Project – Drawing animals

Research Point

Renaissance Masters

The Renaissance was a period of great development in Europe when it became the centre of learning and great strides forward were made in many fields.

Science and art went hand in hand at this time, as two artists Albrecht Dürer and Leonardo da Vinci demonstrated. Dürer was trained as a goldsmith, who then applied his attention to fine detail to the study of birds and animals. Leonardo was probably the ultimate scientist/artist, or ‘artist-engineer’, studying a multitude of disciplines.

Albrecht Dürer

1471 to 1528

I looked at Dürer in Project – Detailed observation, including his work on drawing animals. Dürer was one of the first artists of his time to challenge the view that animals were not worthy of great art. His depiction of them had great detail and captured the vivid colours (when looking at the wing of a blue roller painting), using the medium of watercolour.

Wing of a blue roller

Leonardo da Vinci

1452 to 1519

Starting his career apprenticed to a sculptor and painter, he became an independent master in 1478. Then around 1483 he moved to Milan to work as an engineer, sculptor, painter and architect – something I think it would have been great to be able to do, to mix and match disciplines to suit your interests and not have to specialise in a single subject – that and be great at them all also! Not only that, but he also studied geometry, anatomy, flight, gravity and optics, and invented many machines.

Looking at his drawings of horses, I could only find two of these on the Bridgemaneducation site, ‘Rider on Rearing Horse’ and ‘Study of Horses and Riders’ in metalpoint and silverpoint. The bone and muscle structure of the body and legs does appear to be accurately drawn (or as far as a non-horsey person can tell), although the horses necks do seem to have some very odd crease lines, especially in ‘Study of Horses and Riders’.

Rider on Rearing Horse

Study of Horses and Riders



Bridgeman Education:

Exercise – Grabbing the chance

Dog sketches:

I had an opportunity to draw a dog when I came to this exercise, and a page of these drawings is shown below.

Dog sketchesCat sketches:

After that, my subject was our cat ‘Buster’, a tricky subject to draw for a number of reasons. Firstly he doesn’t stay still for very long except when in deep sleep, secondly he is black and white, which makes seeing the different tones difficult enough, never mind drawing them, thirdly, his favourite place to sleep is on a lap, which makes it hard to get a good angle to draw him from, especially as too much movement makes him move around!

Various incomplete sketches of him:

Buster sketchesInk drawing of him in a typically convenient sleeping location!

Buster in ink

Three colour drawing of him from a photograph (I’ve got his eyes slightly different sizes in this one).

Buster in colourResearch Point

Skeletal structure of the cat.

Skeleton_of_a_cat Superficial_muscles_of_a_cat

I found the images above on Wikipedia showing the skeletal structure and muscle structure of a cat. I can see that for some animals (the horse particularly, as detailed below), knowledge of the skeletal and muscle structure would be very useful to aid drawings, as the skin is tight over the muscles. However, for the majority of cats, the mass of fur covering the body would seem to make such studies fairly pointless, and close observation would be more useful to an artist.



George Stubbs

1724 – 1806

George Stubbs is considered by many to be the greatest painter of horses ever (BBC, Artyfactory). Horse painting not really being my thing and only having viewed his painting on a computer screen, I will have to take their word for it, but his skill in depicting the horse’s body cannot be disputed. The detail in depicting the flesh, muscle and bone can be seen very clearly, and it is no surprise to learn that he studied the structure of the horse.

The fact that he went to such lengths to do so, spending 18 months ‘peeling’ horses, shows that he had great determination and drive to fully understand their bodies, as well as a sterner stomach than many of us! It also demonstrates a similar marrying of science and art as discussed when looking at the Renaissance masters.

First Skeleton Table, from ‘The Anatomy of the Horse’, 1766 (engraving)

Dorsal view of the muscle structure of a progressively dissected horse, study No.7 from ‘The Anatomy of the Horse’, 1766 (pencil on paper)

Mares and Foals without a Background, c.1762 (oil on canvas)

The picture “Mares and Foals without a Background” shows the skill Stubbs has in depicting horses, not only in recording their skeletal/muscle structure, but in applying that knowledge to paintings of them ‘alive’. The muscles of the horses can clearly be seen under their skin and there can be no doubt that Stubbs’s intricate knowledge of their makeup was what made this painting so lifelike. Although this painting date is before ‘The Anatomy of the Horse’ was published in 1766, he had been dissecting horses for the previous 18 years to produce the images for the book.




Bridgeman Education:

Exercise – Fish on a plate Aubergine on a plate

Being a vegetarian and owning a cat (the relevance of the latter being that I would have been drawing a cat eating a fish or would have lost blood stopping it from doing so!), I agreed an alternative option with my tutor of drawing an Aubergine on a plate instead. A single Aubergine on a plate isn’t the most inspiring of compositions though, so I added a courgette and in keeping with the original title, placed them both on a platter decorated with fish.

I used Derwent ‘Inktense’ pencils to do this drawing, first sketching in the main colours and brushing them with water, then adding dry pencil lines on top. I found it hard to get any deep areas of tone in this drawing and it is mostly the same tone throughout.

Aubergine on a plateCheck and Log

What were the main challenges of drawing animals?

  • For animals in general, the main challenge is that they are not very inclined to stay still unless they are sleeping (and even then not for long enough).
  • For my cat, additional challenges arise from the fact he is black and white which makes it difficult to draw in tone, and from the fact his preferred resting place is my lap, from where it is a challenge to draw him!

Which media did you enjoy using most and which did you feel were best for the subject matter and why?

  • I enjoyed using coloured pencils, but I did struggle getting a good tonal range with them. For moving animals particularly, I think just pencil is the best option though, as you need to work quickly and don’t have time to change colours when you are drawing.

Where can you go to draw more animals? Think about the sorts of places that will give you opportunities for animal drawing. Have you tried drawing a moving animal yet?

  • For me this would have to be out in the countryside drawing sheep, cows, etc. due to my location. Not necessarily ideal as drawing confined animals might be easier. I guess a field of animals would give the same opportunities though, as you could change the animal you focussed on depending on how they were standing. I’ve not tried drawing a moving animal yet, but will do so soon.
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