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Simple Steps for Drawing Horses
How to draw a horse? If you’ve been inspired by horses but struggle with getting them to look right, you’re not alone. Although horses make beautiful subjects, figuring out how to draw a horse is not always easy. For anyone just starting to sketch horses, getting its proportions correct can be difficult. But there are ways to do this, and once you know them, you’ll be well on your way to capturing the beauty and majesty of these animals.
I’ve created these easy steps to draw a horse to help anyone who’s longed to draw one. For this demonstration, I’ve used Professional Drawing Pencils to illustrate that you just need a good pencil to make a realistic horse drawing. Arteza pencils have high-density graphite that doesn’t smear or smudge and they also come with latex-free erasers. Once you get the hang of it, you may wish to expand into using other media, such as pens, pastels, or paint. Let’s get started.
How I Measure a Horse
For sketching the correct proportions, I start by applying the horse’s head length (HL) as my unit for measuring. The HL equals the distance between the tip of the horse’s muzzle to the front of its ear. Artists figured out long ago that by using this length, they could accurately place all the parts in the correct positions on the body. The HL is also useful for easily comparing lengths and widths.
Step 1. Figure out the horse’s proportions
After I determine the HL, I use it for measuring and marking points on the other parts of the horse. I begin with a diagonal line to represent the head. I use the HL to determine the height from its shoulder blades (withers). This is about three head lengths. I make a mark and use it to connect the top of the head to the withers to form the neck.
Next, I determine how long the back is by measuring from the withers’ mark to the croup, which is the beginning of the tail. I place a mark there and then connect the two marks. I add another vertical line from the croup, the same length as the one from the withers, to indicate the back legs. I go down about three-fourths of an HL from the croup and the withers and draw a horizontal line, creating a rectangle. This serves as a guide for the horse’s torso.
To simplify the process later for adding in the stomach, I make a mark one HL down from croup. This is a quick way to get the dimensions in place and helps me find those crucial spots I need to draw the entire animal correctly.
Step 2. Outline your horse
After completing my foundational layout, I start drawing the general contours of its body. I purposely make these lines very simply, as at this stage it is only important to get the incline of each line (both horizontal and vertical) correctly. I am careful about the way the neck and head are positioned when sketching them.
I outline its legs, making sure they appear natural. These are narrower at the hooves than at the top where they meet the body. If you want your horse’s legs to look real and not like tree trunks, it is crucial to correctly define their thickness in relation to other body parts; for example, the width of the horse's head.
Next, I add the hooves, which flair out slightly from the fetlock or the joint at the end of the leg. I put in the slight curves of its back and rump. I use the mark I made previously to add the stomach’s curve to the front leg. A few simple strokes indicate a tail.
Step 3. Fill in darker areas and add details to the mane and tail
Now it’s time for giving volume and dimension to your horse. I do this by using light pencil strokes to indicate where there are muscles such as along the neck, chest, hips, and stomach. I add hair to the mane, forelock (bangs), and tail. As I work in all areas, I gradually build up to darker strokes.
Step 4. Darken the shadows for contrast
I go back and add my darkest layers to places where there would naturally be shadows—under the jawline and upper part of the front and back legs, and the inside of the legs on its opposite side. I continue adding more layers to build the contrast between light, midtone, and dark shades
Step 5. Add details to the head, mane, and tail
Using a little extra pressure on my pencil makes dark lines I use to add in the smaller specifics such as the facial features, the hair in the mane and tail, and the definition of the joints and tendons in the legs.
Step 6. Soften shadows and brighten highlights
The secret to making the most realistic rendering possible is the use of contrast to portray how the light is hitting the animal. Now that my darkest areas are in, I check the light areas. These will be all the areas where the light is shining on the body. The lightest parts are on the belly, croup, and head of a horse. If these areas did darken while I was working, I lighten them with my eraser.
For the final step, I use dark hatching on both the mane and tail to give them more volume.
- Don’t get too involved in drawing small details if you haven’t finished the large parts yet. This way you’ll avoid “fragmentation” in your drawing. At every stage, follow the “general to specific” principle, doing the largest parts first and working on the smallest things last.
- When drawing a horse for the first time, remember that general proportions only help to draw horses more accurately, but there are differences between the proportions of each animal. If you wish to draw a specific animal, carefully notice its structure and dimensions.
- Although I have used the HL for measuring purposes in this guide, it’s important to note that proportions may vary from this standard, even if slightly.
- While working with shading and tone, remember, the more tonal gradation you achieve, the more realistic the painting will be.
- Try making transitions softer and hatching more precise so that the horse’s body doesn’t look stiff, like it’s made of wood or plastic.
You’ve done it! You’ve drawn a well-proportioned and realistic-looking horse. I encourage practicing horse drawing by using pictures from magazines, the internet, or those you take yourself. Soon you’ll be drawing horses in all the poses they’re known for—jumping, rearing up, galloping, grazing, and more!