Lesson 5: Applying Construction to Animals
It looks like one of the most popular lessons that people gravitate to are those on animals. This isn't remotely surprising.
Here we're going to look at what goes into constructing a variety of animals, mainly to identify their similarities and to explore how construction can be applied to them, just as we've done with previous subject matter.
Similar to insects, animals also have three major masses that serve as the core of their bodies, and you can relate these directly to their corresponding masses in the human body as well.
Cranium. The base building block of the head, onto which additional forms are attached.
Ribcage. Occupies roughly half of the torso length.
Pelvis. A slanted, stretched ball that occupies roughly a quarter of the torso length, leaving a flexible quarter remaining unoccupied by any solid mass.
Torso as a sausage form
The ribcage and pelvis masses are generally used as building blocks on which to construct the torso. As depicted here, it encompasses both the ribcage and pelvis, and sags a little towards the middle.
I always incorporate this sag (though I make a point of finding hints of it in whatever reference I'm using, it's not always obvious), even when the back is flat or bulky with muscle - as shown a little further down, we add this additional padding later.
There's a lot of value in understanding how despite the incredible variety between different animals, we are all evolved from common ancestors. This understanding plays a big role in remembering the different components that exist in all animals - specifically because they exist in ourselves as well. The study of these differences and similarities is called comparative anatomy.
Here you can see the structure of an average quadruped's limbs. Just like humans, they share the same number of joints. The rear legs look a little strange to us, but only because the length from the ankle to the ball of the foot is much longer than it would be on a human. That whole section is still the foot however, and these animals walk on their toes (they are frequently referred to as being digitigrade, as opposed to humans, which are plantigrade, and hoofed animals, which are unguligrade).
Once you've got your major construction down, we start thinking about all the extra bulk that one might find in various places on the animal's body. To add this, we don't simply add shapes on like they're stickers - we have to add masses in a way that reflects our understanding of the relationship between the forms we're adding, and the forms that already exist in the scene.
This means going back to the organic intersections exercise and thinking about how these forms slump and sag against one another, and how they wrap along another's surface. Think of these as being sacks of flour, or balloons filled with water. They're not stiff - they'll conform a little to whatever they're resting on.
When looking at this image, I even want you to pay attention to how the contour curves themselves suggest a good deal of thickness to this mass as they hook around near the bottom, especially towards that front mass near the animal's head.
The other matter I wanted to touch upon is the issue of fur. It's very easy to get carried away with drawing fur textures, and most often it's really not necessary. Attempting to render fur will often result in a lot of contrast, which will create a focal point whether you want it or not. There are tricks, however, to imply the presence of a furry surface texture.
Instead of covering an entire object with fur, it is generally more effective to simply alter the silhouette of the object. This means applying your furry protrusions around the edge of the object. If you imagine that all of your objects were filled in with black against a solid white background, all you would see is its solid silhouette - and the only information you'd have to infer its surface texture is the consistency and quality of its edge. This is the type of information that viewers will read the quickest, and the kind of information that will stick the most.
It's also the reason that the sort of rough, chicken-scratch sketching that you see from beginners is to be avoided. As you gain more skill, you realize that the weaknesses from your early days can be harnessed as tools - as long as you can control them, and apply them only when needed.
As with all of the constructional drawing lessons, this lesson isn't about animals - it merely uses them as a tool to develop your internal model of 3D space, and your understanding of how forms relate to one another within it. But there is so much to dive into when it comes to understanding animals, from their individual anatomies and skeletal structure, to techniques for rendering their fur, scales, and more, and exploring it further is a great way to build up your visual library, and contribute to your own unique designs and ideas.
Here are some courses offered by our sponsor, New Masters Academy:
In this course, Glenn leverages the same kind of techniques he uses from figure drawing to capture animals that don't merely sit statically on the page - they move through the space they occupy. He explores animal drawing beyond merely copying references, but rather focuses on developing in you the skills to draw them from your imagination, striving for a goal similar to ours here, but with a gesture-first approach. A great choice for anyone looking to design their own creatures.
While in Drawabox we get away with focusing more on what we see in our references to inform the forms we build up (as that's enough for our purposes here), for those interested in drilling down deep into drawing animals, there's a lot more to understanding how these animals are actually built up. Joe Weatherly approaches teaching the anatomy of various animals by looking at horses, big cats, dogs and bovines, before digging into their skeletal structure and musculature, comparing the similarities and differences between them. The information he shares here is critical when it comes not only to drawing animals, but also to understanding what it is we see when drawing from life and from reference.
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Homework and exercises
Before starting the homework, be sure to go through all of the demonstrations included in this lesson. I strongly recommend drawing along with them as well and following them closely when doing so.
Also, remember that this homework must be drawn from reference. When looking for reference, I recommend that you specifically look for those of a higher resolution. Google's image search tools allows you to limit your search to large images, and I recommend you take advantage of this.
To get you started, check out Warren Photographic Image Library of Nature and Pets, which comes at /u/Serpes' recommendation.
The homework assignment for this section is as follows:
2 pages of organic intersections, just like from lesson 2
2 pages of birds, 1 of which should be construction only (with no detail or texture)
4 pages of two non-hooved quadrupeds (wolves, cats, bears, ferrets, etc.) - meaning, pick two subjects and do two full pages for each.
4 pages of two hooved quadrupeds (horses, deer, antelope, camels - I'll also accept rhinos, elephants, etc. despite not being hooved, as it's more about the configuration of their bodies than the specifics of their feet)
2 pages of any random animals of your choice - take this opportunity to try a wider variety (lizards, fish, etc.)
1 page of hybrids - taking various pieces of references (preferably ones you've had a chance to study over the course of this lesson), try to combine them to make some interesting new creatures
All the assigned work for this section should be done in ink, using fineliners/felt tip pens as described here. You may also use a brush pen to fill in dark areas, but not for your linework.
Cottonwood Arts Sketchbooks
These are my favourite sketchbooks, hands down. Move aside Moleskine, you overpriced gimmick. These sketchbooks are made by entertainment industry professionals down in Los Angeles, with concept artists in mind. They have a wide variety of sketchbooks, such as toned sketchbooks that let you work both towards light and towards dark values, as well as books where every second sheet is a semitransparent vellum.