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How to Draw Animals: Quickly Render Fur

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This post is part of a series called How to Draw Animals.
How to Draw Animals: Cats and Their Anatomy
How to Draw Animals: Dogs and Wolves, and Their Anatomy

Fur is an amazing structure; millions of hair that make a warm, fluffy coat that we can't stop ourselves from touching, stroking and cuddling! (even if it's fur of a hungry tiger). It also seems to be very time-consuming to draw realistically. Would you like to learn a few non-time-consuming tricks to draw natural-looking fur? Well that's my mission in this tutorial.


1. What is Fur?

Step 1

Usually my first rule is you need to understand the object to draw it. While it's very helpful with bigger objects like whole animals or their body parts, it may be confusing with smaller things. Of course, outstanding knowledge of dog paws' pads is admirable, most of us will never need it. It's the same with fur. You don't need to learn about single hairs, because nobody even sees them! What we can see is fur, and if you draw it correctly, people will get the impression it's made of hair.

This tiger is definitely covered with fur, right? But can you really see the hairs?

drawingfur_1-1_fur_anatomy

Count my hairs, I dare you!

Step 2

Hairs make strands, strands make coats, coats make fur - that's the first rule. Even when an animal seems to have smooth fur laying flat against the skin, the strands appear when the skin is bending/creasing.

drawingfur_1-2_fur_anatomy

Step 3

The biggest problem with fur is it can't be drawn in 2D. A beginner draws a flat silhouette, and then tries to add fur, also in 2D. It's physically impossible! Just look at this, literally a fur ball. The hairs in 3D come under perspective. It's the same with strands.

drawingfur_1-3_fur_anatomy

2. Understanding Fur in 3D

Step 1

Let's see a real-life example. Animals with thick fur, like this wolf (picture courtesy of Jennifer McKay), appear to be bigger than if they were bald. Let's undress it to see where the fur starts.

drawingfur_2-1_under_fur

Step 2

Now look at direction of the fur. It doesn't simply go from front to back. The coats (I'm sure you can see them now) start from various points. The borders between them are what most people ignore when drawing. We'll need to take a good look at them.

drawingfur_2-2_coats

Step 3

There are two kinds of borders. Overlapping happens when one coat covers another. It's pretty simple to imagine and draw.

drawingfur_2-3_fur_overlapping

Step 4

The second kind of border requires some 3D thinking. Sometimes both coats lay on the same level, but their strands go to opposite directions. That's when breaking appears. Strands are bending, revealing darker gaps between them. This is the under coat of the fur you can see, which is a lot thicker in comparison of the lighter, longer fur you can see on top.

drawingfur_2-4_fur_breaking

3. A Few Practical Tips

Step 1

There are a few things you should know before starting. This is how you can quickly draw a simplified strand. See? It's fast and efficient.

drawingfur_3-1_stranddrawing
drawingfur_3-1_stranddrawing2

Step 2

When you want to overlap coats, it's good to start from the bottom one. This way you'll avoid crossing the strands.

drawingfur_3-2_overlapping

Step 3

When it comes to breaking, draw bent strands, leaving some irregular gaps between them.

drawingfur_3-3_breaking

Step 4

Afterwards, fill the gaps with black to represent the undercoat.

drawingfur_3-4_breaking

Step 5

Last but not least, when you want to stress contours, never stress all of them. Look at the picture below, which "strand" looks more natural?

drawingfur_3-5_vontours

4. Draw a Cat: the Head

Step 1

You can treat this exercise as a continuation of my cat tutorial. Sketch the pose first on a cheap paper, using any pencil you want. Don't worry if it turns out messy, it's just a base!

drawingfur_4-1_pose

Step 2

Use a fine liner/marker/pen to stress the body contours. We need to make it darker than the sketch underneath so you can see these lines through better quality paper.

drawingfur_4-2_contours

Step 3

Now place your sketch under the sheet you're going to use for the actual picture. You should still be able to see the contours. If not (because your sheet is too thick), you can always use good old window for the next steps.

drawingfur_4-3_new_sheet

Step 4

Draw the elements that aren't fur-dependable, like eyes or nose. This is also the moment you're setting the contrast of whole picture - the nostrils will be the darkest place.

drawingfur_4-4_face

Step 5

Take a mechanical or classic, but strongly sharpened HB pencil. Sketch very lightly the contours of fur according to the breed you're drawing. I'm going to draw something similar to a Maine Coon.

drawingfur_4-5_head_coats

Step 6

Let's take care of the ears first. Add some loose strands on their base and smooth hair on the tip.

drawingfur_4-6_head_ears

Step 7

My cat is going to have very long hair, so I add cute tufts inside the ears.

drawingfur_4-7_head_ears

Step 8

Draw the edges of the ears that are visible under the hair and darken it.

drawingfur_4-8_head_ears

Step 9

Take a B pencil (or anything slightly softer than HB) and stress the darker edges. Use it very sparingly - the more you use it, the less impact it makes. One more important thing: keep your pencils perfectly sharpened all the time. It's crucial for consistency. If it's tiring for you to keep this up, buy a mechanical pencil, they let you stay focused on drawing.

drawingfur_4-9_head_ears

Step 10

Draw strands on the edge of every coat. Keep them loose and wavy. Don't dive into details. Remember, you draw an impression of fur, not each hair.

drawingfur_4-10_head_coats

Step 11

Add another coat between them.

drawingfur_4-11_head_coats

Step 12

Add a shadow between the coats.

drawingfur_4-12_head_coats

Step 13

Add a bit of hair under the eyes too. Remember: the more lines, the darker the area. So, if you want to keep some area light, draw as little lines as possible. Sometimes it's even better not to draw anything!

drawingfur_4-13_head_coats

Step 14

Add short hair on the nose and cover the mouth with hair.

drawingfur_4-14_head_coats

Step 15

There are "breaking" between the ears and the rest of the head, and also in the middle of the forehead.

drawingfur_4-15_head_coats

Step 16

Cover the forehead with very light, thin hair, just to pretend it's a furry area too.

drawingfur_4-16_head_coats

Step 17

Add the whiskers! Keep them long, wavy and random.

drawingfur_4-17_head_coats

5. Draw the Chest

Step 1

Plan the coats on the chest. Remember to keep them very light. It's good to check some references of your animal for this step. Good news is you just need them to estimate the length of coats, and you don't even need to find the same pose you're drawing!

drawingfur_5-1_chest_coats

Step 2

Draw the strands on every coat. Again, they should be loose and wavy, going in random directions.

drawingfur_5-2_chest_coats

Step 3

Add some strands breaking the default coats' lines. They'll create a natural feel.

drawingfur_5-3_chest_coats

Step 4

Add a shadow between the coats, just like before. Whenever you feel you need to press the pencil harder, switch to B.

drawingfur_5-4_chest_coats

Step 5

Again, add more black.

drawingfur_5-5_chest_coats

6. Draw the Forelegs

Step 1

Sketch the paws and plan the coats for the legs.

drawingfur_6-1_forelegs

Step 2

Add fur to the paws. It shouldn't be too detailed as the fur goes in one direction and is short.

drawingfur_6-2_forepaws

Step 3

Sketch strands for the legs. Adding breaking here isn't necessary, but it's going to look quite nice.

drawingfur_6-3_forelegs

Step 4

Now the shading.

drawingfur_6-4_forelegs

Step 5

We're now done with the left part. It's good to do any fixes now, because later it's going to be hard to draw anything here without touching (and smudging) the right part.

drawingfur_6-5_front_complete

7. Draw the Barrow

Step 1

Time to add some coats to the barrow.

drawingfur_7-1_barrow

Step 2

Now the wavy strands. Can you see the little breaking on the thigh? Most furry mammals have it.

drawingfur_7-2_barrow

Step 3

Shading with HB pencil...

drawingfur_7-3_barrow

Step 4

...and now with B.

drawingfur_7-4_barrow

8. Draw the Hind Legs

Step 1

Let's take care of hind legs now.

drawingfur_8-1_hind_legs

Step 2

After all this time it's easy, isn't it?

drawingfur_8-2_hind_paws

Step 3

Follow the similar process for the front legs to the hind.

drawingfur_8-3_hind_paws

9. Add Fur to the Tail

Step 1

Let's add a fluffy tail. There's no other place with such simple and regular coats!

drawingfur_9-1_tail

Step 2

We need to remember about gravity here.

drawingfur_9-2_tail

Step 3

I made the strands totally crazy. Fluffy tail for a fluffy cat!

drawingfur_9-3_tail

You've Got the Key to Fluffiness!

You can now draw fur quickly and efficiently, without counting single hairs.


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