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How to Learn to Draw Horses Really Well - A Recipe

 


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Step 1. The cannon bone's connected to the. . .

A horse is a horse and not a dog or a human or a jellyfish. So what makes the difference? Of course it's down to anatomy. How well do you know your horse anatomy? Are you able to correctly draw in the skeleton on top of any picture of any horse? And not just roughly, but with precision? How close is the bone to the surface in the neck? Or the upper leg? What do you mean you don't know? Understanding the skeletal structure is a great cure for all those unintentionally rubber-hose horse drawings out there.

Step 2. Buff up.

Clearly there's more than skin and bones to a horse. There's muscle too. For lifelike rippled reality over shaded guesswork, nothing is going to beat learning where the top muscles under the skin really are and where they go. Tedious yes. But this step is one that could be revisited and refined time and time again. Each time I am sure your drawing will leap up a notch. Bear in mind that all the old art masters studied anatomy, both bones and muscles, extensively. They are now referred to as masters for a reason!

Step 3. Conformation is your friend.

Unless you know what calf knees, roach backs and sickle hocks (to mention just a few) actually are, how on earth are you going to be able to avoid drawing them into your creations? Just to clarify, these are bad things to have in a horse. Some of these defects are quite subtle and so as a bonus you will train your eye to detail. If the horse you are drawing is riddled with these faults then you may want to be able to portray them. However an idealised portrait should be able to correct or at least downplay these defects.

The other solid reason for becoming an expert in conformation (the way a horse is put together) is to be able to work with the differences between breeds. Some tend to have long backs, some are compact. Some are thick necked. Some have tiny hooves. Knowing the ideal of each breed gives you an advantage when it comes to, well, idealising a picture.

Step 4. The devil's in the detail.

When Norman Lindsay (renowned Australian artist) was a boy he had a compulsion to draw. And soon enough he found that copying from books was not enough. So one evening he went out to the stables (we're talking late 1800's) and examined the hoof of one of the horses. Then he went inside and drew it. Then he came out again and observed it from a different angle and went back inside and drew it. This was repeated until, weeks later, he had finished drawing the parts of the horse. The details really do make such a difference. Get the eyes, ears, hooves & hair etc right and your picture is so much more convincing. Start with one. Observe, practice, repeat. Then onto the next.

Step 5. Pick up your hooves.

Most horses have four gaits - walk, trot, canter and gallop - and some special ‘gaited’ breeds have one or more extra. What's this got to do with drawing? Well until the invention of the camera, no one knew for sure that all four legs were airborne in a gallop. And that the ‘rocking horse position’ didn't in reality exist. It's quaint and laughable now to look at the oh-so-serious pictures of the great racehorses and hunters of yesteryear all depicted in the positions of carousel horses. Surely you would like to avoid the mistakes of the past? Then my advice is to learn how a horse moves at each point in each gait. Which leg is where. Which hoof is up or down. Where the head is held at that particular point. How balance is affected. Better than an impossible position. There really is no excuse nowadays.

Step 6. Artistic elements.

I'm not going to wax lyrical on this step. Of course the non-horse elements of a picture such as composition, lighting and shading are critical to it's success. Of course they are and many others will wax lyrical on their virtues and give you detailed instruction for improvement. Suffice to say that they are important and too often neglected by otherwise highly competent artists. C'mon, you can do it.

Step 7. Give the horse some spirit.

We can all pick the difference between a picture that has captured the essence or soul of a horse and one that is perfectly rendered but somehow lifeless. Actually producing those spirited pictures is something else again.

It is commonly held that quick drawings have life but are not necessarily accurate, while slower drawings result in accuracy to the death of the fire within. Really slow drawings invariably end up completely wooden. So there's a clue. Speed. Practice loads and loads of quick sketches from the real animal a-la life drawing classes. Don't get precious. Do go for essence and careful seeing - as fast as you can. Give yourself permission to throw them all away.

But what about the accuracy you say? Well that, peeps, is why you lay the solid groundwork of anatomical knowledge right at the beginning.

Step 8. I'll let you guess this one. . .

There was a rather pertinent story in my local paper recently which I will summarise. A piece of art was commissioned. After a year the artist contacted the buyer to say the piece was ready. The buyer visited the studio and watched as the artist sat down and produced, in just a few minutes, the entire stunning artwork from start to finish. As he had paid an enormous amount of money for the commission he was a little put out that it had taken a year of waiting and minutes of execution. The artist directed him to open the studio cupboard, which he did. He was promptly snowed over with an avalanche of thousands of practice drawings.

Fiona Morgan was once a horse-mad kid who liked drawing. My teachers told me I should find another topic. Broaden my horizons. Hmph. I was having fun.

Then school ended and I was turfed out into the ‘real world’ and dutifully went off and trained here and jobbed there and got preeetty damn good on computers. Even if I do say so myself. Although I work creatively with pixels, it's just not the same as putting pencil to paper or splashing ink around or dabbling in paint. So the time has come. Time to get out of the digital domain and hone my original skills.

It's been a long time between sketches so I'm going back to basics. The apprenticeship begins. Come along for the ride. . .
How Draw Horses

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