Drawing horses is a rewarding endeavor, but it can also be difficult and challenging. They come in so many colors and there are so many ways to draw them. In this full-length direct drawing tutorial shows you how to draw a palomino horse from beginning to end.
The Direct Drawing Method Explained
The direct drawing method is a method of drawing in which the first layers are the same colors as the final layers. You develop value and color at the same time, layer by layer.
It’s neither better nor worse than any other drawing method, but be faster.
When to Consider the Direct Drawing Method
You can, of course, use the direct drawing method all the time. Many artists do, and they produce fantastic work.
If you love color above all else, it’s an ideal method for you.
If you prefer working with just a few layers, and tend to apply color with heavier pressures from the start, it can also be an effective way to draw.
The only real drawback to this method of drawing is that you have to make color choices as well as value choices from the beginning. That’s why I prefer either the umber under drawing method or the complementary drawing method. It’s easier to work out values first, then glaze color.
But there is no right way all the time, and I often use the direct method if I need to finish something in a hurry. The weekly drawings, plein air drawings, and color studies are all drawn with this method.
Direct Drawing Tutorial – Palomino Horse
About the Project
The subject of this portrait is a yearling filly by the Arab stallion Fire N Ice. She’s a striking color and has that “look”.
I chose a colored paper for this portrait and selected a color that provides a base for both the filly and the background.
I used Prismacolor Soft Core pencils, so the color names will be for those pencils. If you use a different brand, match colors to the reference photo.
The paper is Stonehenge Natural. Any light color of Stonehenge can also be used, as can any other good drawing paper. If you use a different color, your results will vary.
Preparing the Reference Photo
Step 1: Put a grid on the reference photo.
The first step for any portrait is preparing the reference photo. I put a grid over the part of the photo I want to draw using Photoshop on a Mac G4 computer, but most photo editing programs also work.
Step 2: Print the grid without the reference photo.
This will be the grid you draw on. The advantage to printing a grid without the reference photo is that you don’t need to draw the grid by hand. That’s a big time saver if you have trouble with technical drawings, as I do.
You can also print the reference photo with the grid if you wish.
TIP: If your finished piece will be larger than your printer can handle, reduce the drawing grid to fit a regular sheet of printer paper, make the line drawing, then enlarge as much as necessary.
Creating an Accurate Line Drawing
Step 1: Rough in the basic shapes first.
Begin by drawing the big shapes first. You can sketch in enough of the details to get them in the right place if you wish, but the focus here is drawing correct proportions and getting the subject correctly placed in the picture plane.
Step 2: Add details and refine the big shapes.
Refine the drawing on the drawing grid. Make sure to refer frequently to the reference photo.
If you’re working from a digital image, enlarge so you see only the parts your’re working on. Draw that area, then move to the next.
Step 3: Make a fresh copy of the drawing on tracing paper.
When the drawing has advanced as much as possible, transfer it to tracing paper and redraw it. Continue to make improvements as you transfer the drawing.
Step 4: Refine the drawing from the back of the tracing paper.
Turn the tracing over and make corrections and adjustments on the back. Also flip the reference photo on the computer.
Working in reverse this way helps you see and correct any natural biases in your drawing. I tend to draw with a right-handed bias. Most of the time, that doesn’t matter very much, but for portraits like this one, it can lead to noticeable distortion.
TIP: Use a colored pencil on the back, so you can see the corrections more easily when you turn the paper over again.
Step 5: Correct and repeat as often as necessary.
A final round of revisions and corrections on the front and the drawing is ready to be transferred to the art paper.
When the drawing meets with your satisfaction, make a fresh line drawing on a new sheet of tracing paper. Transfer the finished line drawing to your drawing paper by using a light box, large window, or transfer paper.
First Color Layers
Step 1: Begin with the darkest values.
Outline the darkest values with Sienna Brown and light pressure. Make them dark enough to see, but be careful not to impress the line into the paper. Shade the same color lightly into that area. Use a directional stroke to mimic hair growth patterns, or use a stroke that produces an even color layer.
In some areas, I applied color fairly heavily and used the pencil held upright, with a blunt tip, and tight, circular strokes to get an even color layer.
In other areas, I used a sharp point and applied color in the direction of hair growth with short, crisp strokes.
The highlights appear as darker colors are applied around them, so I outlined and worked around the highlights.
I also layered White on the blaze even though it didn’t show up very well on the light ivory colored paper I’d chosen.
Step 2: Lightly glaze color over the rest of the horse.
I glazed all parts of the filly except the blaze, brightest highlights, and the areas inside the ears and around the muzzle with Sand. I started with a sharp pencil, but continued to use it as the tip blunted, working with directional and circular strokes holding the pencil upright and with directional strokes applied with the side of the pencil.
When I finished the body, I used the same color to begin adding darker values to the mane and forelock.
Step 3: Add color the facial features.
I began work on the eyes and muzzle, outlining each area with the base color (French Grey 50%) in order to establish the lights and darks and the shapes of otherwise vague areas. Colors I used were Black, Peacock Blue, Dark Umber, Burnt Ochre, French Grey 50%.
I then darkened the eye to bring out the highlight and reflected blues, then worked on the lids and the surrounding face. I ended up working throughout the head, adding middle range value with Burnt Ochre.
All of the work was done with sharp pencils and short strokes, usually in the direction of either hair growth or body contours. In the jowl and a couple other areas, I cross hatched.
I also impressed some flyaway hairs around the head and face using my favorite impressing tool, an old Zebra ball point pen with no ink and a fine point.
Second Color Layers
Step 1: Add a warm glaze over all of the horse.
I layered Yellow Ochre over all of the horse, including the muzzle and parts of the mane. The only areas I worked around were the blaze and the brightest highlights on the face, neck and shoulder.
Step 2: Begin developing more detail.
Beginning with the offside ear, I began defining shadows and middle tones with Sienna Brown. I outlined the bolder shadows, such as the one inside the offside ear, then filled them in. For the shadows with softer lines, I either outlined them very lightly (the left side of the upper blaze) or shaded very lightly to an undefined edge (the right side of the upper blaze.
I used pressure of 2 to 3 and sharpened my pencil frequently Ideally, pencils should be kept needle sharp and should be sharpened every few minutes.
For the shadow inside the offside ear, I layered Yellow Chartreuse to see what affect a yellow-green had on the tone of the color. There was some change, but not as much as is called for. I’ll have to use a darker green for the areas I want to tone down.
Step 3: Begin adding background colors.
I began work on the background with a layer of Limepeel hatched and cross-hatched in short, parallel, diagonal strokes. I also used horizontal, vertical and circular strokes.
Step 4: Add more color to the background.
The next color was Prismacolor True Blue, which I applied with a variety of strokes throughout the background. Prismacolor Non Photo Blue was next layered over most of the background.
The addition of darker colors made the mane pop, but I couldn’t get a decent blend. So I worked over it with Faber-Castell Art Grip Light Blue. That color was a shade or two darker than Prismacolor Non Photo and it was much dryer. . The resulting color was a bit darker and a bit smoother. I worked in several directions with this color, even doing some shading along the edges in an attempt to even out the color.
Step 5: Tone down the colors if they get too bold.
Because greens can get very bold very fast, I next layered Prismacolor Light Umber over the background. I used light pressure to apply two layers of opposing diagonal strokes in a random pattern.
I also used a blunt tip, as you can see below. The tip of this pencil has two surfaces. The ‘long’ side, which you can see on the pencil itself, and a short side, which is visible in the pencil’s shadow. Between these two edges, I was able to apply broader, less sharply defined strokes and to create the ‘soft focus’ look I want for the background.
Step 6: More layers on the background.
Next, a few layers of Prismacolor Grass Green.
The only way these layers differed from what I did with Light Umber in the previous layers was that I worked more carefully around the filly. I also used circular strokes in some areas and I sharpened the pencil once or twice.
I next layered Prismacolor Yellow Chartreuse over the top half of the background and Prismacolor Copenhagen Blue over the bottom half. The purpose of using two colors was to begin creating a cooler, darker lower background with a warmer, lighter upper background, thus creating a little bit of depth without adding a lot of detail.
I applied each color with a variety of strokes ranging from hatching and crosshatching to tight circular strokes. I used medium pressure for both colors and kept the pencils as sharp as possible.
When both colors were in place, I glazed Copenhagen Blue over all of the background, followed by Yellow Chartreuse. I finished with a final layer of Yellow Chartreuse applied with a blunt point and medium heavy pressure over the top half.
The greens were still a little too bold, so I layered Prismacolor Tuscan Red over most of the background. To create brighter color and focus attention on the subject, which is this filly’s face, I didn’t tone down the greens above her poll, around her ears or near the off side eye. I used medium light pressure (handwriting pressure) and a sharp pencil. I also worked primarily in diagonal crosshatching strokes.
See the top half of the background in the image below.
Step 7: Finish the background.
Finishing work on the background began with Prismacolor Peacock Green and Yellow Ochre and a colorless blender (also by Prismacolor). Using heavy pressure, I applied Peacock Green or Yellow Ochre in each area. In some areas, I layered colors; glazing Peacock Green first and burnishing with Yellow Ochre or glazing with Yellow Ochre and burnishing with Peacock Green. Since the burnishing color affects the overall color, I was able to create subtle gradations in color using this method.
I burnished every area with the colorless blender, then added a final glaze of Peacock Green to finish it.
The portion of the background that is finished is the lower half in this illustration.
I continued layering and burnishing Peacock Green and Yellow Ochre throughout the background. I burnished each area with the colorless blender, then I used rubbing alcohol and a cotton swab to further blend and smooth the background.
Once the paper was dry again, I touched up a couple remaining areas with Peacock Green using the side of a sharpened pencil and light pressure to blur some of the transitions that were too bold.
That was helpful but didn’t completely resolve the issue, so I layered Prismacolor Dark Green over much of the background. In the areas I wanted to smooth out, I used the side of the pencil and light pressure. In other areas, particularly in the corners and the background around the mane, I used the tip of the pencil and heavier pressure.
To finish, I polished most of the background with a piece of paper towel folded two or three times.
Third Color Layers
Step 1: Start finishing the head.
Beginning with the ears, I layered Terra Cotta into the shadows and darker mid tones. The reference (which I enlarged and viewed on the computer) showed a lot of red tones in the shadows of the mane, so I layered Terra Cotta into those areas, as well.
Well defined shadows inside the ears, under the mane, under the jowl were outlined first with a sharp pencil and light pressure. I also adjusted contours where necessary.
Those shapes were then filled in with a sharp pencil and short, closely spaced strokes. In most areas, I used a combination of strokes to get even coverage.
With the less defined shadows and in the places where shadow blended into mid-tone, I used directional strokes, light pressure, and a sharp pencil, but didn’t outline the shapes.
In the areas where hair growth is visible, I used short, directional strokes to create the look of hair growth patterns.
Step 2: Darken shadows and refine details.
I next used Dark Green to darken the darkest shadows in the ears, under the head and mane. I also worked around the muzzle, which had heretofore been ignored. Again, I outlined well defined shapes and filled them in. In the remaining shapes, I added color without outlining.
I used green at this stage to add darkness to the reds and golds without making them too brassy. Any cool color would have worked. My colors of preference are either Indigo Blue or Black Grape.
For this drawing, I chose Dark Green because the background is green. The color will not be obvious in the horse, but having it in the mix will create color harmony.
Finally, I layered Dark Umber over the same areas and along the bottom of the lower neck to warm up those cool greens.
Step 3: Deepen value and color saturation.
The final phase now begins; deepening color and saturation, broadening values, and building details on previous work. If I’ve done things right, this is the fun part!
To begin, I layered Prismacolor Yellow Ochre over most of the horse. The only areas I worked around were the bright highlights on the head and shoulder, the white blaze, and the strands of hair overlapping the forehead and neck.
I used the side of a very sharp pencil and light to medium pressure for most of this work, matching pressure to value. Light pressure in lighter value areas; heavier pressure in the darker areas.
In no area did I use heavy pressure. Right now, the goal is to layer color to build saturation, color, and value. I don’t know how many layers that will take, so I keep pressure light. This preserves the tooth of the paper as long as possible.
When working around the highlights, I used the point of the pencil and directional strokes to create softer edges.
Step 3: Fluff up the mane!
I also worked on the mane and forelock, adding warm middle tones to some areas and glazing Yellow Ochre over the darker shadows.
Step 4: Continue developing value and color, while adding detail.
Using very light strokes and working in the direction of hair growth, I layered Mediterranean Blue over the Neon Orange. I also stroked it into the mane in the shadowed areas using long strokes, and added a very light glaze to the muzzle and inside the ears using a blunt tip and tight, circular strokes.
Next, I layered Sienna Brown into the same areas using the same pressure and strokes.
Finally, I darkened the darkest shadows under the mane, along the throat and inside the ears with Dark Umber, which I applied with heavy pressure (not quite burnishing).
The Final Layers
Step 1: Glaze a middle value over the horse.
I began the final phase with Prismacolor Burnt Ochre, which I used as a middle tone. Using light to medium pressure, I layered Burnt Ochre over the dark middle tones throughout the filly, beginning with her body and working my way forward and upward.
I sharpened the pencil frequently and used a sharp tip to create the texture of hair and to work around some of the highlights.
But I also used a more blunt tip to lay down even layers of color with little or no visible pencil strokes.
In the mane and forelock, I kept the pencil sharp and used the tip to darken the middle tones and shadows and begin defining hair masses.
Step 2: Glaze the horse with a warm color.
Next, I layered Goldenrod over all of the same areas and into the highlights over the shoulder and along the neck, where they are not quite as bright. I used light to medium light pressure and a variety of strokes ranging from short, directional strokes with a sharp pencil to broad strokes using the side of the pencil and following the contours of muscle and body.
As I look at it here, it’s starting to look complete. There are a few details yet to work out and I’d like a little more saturation in some areas.
But overall, it’s looking very good.
Step 1: Begin finishing work.
I began finishing the portrait one area at a time, starting with the muzzle.
I used French Grey 20%, 50% and 70%; Blush and Light Blush; Dark Brown, Indigo Blue, Light Umber, Black, Cloud Blue, and White. I worked out the details of shadows and highlights, the shapes of nostrils and mouth, and the markings. Once the shapes were established, I alternated layers of color with burnishing. Most of the burnishing was done with White. The shadows were burnished with Light Umber or French Grey 70%, then glazed with black.
I also worked the background around the muzzle, softening and manipulating edges.
I used the same basic method – layer, burnish, layer, burnish – to work up into the face. For this part of the work, my fistful of pencils included White, Cream, Sand, Yellow Ochre, Pumpkin Orange, Mineral Orange, Light Umber, the French Greys, Cloud Blue, and Black. Since I’d already put a lot of work into this part of the portrait, my attention was given to smoothing out color, punching up highlights and fine-tuning details.
I used the same colors to do the ears, which proved to be the most difficult part of the portrait.
The forelock was detailed with touches of Sienna Brown, Yellow Ochre, Indigo Blue and Dark Brown Layered and White in the highlights.
I used the same colors I used in the face to finish the neck and shoulders. I concentrated on getting the highlights, middle tones, and shadows right, then burnished with Cloud Blue in the reflected light areas, Sand in the middle tones, and White and/or Cream in the highlights. In some areas, I used a colorless blender, but I much prefer the look of color burnished with color.
I used the same combination of colors and the same layer-burnish process to finish the neck, the shoulder, and the body.
At this point, it’s all a matter of examining the painting from edge to edge, cleaning up edges, smoothing out color, and making whatever other adjustments need to be made.
This is the finished portrait.