A few weeks ago, I showed you how to prepare a digital photo for use as a reference photo. Another article shows how to put a grid on a digital image using Photoshop.

But what comes next?

Drawing a horse, of course!

How to Draw a Horse Using a Grid

Getting Ready to Draw

Here’s my reference photo with the grid in place. I chose red for the grid because it shows up the best on all the colors in this image.

How to Draw a Horse Using a Grid, Step 1
I print the grid without the image on a blank sheet of paper and use this for the initial drawing. If the drawing is 8.5 by 14 inches or smaller, I print the grid full size. The grids for larger drawings are printed at a reduced scale.

I printed the drawing grid on 24lb inkjet paper, which is smooth enough for a good detail drawing and sturdy enough to allow a lot of erasing.

It’s also an inexpensive substitute for most drawing papers.

How to Draw a Horse Using a Grid

Step 1

Rough in the large shapes. Concentrate on size and placement of each part of the drawing relative to the other parts. Don’t worry about detail; that will come later.

Start with the largest shape first and add other shapes around it. The largest shape is usually the horse. Everything else is backdrop.

Don’t be afraid of changing the composition, even if you did compose the image with the camera and/or have cropped or resized the reference photo before you started drawing. Cameras capture everything with equal importance. To the lens of a camera, the horse is no more important than the fences or the trees in the background.

Eliminate details that complicate the composition or distract from the subject. Make background items smaller or move them around if that helps your composition.

For example, in the drawing below, you’ll notice that I simplified the fences to the left of the horse. There are now four, simple rails instead of the confusion of shapes in that area.

How to Draw a Horse Using a Grid Step 2

I also moved the fence post from its position beyond the horse and under the muzzle to beyond the shoulder. I made that change because it’s less of a distraction in that position, but I chose not to remove it altogether to anchor the fence.

The lead chain has also been removed and I replaced the undefined shape over the horse’s back with a small tree.

Step 2

Build on the shapes to draw the smaller shapes and define details. I like to work from the gridded reference photo on the computer so I can enlarge the photo to focus on whatever area I’m drawing.

I also generally start with either the eye or the muzzle. It’s important to get the eyes right as soon as possible, but it’s often easier to start drawing with larger shapes, like the muzzle.

Make the drawing as accurate as possible, working from section to section.

To help clarify shapes that are confusing as a line drawing, add a little shading. Nostrils, eyes, ears are often easier to draw if you draw and shade the shadows in each area.

Darkening the outer edges of the subject can also set it apart from the background.

How to Draw a Horse Using a Grid Step 3

Step 3

The last thing I do on the drawing grid is outline the highlights and darker shadows. For this, I use a lighter, sometimes broken line. I don’t want to confuse the drawing by having all the lines the same thickness and darkness.

I also do a little shading to define the horse. Sometimes, it’s easier to shade than to draw a line, especially in areas with the gradation is very subtle.

I also use directional strokes to suggest three dimensional form. This, too, helps establish the subject as a form in physical space.

Use the methods that help you get the best drawing you can. With colored pencil, there isn’t a lot of room for correction once you start doing color, so you need to get the drawing as accurate as possible now.

How to Draw a Horse Using a Grid Step 4

Step 4

Once I’ve done everything I can with the drawing grid, I tape a piece of tracing over the drawing and transfer the drawing to the tracing paper. This is where a mechanical pencil really shines. It doesn’t get blunt, so every line is exactly as dark or thick as I want.

You’ll notice that the darkest lines are the outside edges of the shapes. Interior lines are thinner or lighter or dotted or dashed or a combination. Since I don’t want to shade now, I used this variety of lines to tell me which edges are hard and which are soft.

How to Draw a Horse Using a Grid Step 5

This detail (below) is a perfect illustration of how this method works.

I’ve also used the direction, length, and shape of lines to convey an idea of the shape of the horse’s forehead, nose, and cheek. Again, you can do this if it helps you. If not, don’t use it.

How to Draw a Horse Using a Grid Step 6

One thing I notice now is that I forgot to draw the buckle behind the eye. That’s a simple thing to fix, so it’s not a big deal. But it does illustrate the importance of making sure you’ve transferred every part of the drawing before you separate the original drawing and the drawing on tracing paper!

Step 5

Once the drawing is the way you want it on the tracing paper, turn the paper over and review the drawing from the back. You can also flip the reference photo horizontally if it’s on your computer.

How to Draw a Horse Using a Grid Step 7

Looking at the drawing and reference photo this way will give you a fresh look at your subject. There’s nothing like looking at something in reverse to see what mistakes you may have made. And if you happen to have a left- or right-hand bias—as I do—working on your drawing from the back will help compensate for the bias.

You can also hold the drawing up in front of a mirror if that works better.

You may not need to do much work this way. The red lines in this illustration show my corrections.

How to Draw a Horse Using a Grid Step 8

Generally, the more complex a design is, the more likely it is that you’ll have a lot of corrections.

It’s also more likely that you’ll need to do more than one round of front-back revisions. For some of my larger, more complicated portraits, I’ve worked a drawing through a couple of sheets of tracing paper while more basic designs such as this one require only one.

Step 6

When your drawing is satisfactory, mount a clean sheet of tracing over it and make a fresh drawing. This will be your transfer drawing. When you’ve finished with it, put it into storage. You don’t have to keep it beyond getting the artwork finished if you don’t want to, but I keep all of my drawings. Especially with portraits, I just never know when those line drawings might come in handy!

Here’s my final line drawing.

How to Draw a Horse Using a Grid Step 9

Before proceeding to the next step, I usually mount the drawing in a working mat of the proper size, then let it sit somewhere for a day or more so I can review it. This is my last chance to make corrections to the line drawing. When I’m convinced there are no further changes to be made, it’s ready to be transferred to good paper.

Related Articles