Drawing goats: the horns

This morning I went outside before it could get too hot. I went straight to the goats’ enclosure and found many children greeting and petting them. I walked to the other side of the enclosure, on the bridge above it, and started sketching.

At first the goats were really far away and I could only draw the outlines. These are two small goats in the first page. Then I focused on an older goat laying down in the shade, and what I could see best were its horns. I went on sketching horns in all possible orientations. Their shape is not easy to understand, especially as I don’t have depth perception: so the sketches become flat just like pictures. They are the clearest way to show two important facts: first, that the horns are not cylindrical, and second, that they follow a wide spiral. When the spiral of one horn is seen from the side (with the axis coming out of the page, so to speak), it makes a very round arc, but then the other horn has the funniest shape, as the axis of the spiral is almost parallel to the page and the horn section (which is sort of tear-shaped) makes all sort of sharp angles and almost rectangular shapes. The 90-degree angle midway is the oddest form that comes out of this combination of shapes, and I find it the most recognisable goat horn marker. I will definitely come back and try to observe the horns better. In the meanwhile, enjoy these three relaxed goats ๐Ÿ™‚

Drawing update – the cormorant

Hello all again, here is my first post after a while, and I wish to share some insights in my drawing process and a few thoughts and observations here and there.

First sketch

This first version of the drawing served the purpose of getting myself familiar with the shapes and proportions of the bird in the picture. I draw birds only seldom and I have no model in my mind to follow, so I have to take some extra preparation steps before diving into the final drawing. Cormorants are water birds, but they lack the substance to make their feathers waterproof, so they spend quite a lot of time standing like this to dry.

Every start is a blank canvas. How do I know how much of my previous experience will be useful? What awaits me this time?

Rough shading

I copied the outlines of the sketch on a new piece of paper, with a light pencil, and started filling the spaces with a uniform and quite light shading.

That looks familiar, I guess that’s a good sign.

Adding the first darker layer

This part had been my favourite. It required me a change of mode, because I fully focused on the shapes and the contrasts between the various parts of the picture, and forgot about the big picture. The fact that this layer of darker and more detailed shading took a long time made it even more valuable to me.

The magic is in the details. Observing while staying still, almost disappearing, and the observed live their life undisturbed. How I loved that feeling when I was out in the field, silent spectator, invisible to the wildlife (if they acknowledged me, at least I hope I was considered a harmless human)!

Taking shape…

The middle part of the bird required me a marked change in texture. I was initially having a hard time rendering the small ruffled feathers of the neck and the shiny feathers of the shoulders. I was very hopeful for the tail, but it didn’t come out as I wished. The point in the whole drawing is that I always added shades and never erased: some parts would have been way easier to fill up with a dark tone and then edited by erasing the tiny light strips of the feather spines – but I went for the slower and less forgiving path.

Am I trying to prove to myself and you that I’m worth it? Do you need that? I guess not, but it’s a very old habit of mine and it will take some more time to fade.

Almost ready…

I was pretty happy with how it turned out. It looked sort of flat, but it’s how I prefer my drawings to look like. I like when they don’t reflect the picture or the reality as close as they could. I want them to be a filtered representation, and the filter to be visible. So I could have considered it done, at that point.

There is rarely the chance to get anything 100% ready anyway. We would wait the whole time in front of a stalling progress bar.

One more layer of 6B pencil – signed and done

Here is the final step, one more layer of dark pencil to enhance the contrasts. I didn’t smooth out the hatching lines on purpose, and I wished I had used a coarser paper. Time to visit one of those wonderful stationery shops where you get in needing nothing and get out with a bunch of incredible stuff!

That’s my gift, my time, my attention, my patience. The little shared moments shine like fireflies.

Thanks for reading, and see you at the next update!

Drawing update: horses’ ears

A few days ago I challenged myself to draw horses’ ears. I have been drawing horses for as long as I can remember, but with a moderate and varied amount of attention to detail. Therefore I am able to draw horses’ ears somewhat by memory, so that they don’t look that convincing. Thanks to a library book with a lot of pictures (I prefer to copy from printed images instead of from a screen) I found plenty of portraits from which I could draw. Here is the result:

Drawing practice: horses' ears

As usual, the first two sketches are a warm-up. From the third onwards I tried to notice something characteristic from each sketch, and for the forward-facing ears of sketch #3, it’s the angle in the inner ear side (I used to draw round ears by default – some horses have a less pronounced angle, but it’s always there). The same angle is visible when the ear is turned backwards: in sketch #6 I drew the ear as a trapezoid|trapezium, instead of a triangle. It felt strange to draw the ears like that, but in the end they look more realistic. The following sketches are more about ear positions and differences among breeds and individuals.

My next focus will be on hooves/feet, stay tuned for next post!

Drawing update: bird sketching

Today I had to give back this book about budgerigars, from which I wanted to copy a few pictures. I went to the library with the book and my sketchbook, and drew seven birds in funny poses, as suggested by John Muir Laws in his video about drawing birds: front, back and 3/4 views. Here is the result:

Budgerigars are really cute and funny, and loud too! They are very athletic and like to climb branches and trunks using both feet and beak. They like to hang upside down and roll around branches. I had a couple of these birds when I was a kid and I remember how lively they were. Their cage was near the telephone, so people often asked if we lived in the jungle! We let them free almost every day and they quickly learned every corner of the house. Drawing today made me remember them with a smile ๐Ÿ™‚

Fox sketches and book recommendation: “Fuchs ganz nah” by Klaus Echle and Anna Rummel

I was looking for great nature photography books in my local libraries and stumbled upon this one, that narrates the friendship between a vixen and two humans: the three met almost every day for a few months in a specific point in the woods, and from there they walked together, with the humans observing the behaviour of the animal and taking pictures. It is a fascinating narration, full of awe and respect for wildlife, and of incredible close-ups of the vixen.

Link to publisher’s page

As I have to give back the book in two days, I decided to draw a few portraits of the fox just now:

As usual, the first two sketches are a bit off. From the fifth onwards I got a better grasp of the typical marks that make the drawing look fox-like: the large ears (still, I made many of them too small), the white patch on the sides of the nose and cheeks with its sharp boundaries, the colour pattern, the black back of the ears, the pointy muzzle. I think the last portrait sums up that quite well. Her ears are really huge ๐Ÿ™‚

I’m getting hooked to this 10-sketch sessions, I’ll post more of them with new species – if you have preferences just leave them a comment below!

Drawing update: dog sketches

Yesterday I visited a new library in the city, and was very happy to find a lot of books about drawing and painting, as well as great collections of animal pictures. I went there with the goal of drawing ten heads of a given animal species, and I picked two books about dogs with high-quality pictures. Here are the outcomes:

Dog sketches

You can see each sketch as a single picture on my Flickr share. Overall I find that the drawing session was worth it: I started with somewhat flat and simple portraits, then understood more and more about the subjects and also worked faster. I think I’ll keep the suggestion to draw ten items per session, because I noticed how the first ones don’t look so good, and if I manage to draw more than five or six, I get at least three decent sketches. It was also useful to draw different dog breeds, with different proportions and fur length, and also test a few angles other than the front or 3/4 view. I have other pictures to copy from, so stay tuned for next update!

Drawing update: goats, sheep and lions’ noses

Here are a few studies I made this week: the first is about goats and sheep. I found a book of livestock breeds and decided to draw some of them. I found out that some sheep look like goats and vice versa, but chose to draw rather typical breeds to practice proportions and textures. Well, I tried… the sheep with black head and legs is a bit off, the back too high, maybe the head too large. I think I didn’t work on the proportions long enough, as I wanted to draw the details of the wool (and I find it came out great!)… Next time I also want to draw more horns, as the goats’ horns in particular have a peculiar section and therefore make funny spirals that look different at every angle. Sheep horns make more regular spirals.


The second set of sketches is about lions’ noses. In the library I found a great photography book on big cats (Raubkatzen: wild und faszinierend) and could easily examine quite small details. I decided to make a kind of plot and position noses according to the angles of the head:


Next time (next species in my list will likely be another big cat, or the fox) I will make a plot with axes meeting in the center of the page, so that I can draw noses pointing to the left or pointing upwards. There are otherwise too many pictures I couldn’t use, or had to mirror during drawing (and it’s really too difficult for me now).

That’s it! Stay tuned for more updates ๐Ÿ™‚

Drawing update: mammal heads and faces, seals, horse muzzles

Some time ago I watched John Muir Law’s lesson on drawing mammal heads and faces, sketched along and took notes:

Along the lesson John gives ideas for drawing tasks that make you practice what he explained, for example “draw 10 heads and faces of the species of your choice within a week of the lesson”, “draw 10 ears of the species of your choice”. I was a bit cold about this kind of homework, but I discovered that it made me observe better, and remember the concepts better too.

As first homework I chose to draw heads of two seal species: grey seal and harbour seal. I found a book in the library, “Robben an Nord- und Ostseekรผste”, that presents the two species, and features high-quality pictures. There was an extra challenge, as the description of many pictures did not mention the species, and this made me observe them with even more attention. I drew seal portraits on two pages, one for each species.

Grey seals

Harbour seals

Another homework I picked was “draw 10 noses of a species of your choice”. I chose horses, first because they are my favourite animal, and second because I have never drawn decent horse muzzles. I first thought that ten muzzles would be too much, that I would get tired after the first five. On the contrary, after the first attempts I noticed that I was nailing increasingly more details, seeing more in three dimensions, and getting the proportions and shades right. My favourite muzzle is the ninth, from the picture of an Arab horse.


For the next tasks I have found a book about foxes, with a lot of pictures! I’ll keep you posted on the drawings I’ll make – spoiler alert: one homework is “draw one page of a species’ ears” ๐Ÿ™‚

Visiting a luthier

Wateau, a luthier specialised in guitars, moved in my extended neighborhood around a year ago. Since then, I have been quite curious about his work, and finally had the chance to visit his worshop thanks to the European Artistic Crafts Days.


I was the first visitor to come for the open day, and Mathieu guided me through the workshop, explaining the functioning of odd tools and giving me information about guitar construction techniques. Then a few clients arrived and while he was performing a few fixes and tuning of their instruments I looked around, searching a good subject for a sketch.

I finally decided to draw the press that Mathieu built himself, and that is used to bend the wood of the sides of a guitar. I somehow didn’t save the picture of that tool, but only the one of the drawing:


The press works by appling heat to flexible metal plates, between which the soaked wood is placed, and by progressively bending the wood in the shape of a half-guitar template (that is a removable part of this tool).

It took around 20 minutes to sketch it, including a quite long phase of observation. It is definitely an odd machine with a lot of parts and it was quite difficult to choose where to start! But Mathieu has been patient and let me sit on one of the tall chairs while he cut wood parts for guitar necks and cleaned one of his workstations. It was pleasant to share a silent moment with each one focused on independent things. I found it remarkable, because it is usually the result of a longer acquaintance, but I’m experiencing it more and more often with like-minded people whom I just met. I plan to ask him to pay another visit, so that I can sketch a few more subjects, and enjoy the atmosphere of the workshop. Stay tuned for more craftsy posts!



Value study: kitchen chair

Yesterday I wanted to draw, after a week of total break. I walked around the house in search for an interesting subject and decided to draw a part of a kitchen chair, that had a nice combination of lights and shades.

I tried to remember the explanations and tips given by John Muir Laws in his workshop about colour and value, namely nailing the value of a given part of the drawing rather than focusing on colour. I translate it as getting the shades right, by guessing the black component of the colour of that area. I’m not sure if this is technically correct, but it is a good approximation. Another source for a cool explanation of value, hue and contrast is this colourful post from Tin Can Knits.

I’m quite satisfied with the light areas of the top of the chair and the contrast with the dark background, while I think that the rest of the drawing is not as realistic. My drawing is more the effect of starting the shading from the top of the drawing and progressing one patch at a time. This has the risk of drifting values, especially in a large drawing. I think I can do better by doing a longer observation phase before starting any shading, so that I will keep track of areas with the same value. Another help can come from a black and white preview made with a phone/camera.

Further tips are welcome!