How to Start a Miniature Horse Drawing

Today, I want to show you how to start a miniature horse drawing. That is, a miniature drawing of a horse.

The original drawing is an ACEO, 3-1/2 inches wide by 2-1/2 inches tall.

How to Start a Miniature Horse Drawing

Officially, it also falls into the miniature art category. I’m not certain ACEOs are as popular as they once were, but they’re a great way to practice a new method or technique. If you like finishing artwork quickly with colored pencil, ACEOs are perfect for that, as well.

However, you can download the line drawing here and make this project whatever size you like! I’ve shaded some of the middle values on the head and shoulder to make the highlights easier to see.

You can also download the reference photo here. The photo is a scan from a print photo, so it isn’t the best quality, but it includes all the information you need for this project unless you like hyper-realism!

A Bit about ACEOs

ACEO stands for Art Cards, Editions and Originals, also known as Art Trading Cards (ATCs) because they are the size of a typical trading card.

Size is the only qualification. Artwork must be 3-1/2 inches by 2-1/2.

ACEO/ATCs can be created with any medium on any support, and in any style. They can be originals or reproductions. I’ve used oils, colored pencils, ballpoint pen, graphite, and acrylics to make landscape, abstract, and equine-theme ACEOs.

ACEO horse painting in oils.

I like the size because I can use scrap pieces of paper, canvas or other material to paint or draw on. Another benefit is being able to toss a drawing that doesn’t work.

And that makes ACEOs ideal for trying new materials, new mediums, new techniques, or new subjects.

Colored Pencils and Miniature Art

Colored pencils are ideal for miniature art. Their size and shape make them a natural for producing detail in miniature and the size of miniature art is perfect for colored pencil.

Colored pencils are my favorite medium because they allow a high-degree of detail and I can complete some ACEO-sized pieces in an hour or less.

Now, time for the tutorial!

How to Start a Miniature Horse Drawing

This is my reference. I did a lot of composing with the camera, but also began work by cropping the digital image to the proportions of an ACEO.

Start a miniature horse drawing reference photo.

To transfer the line drawing, I coated the back with a graphite pencil. The soft lead I used required some cleanup afterward, but I got a nice, crisp drawing without leaving impressions on the paper. At this size, that’s a plus.

By the way, I’m drawing on Rising Stonehenge 90lb paper in white. You can use your favorite white paper as long as it’s not too toothy.

This week, I’ll show you how to do the umber under drawing, then follow up with the color glazes next week.

The Umber Under Drawing

I chose to start with an umber under drawing because that’s the best way I’ve found to get the shadows, values and details right.

Working without color is also a little bit faster.

The Background

I chose Prismacolor Verithin Dark Umber because that line of pencil has a thinner, harder lead. It covers paper well without filling the tooth. It’s also easier to erase and correct than softer pencils. You can use Prismacolor Premier Dark Umber, or any similar medium-value brown.

Layer color unevenly over the background. The background will be blurry green, so don’t put the same amount of Dark Umber over every part of it. One option is to leave the background lighter around the horse’s head, and darker along the edges, but you can try other backgrounds, too.

Use hatching and cross-hatching strokes and layering to create variations in values.

Since I was creating my own background, I drew a random pattern of light and dark areas, but kept the background around the horse’s head and especially around the ears, light to accent the horse.

The Horse

I’ve learned the hard way that if I don’t save the highlights, I tend to work right over them. It’s impossible to recover nice, clean highlights once you’ve shaded over them if you’re using traditional drawing methods.

So the first step to drawing the horse is lightly outlining some of the more prominent highlights (outlines are still visible on the shoulder.)

Use directional strokes that follow the contours of the head and neck everywhere except the eye.

For the eye, use circular strokes to fill in the shape as completely as possible. Work around the lashes and use only a few layers around the lower edge of the eyeball, where there will be reflected light, while adding more layers to darken the rest of the eye.

Start a miniature horse drawing.

Except in the eye, use light pressure. When drawing the eye, begin with light pressure and work up to medium light pressure.

Other Notes

Since this piece is so small, there isn’t much room for fine details. Don’t fret too much over all the details you see in the reference photo.

I used a dry fine point ballpoint pen to impress my signature into the paper before starting to draw. Even with a single color applied with two or three light layers, the signature is quite clear. You don’t have to sign your art, or you can use a light Verithin (or other pencil.)

This is an ideal way to sign small format or miniature drawings, especially if you lay down a lot of color and don’t use solvents. When you use a solvent, the signature will be filled in to some extent, but may still be visible.

You may need a couple of rounds of shading the background and/or the horse to finish the umber under drawing. The key thing to remember is to make sure there is a clear distinction between the horse and the background. If the horse doesn’t stand out at the under drawing stage, it probably won’t stand out even after adding color. Contrast is important. Make sure the dark values are dark enough and the light values are light enough.

Now You Know how to Start a Miniature Horse Drawing

If you like, practice on a few more. Or do this one again and save the best one for next week.

If you’re feeling really adventurous, you can try this method on other subjects. Just remember to have fun!

Next week, we’ll finish with color glazing.

Ask Carrie a Question

2 Replies to “How to Start a Miniature Horse Drawing”

  1. Hi, Carrie!
    I’ve just recently started using colored pencils and find your tutorials very helpful! I discovered another way to transfer a drawing: I use an Ipad projector-app called Camera Lucida. It helps me determine where the important items are, such as horizon or facial details. Have you ever tried this?
    Thanks for your great tutorials!
    Peter Olthof, from the Netherlands

    1. Thank you, Peter, and welcome to colored pencils!

      I am familiar with the Camera Lucida, but only by name, so thank you for sharing your experience with this new app.

      A lot of artists use other forms of projectors for transferring line drawings. Since I’ve never done so, I can’t offer much in the way of personal advice!

      So thank you again for reading and for leaving a comment!

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