How to Draw Animals
Where to Begin?
Drawing animals can be a daunting feat if you've never tried before, or have never made any serious attempts, but it can be fairly easy once you break down the generalized appearance. Most animals you will attempt to draw are all composed of the same basic anatomy structures - skeleton, muscle, and skin, and will all share the same basic placement of limbs, tails, and obviously heads (I would hope).
The handy little picture to the right shows you the absolute simplest idea of a bone structure for any mammal you may want to draw, of no particular species. The dotted line is a visual marker emphasizing the plane at which the knee and elbow are in relative relation. To the right is a human counterpart as reference, to visualize the simplest similarities between us and animals.
Though it will vary by species, it is good to keep this basic structure in mind when drawing animals. It is especially important to remember the placement of the elbow and knee. Animal limbs do not simply sprout from the scapula and pelvis and shoot directly down to earth. There are multiple joints!
I believe the skeleton to be the most important thing to consider when you are first figuring out how to draw. The bone placement of an animal defines and limits the motion of the limbs, neck, and back, and each species is different. A horse's back is thick and straight, and allows limited flexibility, whereas a rabbit's is decidedly curved, and a cat's is flexible all around.
It is important to study the skeletal structure of each individual species you are attempting to recreate. Horses are very different from dogs, and dogs are quite different from cats.
When drawing skeletons, reference is necessary! It definitely helps if you have bones on hand to inspect, such as those found in your school's science lab, but if not, online images are fine. It may help for you to visualize the bones at different angles, so try to use multiple images to refer to when drawing. If details frustrate you, ignore them. You can start out simple with stick-figure-esque lines until you are comfortable with the basic shape of each bone.
It helps me when I draw fast, because when I draw slow, I get caught up in the details and I drive myself bonkers with all my pesky perfectionist preferences. But when I speed sketch, I simply scribble the basic elements of the core skeletal system (skull, spine, ribcage, scapula, and pelvis), and then I sketch out the limbs (humerus and radius, femur and tiba). Ignore the meticulous bone details, instead focus your attention on the placement. Where does the scapula attach? Where does the femur attach?
The end result is a faceless, genderless creature, but it breathes of motion, and carries with it a better understanding of its anatomy. This is the absolute key to drawing animals!
As important as the musculature of an animal is, I find it to be less so than the skeleton. Very few animals will display a fine, muscled appearance, because most animals are covered with fur that hides their contours. Even most cats, who often times have short fur, do not display as much tone as you might expect from looking at an image of their muscle layout.
Muscles come into play most importantly when drawing very leans animals such as horses, pit bulls, and greyhounds. These animals are sleek furred and are bred to have a physically fit appearance.
Compared to human art, which relies heavily on muscle anatomy, drawing animals may not necessarily require the same extensive knowledge. But it is still important to have a generalized idea of what goes where! In the same manner of the skeleton, study the musculature structure for each individual animal you plan to tackle. Some animals, such as cats, have less pronounced muscles, whereas dogs will have more, and horses will have the most.
Practice, Practice, Practice!
And Voila! Those are the basics to animal anatomy! By utilizing the skeletal structure,and applying your knowledge of musculature contours, you hold in your hand...or brain, rather, everything you need to know about animal anatomy. By utilizing references whenever available and sketching regularly, you will come to understand the movement of your subjects and thus fulfill the subject of your art.
As with most things in life, practice makes perfect. There is little chance of you beginning your first attempts at animal art and coming away completely satisfied. In fact, most artists are never 100% satisfied with their work.
Drawing is like a muscle. The more you work at it, the stronger it becomes. There are even excercises you can do to help it improve! As mentioned above, it helps me personally when I draw fast through means of speed sketching, but there are many other things one can do. This website lists a few. Another simple, helpful thing that may help you is to draw your sketches with a pen rather than a pencil. Many people that start out drawing will rely heavily on the pencil's eraser, because they are embarrassed, unhappy, or even furious at the misshapen lines they've created. But when using a pen, you focus more on what is important - moving on! I feel it is important to wean one's self off of the eraser. It is nothing but a crutch.
Your hand will steady, your mind will focus, and your talent will improve, if only you practice with frequency. Many artists will set aside 30 minutes or an hour a day just to sketch. Even doodling in class (while I don't recommend ignoring your teachers), will prove beneficial over time.