its shape were a good foil for these subtle colours.

My viewpoint was almost directly above to capture the patterning at the top.  Had I placed the fish nearer eye level, I would have only seen its belly or back and then would have missed out on the contrasts between the two.

Fig 2 : Fish on a plate : sketch #

Fig 2 : Fish on a plate : sketch #76

I don’t think I did so well with capturing the light and could have concentrated on creating more contrast perhaps but on the whole I found this was less challenging than drawing animals.

Check and log

  • The main challenges in drawing animals was that I don’t have any availability to any locally.  The next problem is their constant movement and sometimes complete absence from my space!  I don’t feel I made a good fist of it.
  • I enjoyed graphite as it is soft and gives a muted look and I also enjoyed ink for the opposite reason; clear and distinct line and character.
  • I could try a zoo (expensive!) to draw more animals and maybe go to the fields where there will be sheep and cows that stay still for a while.  I haven’t tried drawing a moving animal though all the cats I tried to draw kept moving anyway.
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