Lesson 5: Applying Construction to Animals
This demonstration covers a lot of problems that are faced in most animals one might try to draw - from basic components of the body, adding additional masses, constructing legs, and facial construction.
The demo video includes full audio and discussion of the concepts demonstrated in the drawing.
Step by step
To start with, we've got the three major masses, similar to those introduced in the previous lesson:
Head. Better referred to as the cranial mass, which is the basic building block of the rest of the head. It is NOT meant to encompass the entirety of the head, so don't go building this to be enormous. Smaller is better, as you can always add more forms on top later.
Rib cage. This is generally going to occupy a full half of the length of the torso on most, if not all animals (humans included). Students frequently draw this as being much smaller than it needs to be, so try and think about how your own rib cage fits into your body if you're unsure of how large it should be.
Pelvis. This takes up about a quarter of the torso, leaving another quarter not occupied by anything solid (between the rib cage and the pelvis). Be mindful of how this one is going to be angled. Don't draw it as a sphere, as it's got a bit of length to it as shown here.
As you draw these components, make sure that each one feels solid and three dimensional to you. Use contour lines (curves as well as ellipses) as needed, just make sure you're taking your time when drawing them. A sloppy, rushed contour line isn't going to do much aside from cluttering your drawing.
We're doing two critical things here - first we're constructing a sausage form for the torso that snugly encompasses both the rib cage and pelvis masses. Notice how they're not floating loosely inside of it, but rather hold very tightly to their new container.
Additionally, we're pulling the neck down from the cranium to essentially plug into the torso, defining that intersection with a clear contour ellipse. Again, we don't want the cranial mass floating inside of this neck form - it should be holding snugly to it.
Next, the legs. Before starting on the legs, I lay out an ellipse where they're actually going to connect to the body. You can also see this as a large mass representing the shoulder, which tends to have some large musculature to it.
I frequently have students ignoring this entirely, drawing the legs as though they sprout from the bottom of the torso. This is not correct - just like our (humans') arms, the animal's legs will sprout from its sides.
The legs use the same sausage technique covered in the previous lesson, and we only place contour curves at the joints, leaving the lengths of the sausages to be freely gestural and flowing.
Lastly, even though I've not put much linework into the paws, be aware at least of the planes of those forms. That is, you should be able to, at a glance, understand where the top, sides and front of that form are distinguished from each other. If you can't, you've likely just drawn a flat shape with no consideration for how it sits in 3D space.
Now comes a point that many students have difficulty with - adding additional forms.
You'll notice that in most, if not all of my animal constructions, I try to use the same torso configuration. That is, as it covers the space from rib cage to pelvis, it dips down slightly, leaving a distinct curve along the spine.
In a lot of animals, you actually see bumps along this area, as you see in this wolf reference. In order to capture this, I will add additional forms to our construction.
The trick to doing this is to understand how these forms actually rest on top of each other. Too many students will just draw a shape on top, sticking it on as though it were a sticker on the page, and then after the fact go in with additional contour lines to cheat it into that third dimension.
This doesn't work - if the silhouette of the form you've drawn doesn't convey an understanding of how it sits in 3D space, and how it relates to the other forms in the scene, then all the contour lines the world will not salvage it. Instead, you need to think about how these forms are going to wrap around each other - consider the surfaces present, and how one form is being dropped on top of the other. This is entirely similar to the organic intersections exercise in lesson 2, and is the primary reason that exercise was covered there.
Here we get into the head construction. The key here is that we are constructing the head as though it is a three dimensional puzzle, with a number of different pieces that all snap together. To draw one component without awareness of how it connects with other parts of the skull and face leaves us with features that float arbitrarily, and this breaks the illusion.
Additionally, thinking about it this way immediately forces us into identifying the various planes of the face - splitting it up from being smooth curves that blend seamlessly into one another to having clear borders that can be used to differentiate these "puzzle pieces".
In this step, we've cut the eye sockets into the skull - not as ellipses, but with individual cutting lines that are each of them drawn with an awareness of how they run along the surface of the skull. Using an ellipse in this case (for the eye socket) is inappropriate because it's a matter of taking a flat, two dimensional shape and just stamping it onto what we have already established as being solid and three dimensional, thus flattening everything else out.
Additionally, we've established a sort of "footprint" where the muzzle will attach. You can think of it as though that section of the face has been flattened, and will eventually be extruded out. By planning it out this way, we introduce yet another puzzle piece without having to worry about the additional form just yet.
Now we extrude that muzzle out into another planar, boxy form. Planes are, once again, key. You should be able to distinguish the top, side, front, etc. rather than having a form where everything is smoothly blended into one another.
I've also added a mass to represent what is mostly fur along the side of the head. I'm not too keen on making this appear solid - it definitely has volume, and probably has some muscle there, but because most of it is likely fur I'm still leaving it a little lighter and free of additional contour lines.
The rest, as always, is just detail. Tufts of fur - each designed specifically and carefully rather than zigzagging back and forth on autopilot. A couple of carefully placed tufts along the silhouette will do considerably more for the drawing than trying to cover the whole thing in a jagged mess of lines that follows the same repetitive rhythm.
Also, with all constructions, strategically employing line weight to clarify the overlapping of forms, and cast shadows to help separate them out can be extremely effective - just don't overdo it. As a rule, less is always better, as is a subtle touch rather than a heavy, obnoxious one.
Color and Light by James Gurney
Some of you may remember James Gurney's breathtaking work in the Dinotopia series. This is easily my favourite book on the topic of colour and light, and comes highly recommended by any artist worth their salt. While it speaks from the perspective of a traditional painter, the information in this book is invaluable for work in any medium.