Learning to draw can be a long process, and it is something most people have to practise to be able to do well. I thought I would give you a little insight into how I draw when using a photo reference. Normally I draw portraits, however I wanted to show how the process works when drawing something I haven’t drawn before; namely this jolly reindeer!
DIY – Mini Drawing Tutorial
1. Pick an image to work from
- Try and make sure that it is clear and with good lighting, as you will be trying to recreate it so the less you have to “invent” the better.
- I print my images unless I have the image on my iPad, where I can move the image around and get closer, but physically keep it as accessible as a photo. I don’t like drawing from a computer unless I am drawing digitally. The image is too far away from the sketching process!
This photo seemed good to me, the pose was interesting but not too complex, and to be honest that reindeer is so damn happy it was calling out to be drawn!
2. Rough sketch the image
- Start with the base, in this case the trunk of the reindeer. I have split the trunk into smaller shapes, which helps maintain positioning of for example legs. From the trunk you can add on the extremities.
- Look past the details here and think about angles, which parts should be parallel, what is the bend of the leg. Developing an eye for these angles is really useful for drawing.
- You don’t even have to draw the fullness I have done above, simple stick-figure lines works just as well for determining positions.
- If it helps you could draw guide lines on a copy of the image you are working from, to see past the details and to the real shape of the image.
Sketching roughly is an important step, but one that sometimes feels unnecessary. I used to skip this, and focus on one detail such as an eye, from which the drawing would grow. The problem with this is your composition can be completely off. I have drawings from years ago that are great, but things aren’t quite the right size or distance from each other.
3. Create more defined lines
- Focus on one area first, I started from the bottom and worked my way up, this is in case I need to move the position of the head. It is easier to erase one part to adjust than to erase multiple parts to piece it together again.
- For arms, legs and bodies, it can help to use circles where there are natural bends. This helps maintain good form.
4. Compare, and look for differences.
- Keeping the original close at hand can be really useful.
- Don’t be too hard on yourself, this is just to fix larger problems of positioning, not to judge how realistic you have drawn!
My reindeer’s front legs aren’t exactly where they should be, but I chose to leave this as it looked ok. You don’t have to be perfect, mistakes can be charming and the artist always has a right to their version of reality.
5. Add smaller details
- The horns were a big part of this drawing, so I drew these out softly a few times to get the shape.
- If you see in the previous image I had drawn out a small guide for the facial features of the reindeer. From this I could try and place the eye, nostril and mouth in the right place.
- Draw what you see, not what you know. Look at the actual shape of for example the eye. Is it round and uniform or does the shape dip in or widen in certain areas? Eyes make a huge impact so try to practise the genuine shape on a separate piece of paper if you feel uncertain. I have drawn what appears to be a little tongue poking out of the mouth, as that is what is in the original.
6. Start to shade your image.
- Don’t overdo it. An easy mistake is to draw ALL the shaddows, and eventually you realise that everything is a grey mess. Look for the most important shaddows, that define a muscle in tension, a bone or indention.
- Don’t be afraid to leave it simple. An artist needs to know when to step away from their work. Leave it a day if you are unsure, and look at the drawing with fresh eyes.
- You can choose different directions here, scanning it and converting it to a digital image, adding other details, inking it, painting it or making it more detailed with fur and texture.
I was planning on using this drawing but wasn’t sure what direction to take it in, so left it as is (well I added some feet later on) Perhaps this will become a painting in the future, when it is once more reindeer season. All in all it was good practise and a fun little drawing to make.
Please share what you draw, I’d love to see your process.
Feel free to ask any questions in the comment section below!