Friday, May 8, 2009

Horse art

If I were to classify my art as directly horse-related, I would have to say the most frequently asked question in the field of horses is "how do you DO that?"... of course, quickly followed by "can you make me one?" or "can you teach me?"

Now, the answer to the last two, in order, are "if you pay me," and "no." This sort of thing I can't teach. I can give general guidelines for people to follow and practice and attempt to match (though in realism you should attempt to match the real life thing you are trying to copy, not someone else's art), but I can't just show you how to be a good artist.

However, the first question is more or less easily attainable. For the sake of having examples, I (at work, of course) quickly drew up a horse in a "just for fun" type of drawing. With these, the shading usually lacks detail, there are anatomy problems and usually they have a sketchy kind of look to them. I really enjoy doing these because it doesn't take any more than a half hour to do and it gives me basic practice.

I don't always have five hours to pour into a drawing, so these help me stay on top of my art while still sticking with my schedule.

So, how do I do that?

First off, I think of a pose and Google image search said pose. In this case, I was thinking of a trot. So, I typed in trot and picked a picture that looked alright. The lines were clear, the horse was attractive, and it wasn't a minuscule picture.

Now, when I do serious realism, I will find six, seven... even ten or eleven reference pictures. Things that have different definition, maybe the neck is more defined in one but you can see the leags clearer in another. With these kind of drawings, however, I pick one picture and use it as a basic reference. Sometimes I don't even use a picture.

The picture I do pick is often manipulated into something completely different when I'm done, but that's okay because that's what's beautiful about art.

This is the image I picked:

Okay, so now that I have an image, where do I go from there? Somehow, I have to get a likeness either from that image or inside my head, onto paper.

The first thing I do is plan out the basic arrangement of limbs and the shape of the head, neck, shoulder, and hip using lines and circles. Most artists call it a "skeleton" because that's exactly what it is. It defines the build and shape of the drawing, and is its most basic structure. Slightly resembles one as well!

This is done very lightly, and I will erase it as I move more into the drawing, almost immediately. Keep in mind all of the following images are low-quality cell phone photos and they are often warped by the camera angle, lighting, etc. I unfortunately do not have a scanner here. Darn place of work.

Okay, but that hardly resembles the full-bodied horse in my Google image. That looks like someone's stick horse, right. So the next step is to make it recognizable as a horse. Following the skeleton I made and the contours of the horse in the picture, I create an outline that mimics the image I Googled, only with a touch of my own originality.

As you see, the horse in the picture is a Thoroughbred-ish horse, and the following outline is more like a Warmblood. I thickened and arched the neck more, thickened the body a bit and filled out the tail a bit more. This outline also includes muscle lines, nostrils, and eyes to guide my shading.

Okay, but that's very two-dimensional. The thing I love about making art is trying to bring it to life in a way that not only impresses others, but myself. I want to look at something I draw and think "I really like that." It doesn't matter if it's a doodle or a work of realism... I want to bring it to life. When I have the time, I like to work on different shading and lighting.

The shading I did on this horse is more of a grey horse. I didn't feel like drawing a bay, which is odd because I almost always draw dark-colored horses. I'm actually quite pleased and I had a bit of fun with it. I start with the head and work my way down the horse and back to the tail. I'll pick a section (head, neck, shoulder, leg, barrel, hip, or hair) and first do the darkest parts of it, then work away from them into the lighter areas. The reason why I like drawing dark horses is because I like playing with dark and light contrasts... dark horses will have very, very dark points but also light highlights. I still had fun with this one, though.

I study the part of the horse that I'm shading and work off of that. I really don't know how else to describe it but to instead show you.

This really was a fun little piece. I know there are many faults but I fail to care because all in all it is an attractive piece that I look at and smile. And now you know how I do it. Whether or not it taught you how to replicate... I have no idea. But if there's enough interest I can probably do a quick how-to-draw-horses guide.

WARNING: the featured horse drawing up top is copyrighted (officially). While I don't care if you save it to your computer you must ASK PERMISSION if you are going to use it for anything. Any theft of that piece of artwork can result in legal action.

The other drawing is not officially copyrighted but Canadian law protects it anyways. Again, please contact me if you are going to use it for anything whatsoever.


  1. I like that you correct the horse. Less on the forehand in your drawing. A far more 'up and forward' animal in your pic. Now if you add the rider, are you going to correct her lean, and sit her up too? She'll buy the pic if you do. lmao We all like flattering images of ourselves.

    Looking at the photo, I can't help but think, if she sat up, the horse would come 'up' and sit more into his hocks. Ahh...who knows, right? Maybe he's yarding her forward out of position. He's a pretty buff guy.

    Hmmm...I know who's doing my pictures in the future. You have to correct me and my horse too though. It will be quite a challenge.

  2. Oh, and put a star on the first picture, and widen the base of the ear a little...and you can sell that one to BH, as Giovanna.

  3. Yeah, go ahead, rub it in, Mel.
    I want to be able to do that!!!

    What an amazing artist you are!
    Oh, well, I can ellipse with impunity......

  4. Lovely drawing, Mel. I demand more drawings...ha.

  5. Wonderful work and your explanation was very clear and enlightening . I still can't draw ,but I did understand the proccess a little better

  6. HP:

    Generally when I'm drawing I do have a little template in my mind of better conformation and movement. I can't draw straight necks, thin haunches, or bad form because it bugs me... unless for some reason I want it to look like that (like the scruffy pack horse I drew once). So yes, I would have the rider sitting up with better relaxed arms and I wouldn't have the reins that tight, either.


    haha it's taken me fifteen years of practice to get there. The past four years or so I've been really studying anatomy and different poses and I draw almost every day (whether they're doodles or pictures like this...).


    There's tonnes and tonnes like this. I've been working on a digital drawing of a scene from a book of a horse swimming through a river with an injured rider clinging to him. It's interesting, I might post it when I'm done.

  7. Absolutely beautiful Mel!
    With art, I've found that practice is key. It always brings to mind a quote, can't remember the artist, but someone said "I'd give half my life to be able to do that!" The artist looked back at the someone and replied, "I have!"
    Talent is like a sword I think, just a bar of metal until it's honed. You have done a wonderful job of honing your many talents! Wow, I'm impressed!

  8. Thank you, Kestrel! Drawing is one thing I will never stop doing. I do it every day. That artist is absolutely right, I work every day to be able to do what I do.

  9. Awesome!!! If only I had that talent!