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How to Sketch a Dog

Learn how to sketch a dog from artist Rebecca Schweiger in this Howcast drawing tutorial.


We're going to talk about sketching a dog. For a lot of people, sketching can be intimidating. When we're sketching a dog, the most important thing is just to loosen up first. I'm using vine charcoal. I'm going to have what's called a kneaded gummy eraser, and then I really like having an eraser, just from a regular pencil. Before you even start sketching the dog, just start to loosen up with your charcoal. Make some lines; press hard, press soft, make some straight lines, some curvy lines, and just see what it feels like to even have the charcoal in your hand. It's very important to familiarize yourself with the materials.

When sketching a dog, I suggest always looking at a photo or some picture that can be your inspiration. What you want to look for are the basic shapes. As I look at the picture of this dog, I'm looking at his head, and I see that his head really is an oval shape. I really want to just look for the basics, I'm not concerned about any extra details and I'm not concerned if this looks exactly like the picture. The whole idea of drawing is to express yourself. I always say, "If you want it to look like a photograph, just take a photograph."

Here in the ears, you can see that it's almost like a half-circle. I'm just looking for the most basic shapes to start. The other ear, it's like another half-circle. As I'm working, I see the nose area almost like another circle. Right now, just putting together all these basic shapes. You can see the back of his body, it's almost like a straight line down. Where his leg is, again, just a straight line, and then a little curve, another little curve, and a straight line down.

As you are sketching you, will always make changes, you're always going to erase, you're always going to add to your drawing so don't be afraid of making mistakes; truly, there are no mistakes. Rally, all drawing is a series of straight lines and curving lines. Instead of thinking, "How do I draw a paw?" Start to break it down into here's a curved line, here's a straight line, here's another curved line, and then here's another big curve line, and then the other leg or paw. You notice I'm not concerned about it looking super-realistic; I'm not concerned about it looking like a photograph. I'm just focusing on almost an inch at a time. Is it a curved line or is it a straight line?

Now we can come back up, and this is where we start to make changes. This is where charcoal's terrific. Anytime you want to make a change, you just rub it out with your finger or you can always use your eraser. I'm going to come back up, start to sketch in the face with a little more detail. We have this circle, we have this oval, and we have these floppy ears, just these curves. Now we're going to look for, where is there a little straight line? Where is there a little curved line? Here's that little curved line, and then the cheekbone of the dog is just a straight line up. I'm always happy to use my eraser, I'm always happy to make changes. Then again, a little curved line around the eyebrow or the eye bone; it curves straight up. Then I notice with the ear, I'm just going to bring in that straight line. Instead of the straight line, now I can alter that line a little bit. It's almost like a wavy line. It's almost a line, like this. Then once again, the ear comes down; it's a straight line, there is a little curve. Then you have this big U-shape. Then it comes right around to the top of the dog's head. I'm going to come back to the other ear and bring in a little more detail.

It's always great to start very, very simple; very broad. Finding the big shapes, find the straight lines, finding the curvy lines, and not thinking too hard about, "What am I drawing? What is it supposed to look like?" You want to break it down to the simplest, simplest form, and then you can start to add some detail. Most importantly when it comes to drawing, you really want to focus on your own sense of self-expression. Everybody draws differently, and the whole goal of drawing and the whole goal of doing any type of art, is to have a place where you can relax and express yourself. You want to allow your own style to come in through this drawing.

I'm going to look at the eyes. They eyes really happen on this angle. Then the dog's face is also . . . from his head down to his nose, happening on an angle. Where I drew this very simple circle, I can wipe that away a little bit. I'm going to now, from his eyes to his nose, it almost makes a triangle, another very, very simple shape. You are always looking at, how can I create very simple shapes, and how can I draw in a way that is very comfortable and easy? People think drawing is so complicated. It's not. Everybody can draw a line. If you can't draw a straight line, as a lot of people say, can't draw a straight line, then don't draw a straight line, draw a curvy line. Everybody can draw a line, and that's all you need to do; one line at a time.

From the nose, here we go again; it's almost an upside-down V or the top of a triangle. Then the bottom, the jaw, once again, a straight line connected to a curvy line. Here's another curvy line. Then it's just the side of his, or her face goes straight up. We have the structure of the face down and we have some of the body. I'm just going to quickly sketch in the rest of the body. Then we are going to start talking about shading.

I'm going to start to just bring in a little bit of shading. The whole idea of shading is to bring in the dark tones and the light tones. The idea behind shading is that you create a sense of dimension; you make it feel 3-dimensional rather than 2-dimensional. All you have to do with a charcoal; press right on the paper. If you press hard, your shading's going to be dark. If you press very light, your shading will be lighter. If you want a lighter tone still, you can blend it in, or you can even use your eraser. You want to just play around with your charcoal.

We're looking for the darkest area of the dog. There is some darkness around the eyes. While you are bringing in shading, you're still just looking for shapes. It's nothing other than shapes, and almost like little dabs. You're just dabbing on the paper. The back of the dog is very dark, so I'm going to just shade it in. One trick with charcoal, you can always break your charcoal, and then use the side of the charcoal. It's a faster way to cover a whole area of anything that you're drawing. I'll blend it in a little just with my fingers, and maybe not everywhere, just maybe the back of the dog.

I'm going to look for any medium tones; not as dark, but not as light as the paper. I'll shade in the ears; I'll bring some shading . . . just basically the color of this fur. Not going to touch where it's white. Once again, just looking for these shapes. 'm looking at the shape of the fur and how it really moves through the dog. I'm not concerned if it's perfect, I'm not concerned if I'm being so, so exact, I really just want to draw the essence of this dog rather than specific, like a photo.

I'm going to come in with a little shading with my finger. I'm just going to rub in the ears a little bit and I'm going to rub in anywhere that I have shaded with this medium tone. I'm just going to bring in the eyes a little more. All eyes are it's almost a perfect circle. I'm bringing in the center of the dog's eyes. Because this is not necessarily super-realistic, I don't have to make the eyes super-realistic; it can just be a suggestion of those eyes. I'm going to come back in, since charcoal spreads very easily, I'm going to come back in and bring those dark tones back in. I'm going to bring in my eraser and I'm just going to erase some of these initial lines that I had drawn.

I want to just make sure that the nose . . . I see, I put in the wrong place. I want to just bring back that nose. It's like a half-circle on the top, it's pretty dark. You have these dark nostrils, and then this little triangle underneath. It's just a suggestion that it exists; it's a suggestion of the shape.

This is really the beginning phases. If I wanted to, I would continue working on this, perhaps for an hour or even more. I'm just going to just come in to finish up the initial stages of the sketch. I'm going to basically draw with my eraser. I'm going to smoosh my gum eraser down, almost so that it's like a flat pancake. I'm going to use the edge of the eraser to actually sculpt in and draw on top of the dog. Finding any white areas and I'm just going to erase and also draw a bit with the actual eraser. The eraser is a drawing tool in and of itself. It's not just to take away something in a drawing; it's to actually draw, as well.

This is just a preliminary sketch. If I would continue, basically, now I've set myself up with the initial sketch, and then I could come in, I could add the collar if I want. Basically, I would just spend more, and more, and more time bringing in all of these different tones. I would be bringing in more of a realistic approach to the eyes. I would be bringing in more shading. I would be bringing in more of these basic shapes, looking at where these shapes change, where these shapes intersect. The most important thing is I've created a base to start with. Even though there are white areas of the dog, it doesn't mean that it's bright white. I'm just going to bring in a little shading, a little more shading, and maybe darkening some areas just to show some dimension. I could start to bring in . . . again, it's just a line, just a little curvy line, just to show these different paws.

Perhaps I can draw a little bit of a straight line behind, just to show that he's sitting on something. You can always use your charcoal to shade in the foreground, which is the area in the front, or the background. The more time you spend on any drawing, the more developed it's going to look. Like anything else, when you give something more time and more attention, it develops even more. Perhaps another time, I would continue working on this drawing and adding more and more shading; not being afraid to erase, not being afraid to make changes, and most importantly, allowing myself to really express myself and to bring in my own sense of unique creativity into the drawing of this dog.

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