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How to Draw Animals: Big Cats, Their Anatomy and Patterns

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This post is part of a series called How to Draw Animals.
How to Draw Animals: Horses, Their Anatomy and Poses
How to Draw Animals: Big Cats, Their Anatomy and Patterns - Part 2

They're big, furry and... deadly. They're just like bigger versions of the pets we love, yet they're totally different. If you want to draw one of the many big cats, you're not supposed to draw just a bigger domestic cat with spots or stripes. If you want to draw lions, tigers, cheetahs or snow leopards, I can show you some tips. After this tutorial you won't need to look for references anymore!


1. Big Cat Anatomy

This tutorial is focused on differences between big cats. If you want to learn about cats in general, I suggest reading the first cat tutorial.

Step 1

Big cats are rather similar in their structure, so we're not going to learn muscles of every single one. Just look at this scheme of a lion's muscles - other cats will have some of them bigger, some shorter, but the overall structure stays the same.

drawingbigcats_1-1_muscles

Step 2

If you want to draw a big cat quickly, without paying attention to muscles, here comes a simplified scheme of the body. It's good to start with it every time, and then add detailed muscles when needed.

drawingbigcats_1-2_muscles_simplified

Step 3

The same applies to the bones. I don't ever learn all the skeleton structure by heart - a simplified scheme can be made out of it, and that simplified scheme I'm going to show you for every cat. The poses I'll be using aren't the most characteristic for each of the cats, I just made them quite similar for an easier comparison.

drawingbigcats_1-3_skeleton

2. Let's Look at the Lion

Step 1

The most distinctive feature of lions is a male's majestic mane and hair tuft at the tip of the tail for both sexes. You can draw any cat with a mane and a hair tuft and everyone will know you drew a lion, but if you want to make it more realistic, here comes a few tips:

  • A lion's belly is round;
  • The head should be quite large;
  • The mane covers all the neck and a big part of the head, giving an impressions the head and ears are quite small. Always start with a bigger lioness body and then add a mane to avoid mistakes;
  • Male lions can have additional hair tufts on their elbows or along the belly;
  • Lions can have pale spots on their legs and belly, as a leftover of their childhood.
drawingbigcats_2-1_lioness_silhouette
drawingbigcats_2-1_lion_silhouette

Step 2

If you want to draw a lion, start with a pose using the proportions below. It's good to remember the lion proportions as a template and then compare other cats to this scheme.

drawingbigcats_2-2_lion_simplified

Step 3

  • The general color of a lion's fur is brownish yellow. Don't ever use a bright orange for a base - the photos showing this colors are usually taken at sunset (unsaturated brownish orange is acceptable though);
  • The tail's hair tuft is always black, no matter what's the color of the mane;
  • The bottom of the body can be lighter, creamy white, so possible spots will be better visible there;
  • A mane is built of many layers, with two most distinguishable ones - the upper one is lighter (sometimes as light as the base yellow) than the bottom one;
  • A mane can be colored like the rest of the body, but the darker, the more attractive it's said to be for females.
drawingbigcats_2-3_lion_colors

Step 4

When it comes to the spots we were talking about before, this is a general pattern. They are the most visible in the lower areas, then they're fading. This feature occurs mostly at females.

drawingbigcats_2-4_lion_spots

Step 5

To draw a lion head from the front:

  • Draw a circle - divide it into quarters;
  • Add a long ellipse starting at the center of the circle. Add guide lines to place the nose;
  • Draw the mouth;
  • Cross all the head with guide lines, to border the eye area. Remember - an eye starts always a bit beside the nose line, not on it;
  • You now have enough guide lines to add characteristic features of a lion face;
  • The proportions are ready!
drawingbigcats_2-5_lion_head_front

Step 6

To draw a lion head in profile:

  • Start with the same circle as before;
  • Add another circle instead of ellipse this time. Divide it into sixteen parts to create guide lines. You should now be able to add the mouth;
  • Add the nose at the top of the circle and a protruding chin;
  • Draw the nose lines and the eye;
  • Add the ear and stress the shapes of the head.
drawingbigcats_2-6_lion_head_profile

Step 7

When you've got the proportions determined, you can refine the details:

  • A lion's ear is round, with a dark part and single light spot on the back;
  • A lion's eyes are yellow, round, with bright patches below to reflect more light into the eyes. To stress the fact they're inside the eye socket (not on it, like the upper patches), add a darker line on their border;
  • The nose is red or brown and pretty wide. You can add a few irregular, dark spots to make it more natural;
  • Whiskers are medium length, bright, directed downwards in gentle arches. Whisker holes are visible, but not much darker than the fur.
drawingbigcats_2-7_lion_head_details_front
drawingbigcats_2-7_lion_head_details_profile

Step 8

When you want to draw a male lion, you can add a mane. Draw it in layers overlapping each other. Cover the ears almost completely and surround the head, giving it a diamond shape. Younger male lions will have thinner and shorter mane, starting on the head, and covering the neck later.

drawingbigcats_2-8_lion_mane_front
drawingbigcats_2-8_lion_mane_profile

Step 9

Lion cubs are born without a hair tuft (it develops at about the sixth month). They're also covered with spots (lower body, head) and rosettes (upper body). These rosettes are pretty similar to leopard or jaguar, and they're placed tightly on the body. You will notice that rosettes fade out completely when the lion's growing up, and only the spots are left.

drawingbigcats_2-9_lion_cub

3. Try Drawing a Tiger

Step 1

A simplified version of a tiger is a big, orange cat with black stripes. To draw a real tiger, keep in mind:

  • The head is as big as a lion's, but it seems bigger because of a wide cheek mane;
  • The barrow is very wide, but with a slight round belly similar to a lion;
  • The neck is very wide and strong;
  • The forelegs look massive.
drawingbigcats_3-1_tiger_silhouette

Step 2

When building a pose for a tiger, make the barrow noticeably wider.

drawingbigcats_3-2_simplified

Step 3

  • The general color of a tiger's fur is brownish orange;
  • Stripes are black, but since they're mixed with other hair, that may appear dark brown;
  • The lower body can be lighter, just like at lions;
  • The cheek mane is white.
drawingbigcats_3-3_tiger_colors

Step 4

Every tiger has a little different pattern of stripes, but there's a general rule you can use.

drawingbigcats_3-4_tiger_stripes

Step 5

To draw a tiger head from the front:

  • Draw a circle - divide it into quarters;
  • Add a long ellipse starting at the center of the circle. Add guide lines to place the nose;
  • Draw the mouth;
  • Cross all the head with guide lines, to border the eye area. Remember - an eye starts always a bit beside the nose line, not on it;
  • You now have enough guide lines to add characteristic features of a tiger face - remember about cheek mane!
drawingbigcats_3-5_tiger_head_front

Step 6

To draw a tiger head in profile:

  • Start with the same circle as before;
  • Add another circle instead of ellipse this time. Divide it into sixteen parts to create guide lines. You should now be able to add the mouth;
  • Add the nose at the top of the circle and a protruding chin;
  • Draw the nose lines and the eye;
  • Add the ear and stress the shapes of the head, together with the cheek mane.
drawingbigcats_3-6_tiger_head_profile

Step 7

When you have a proportional tiger face, you can add the details:

  • Ears look pretty small in comparison to a wide face. They're black on the back (the black envelope is visible from the front too), and there's a white spot too in the middle;
  • Eyes are yellow, with light patches like at lions. Again, add a darker line under the bottom patch to stress the fact it's a bit deeper in the skull. Quite long tear marks are also characteristic for tigers;
  • A tiger's nose is red or pink, and very wide;
  • Whiskers are very long and dense. The whisker holes are dark and covered with thin stripes.
drawingbigcats_3-7_tiger_head_details_front
drawingbigcats_3-7_tiger_head_details_profile_

Step 8

The tiger we used as an example was the most popular Bengal tiger. If you want to draw a Siberian (Amur) tiger, you can use all the previous tips, keeping in mind that:

  • 3iberian tigers live in cold areas, so its fur is much longer;
  • Their barrow is even wider and more rectangular than at Bengal tiger;
  • The muzzle is bigger and the cheek mane is wider too;
  • Eyes and ears are deeply hidden in the thick fur, so they appear smaller. Also, partially hidden eyes give the tiger's face a mysterious look
  • 3iberian tigers are the biggest of tigers, not only because of the amount of fur;
  • Stripes are a different pattern.
drawingbigcats_3-8_siberian_tiger_silhouette
drawingbigcats_3-8_siberian_tiger_stripes

Step 9

When it comes to the white tigers, they appear only in Bengal tigers (or their crossovers with other kinds). They're not albino - they have black stripes, pink nose and greyish blue eyes.

drawingbigcats_3-9_white_tiger

4. Create a Cheetah

Step 1

Cheetahs are often mistaken with leopards, although they have a lot of features characteristic only for them:

  • Cheetahs have a very thin waist and a slim body;
  • The head looks unproportionally small, in comparison to the rest of the body;
  • Cheetahs have semi-retractable claws. It means they use a normal cat mechanism, but they're never covered with fur, even when retracted (making the paws more adapted to running);
  • The fur has a pattern of spots, not rosettes;
  • Legs are very long and slim.
drawingbigcats_4-1_cheetah_silhouette

Step 2

To start with a pose, draw a small barrow, small head and long legs.

drawingbigcats_4-2_cheetah_simplified

Step 3

  • The base color for a cheetah is pretty similar to a lion. It may be reddish or golden yellow;
  • The lower body can be lighter, but not very visibly;
  • Draw the spots as dark brown or black.
drawingbigcats_4-3_cheetah_colors

Step 4

A cheetah's spots are placed regularly in lines (marked below with pink arrows) or chaotically (marked with wavy lines). The tail is spotted from the base to about half way, and then a few dark rings may appear. The spots are oval, quite consistent in size, and sometimes there are small black spots between them. The spots at the belly are faint.

drawingbigcats_4-4_cheetah_spots

Step 5

To draw a cheetah head from the front:

  • Draw a circle - divide it into quarters;
  • Add a long ellipse starting at the center of the circle. Add guide lines to place the nose;
  • Draw the mouth;
  • Cross all the head with guide lines, to border the eye area. Remember - an eye starts always a bit beside the nose line, not on it;
  • Add characteristic features of a cheetahs face. You may need to cut a bit of the forehead to make the head smaller.
drawingbigcats_4-5_cheetah_head_front

Step 6

To draw a cheetah head in profile:

  • Start with the same circle as before;
  • Add another circle instead of an ellipse this time. Divide it into sixteen parts to create guide lines. You should now be able to add the mouth;
  • Add the nose at the top. The chin shouldn't be protruded.
  • Draw the nose lines and the eye;
  • Add the ear and stress the shapes of the head, cutting a bit of the bottom.
drawingbigcats_4-6_cheetah_head_profile

Step 7

You can now add details to the face:

  • A cheetah's ears are small and round, with black lower half on the back;
  • The eyes are reddish brown and quite dark. They're deeply set, without prominent cheekbones below. Unlike other cats, cheetahs hunt at days and have pretty poor night vision. Dark tear marks are supposed to help retract light (compare it to a lion or tiger's bright under eye patches);
  • A cheetah's nose looks more like a dog than a cat's. It's black, quite small, but with wide holes.
  • Whiskers are short, strongly facing downwards.
drawingbigcats_4-7_cheetah_head_details_front
drawingbigcats_4-7_cheetah_head_details_profile

Step 8

Baby cheetahs have a distinctive white mane all over the back. It's said it's supposed to make them look similar to the infamous honey badger.

drawingbigcats_4-8_cheetah_cub

Step 9

A rare mutation make some of the cheetahs looks a bit different. This type (not a subspecies) is called a king cheetah. How to make your cheetah a king?

  • King cheetahs have longer fur, taking away a bit of the typical slimness. The waist may seem wider, the tail is thicker, and there may also appear a short, dark mane at the neck;
  • The spots are merged in lines (marked as arrows) and blobs (sometimes looking like hearts). The tail has wide rings from the base to the tip. The size of the spots depends on their location.
drawingbigcats_4-9_king_cheetah_silhouette
drawingbigcats_4-9_king_cheetah_spots

5. Draw a Snow Leopard

Step 1

A snow leopard is known as a white, furry panther with dark spots. What else do you need to know?

  • The body looks quite stumpy because of the thick fur, with short legs and very big paws helping the cat to walk on the snow;
  • The fur is so long that you can forget about the muscle details;
  • The tail is very long (sometimes as long as whole body) and thick;
  • The back legs are a bit longer than the forelegs, letting the cat jump as far as even 50 feet (15 meters).
drawingbigcats_5-1_snow_leopard_silhouette

Step 2

To draw a pose of snow leopard, start with a big, short barrow and short legs with big paws. Don't forget about the long tail!

drawingbigcats_5-2_snow_leopard_simplified

Step 3

  • A base color for a snow leopard is grey in summer and almost white in winter;
  • Rosettes are black, sometimes with dark middle;
  • The lower body is white.
drawingbigcats_5-3_snow_leopard_colors

Step 4

The characteristic rosettes are fully spread on the barrow and they're merging into shapeless spots on the legs and neck. They're faint on the white areas.

drawingbigcats_5-4_snow_leopard_spots

Step 5

To draw a snow leopard head from the front:

  • Draw a circle - divide it into quarters;
  • Add a short ellipse starting at the center of the circle. Add guide lines to place the nose;
  • Draw the mouth;
  • Cross all the head with guide lines, to border the eye area. A snow leopard's eyes are placed quite far from each other because of the wide nose;
  • You now have enough guide lines to add characteristic features of a snow leopard face;
drawingbigcats_5-5_snow_leopard_head_front

Step 6

To draw a snow leopard head in profile:

  • Start with the same circle as before;
  • Add another circle instead of ellipse this time. Divide it into sixteen parts to create guide lines. You should now be able to add the mouth;
  • Add the nose at the top of the circle and a slightly protruding chin;
  • Draw the eye;
  • Add the ear and stress the shapes of the head.
drawingbigcats_5-6_snow_leopard_head_profile

Step 7

When you've got your cat's face ready, you can add the details:

  • The ears are small and round, black, with a white spot on the back;
  • The eyes are greyish blue, with a yellow envelope;
  • The nose is pink and pretty small in comparison to the wide nasal cavity;
  • Whiskers are medium length, pretty straight, mixing both white and black ones;
  • The dark patch around the lips' corners is directed upwards, giving the cat a "smile".
drawingbigcats_5-7_snow_leopard_head_details_front
drawingbigcats_5-7_snow_leopard_head_details_profile

Great Work, You're Now Done!

Now you're familiar with the most popular big cats! If you'd like to learn about other big cats too, feel free to let me know in the comments section.

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