Do you struggle with learning how to draw realistic dog hair? The challenge differs depending on the breed of dog, but even with smooth-haired dogs, many of us struggle with drawing hair.
Here’s the reader question to get us started.
My question is, how do I learn to sketch the fur on the body of a dog to look realistic? This is my last attempt from your tutorial on drawing golden retrievers and thank you for that. I am completely new to this. Thanks, Delma
The tutorial to which Delma referred is called How to Draw a Golden Retriever. It’s one of several tutorials Peggy Osborne put together as a guest blogger. If you haven’t seen it before and want to draw a Golden Retriever, I encourage you to take a look.
Now let’s see how to help Delma draw realistic dog hair.
How to Draw Realistic Dog Hair
Delma provided a photo of her drawing, which I include here with her permission.
Delma has done a good job with this so far. The eyes are beautiful and life-like, and draw the attention they should.
But Delma’s portrait isn’t finished, yet.
I cropped the image, then printed it on Bristol Vellum so I could use colored pencils on it. I used Prismacolors, but Delma can do the same thing with her favorite pencils if they aren’t Prismacolor.
Glazing for Color Saturation
The first thing I did was glaze Prismacolor Light Umber over the upper right quarter of the background. I started with circular strokes, followed by alternating layers of horizontal and vertical layers. For each layer, I used a sharp pencil and light pressure.
I didn’t do the entire background so you could see the difference a few additional layers make, even with light pressure.
Next, I looked at the reference photo in the tutorial and chose the lightest color to glaze over most of the dog’s hair. I layered Goldenrod over all of the dog, but used different strokes based on the nature of the hair. On the face, where the hair is short, I held the pencil in a normal grip and used short directional strokes.
Where the hair is longer (the chest, back, and ears,) I held the pencil in a more horizontal grip and shaded color with the side of the exposed pigment core. The pencil had quite a long point, so I could make broad strokes following the direction of hair growth.
I glazed Goldenrod over all of the dog except a few places where there are brighter highlights, and over the black areas.
After that, I glazed a slightly darker, redder color (Prismacolor Sienna Brown) over the darker parts of the hair. I used similar strokes with this color that I used with the previous color. Long, directional strokes where the hair is longer, and shorter strokes where the hair is shorter.
I worked around the lightest areas to preserve the lighter, golden tones in those places.
The purpose for glazing is to fill the tooth of the paper. Filling the paper’s tooth makes your colors look brighter and livelier because there’s less paper color showing through. Since I’m using Bristol for this tutorial, it only took a few glazes. The rougher the paper, the more layers it will take.
Glazing is also an excellent blending tool. It smooths out textures and too-bold pencil strokes without covering details. Many artists use glazing for blending layers after every few layers of regular color application.
Building Depth in the Hair with Directional Strokes
The next step was adding layers of directional strokes to create the look of hair. I mixed the same three colors (Light Umber, Goldenrod, and Sienna Brown.) I also matched the strokes I used to each area.
For example, in the chest, I used long, curving strokes to establish the length and shape of the hair.
In the face, I used shorter strokes because the hair is shorter. It’s also straighter, so I used straighter strokes.
Over the nose, where the hair is very short, I used circular strokes.
Always draw in the direction of hair growth. Most of my work in this step was drawn “from the skin out.” Around the edges, however, I stroked background color opposite the direction of hair growth in order to separate hair groups and get the look I wanted.
This is also a good way to add darker details “under” overlapping lighter colored hair.
You can push this method as far as you wish and as far as your paper will allow.
Three Things to Remember About Drawing Realistic Dog Hair
Drawing hair is one of the more difficult subjects portrait artists face, whether they draw human or pet portraits.
If you remember the following three tips, you’ll find it much easier to draw realistic hair of any type.
Don’t Draw Every Hair
Don’t draw every single hair. Instead, draw groups of hair. Look for the larger hair groups and draw those groups. You’ll end up with more realistic hair this way.
And less frustration.
Focus on the Edges
You also don’t have to draw hair in every place.
If you draw enough detail along the edges between different colors and different values, the eye will “fill in the rest.” This detail illustrates what I mean. I’m still at an early stage with this piece, but you can see how I’ve used directional strokes to define hair along the edges between highlight and middle value and layered smooth color in most other places.
Don’t Stop Too Soon
The final point I’d like to make is based on something Delma mentioned in her question. “I’m completely new at this,” she said.
So whatever she thinks of her art, she’s done a fabulous job with a difficult subject. When I first started with colored pencils, I’d been painting portraits of horses for many years, so I already knew my subject. I just had to learn a new medium.
But I struggled with the same thing that has frustrated Delma. Drawings that didn’t look real enough!
My problem was the same problem Delma has discovered. I stopped before my drawings were finished!
The solution to this problem is easy. When you think you’ve finished a drawing, work on it for another day. You’ll be amazed at the difference. I was!
How to Draw Realistic Dog Hair
Remember, this project is based on a tutorial by Peggy Osborne. Her method for drawing realistic dog hair is different from mine.
Delma would definitely benefit from going through Peggy’s tutorial again, step-by-step, and drawing over the hair again. Every layer will fill in the paper a little more, and create more detail and depth.
And more realistic looking hair.
I love all your tutorials and have learned so much
Thank you, Mardy!
I’ve learned so much from your excellent tutorials, Carrie, and simply love your work. I would like to have you critique my animal portrait work when you ever have a spare moment.