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  1. Design & Illustration
  2. Drawing Theory

How to Use an Animal Skull for an Art Study

Final product image
What You'll Be Creating

If you're an aspiring creature artist, you may know the struggle of trying to draw a head in a specific view from imagination. It's so easy to lose the proportions when adding all the details to some crazy 3D view! Even if you study hundreds of photos, you may still have trouble imagining the 3D form of what you're drawing. 

That's why it's good to study skulls—you can hold them in your hand, you can touch and rotate them, and this way you can find the set of guide lines that will work for every view. In this tutorial, I will show you how to study skulls to become better at drawing animals from imagination.

What You Will Need

Obviously, a skull. You can buy a real skull from a local hunter, but be careful. Some animals are hunted as a part of the population control (in Poland, that's foxes) or as an effort to get rid of invasive species (in Poland, raccoon dogs), so getting a skull acquired this way is fine.

However, some animals are hunted illegally, and by buying a skull from this kind of hunter you support this practice. Before you buy a skull, do some research to find out if the animal you want to study is under protection in your area. In that case, even buying such a skull may be illegal!

In many cases, the safest way is to buy a high-quality replica. The only difference lies in the smallest details, so they're perfectly fine to study, and they're also often much cheaper than the real thing!

fox skull reference
Here's a photo of my fox skull. I won't copy it—I will just use it to show what parts to pay attention to.

1. How to Draw the Upper Jaw

Step 1

We want to establish the proportions as completely and as early as possible, to create a support for more lines. I prefer to start with the width of the forehead—it's a part of the "top cross" that creates an impression of a plane with only two lines.

fox skull forehead width
fox skull forehead first line

Step 2

The other arm of the cross is the line going along the longer axis of the skull. It should bend according to the profile of the head.

fox skull forehead cross

See? Only two lines, and we already see the top of the skull.

fox skull muzzle length

Step 3

The eyes are another important element that should be established early. Attach the eye sockets to the shorter arm of the cross, paying attention to the perspective.

fox skull eye sockets
fox skull eye sockets drawing

Step 4

The nose is another thing that captures our attention, and it can be simplified to a nice, regular shape. Its position will help us imagine the end of the muzzle.

fox skull nose
fox skull nose drawing

Step 5

The basic proportions are established, and now we can slowly build the form on them. First, the top of the muzzle. The nasal bridge is usually flat, keeping a constant width on its way towards the forehead. You can also elongate it to create the front of the muzzle, slightly protruding to close on the food.

fox skull nasal bridge
fox skull nasal bridge drawing

Step 6

The muzzle has a variable width along its length, so it's important to divide it into simpler parts. For example, the very front of the muzzle has a pretty constant width. Sketch it as a simple three-dimensional form.

fox skull muzzle front shape
fox skull muzzle front drawing

Step 7

Here's where things get slightly more difficult, because we can't draw everything as simple forms. But we can try! There's a wide part in front of the eye sockets—define its width, and then connect it to that simple front form.

fox skull shape
fox skull shape drawing

Step 8

That was only the upper part of the skull, but there's also another part below, with the teeth attached to it. Sketch its side, turning a bit towards the middle line.

fox skull 3d form
fox skull 3d form drawing

Step 9

Outline the side. It's hard to see it in the photo, but the part right below the eye socket turns towards the skull and, in many cases, away from the view.

fox skull lower part
fox skull lower part drawing

Step 10

Time for the actual forehead. This will give the eye sockets some more definition as well.

fox skull forehead shape
fox skull forehead drawing

Step 11

We've drawn the eye sockets as simple ovals, but they're a little more complicated than that. Fix their shape now.

fox skull eye sockets shape
fox skull eye sockets drawing

Step 12

The zygomatic arch—the cheekbone—can be tricky to draw because of its curvy shape. In most cases, it helps to imagine it like this:

fox skull cheekbone shape
fox skull cheekbone drawing

Step 13

Finish the form of the bone by adding some width to it.

fox skull zygomatic arch
fox skull zygomatic arch drawing

Step 14

The braincase is not simply a sphere on the back of the skull—it has the shape of a teardrop attached under the forehead.

fox skull braincase shape
fox skull braincase drawing

Step 15

The eye sockets are not hollow. Draw a wall between the muzzle and the braincase (it's very hard to explain it with a photo only, but if you have a skull in front of you, you'll know what I mean!).

fox skull bottom of eye socket
fox skull bottom of eyesocket drawing

Step 16

Time for the canines! Foxes have them very long and curved.

fox skull upper canines shape
fox skull upper canines drawing

Step 17

Sketch all the teeth—just their general form, without any details.

fox skull upper teeth
fox skull upper teeth drawing

2. How to Draw the Lower Jaw

Step 1

The upper jaw is finished, so we can take care of the lower one now. Studying them separately like this will help you draw the jaws open in the future.

Start by finding the jaw joint—the point of attachment and rotation.

fox skull jaw joint location
fox skull jaw joint drawing

Step 2

Sketch the line of the lower jaw, keeping it in proportion to the upper one.

fox skull lower jaw line
fox skull lower jaw line drawing

Step 3

The lower jaw has a width and a special shape. Sketch it.

fox skull lower jaw width
fox skull lower jaw width drawing

Step 4

Outline the front part of the lower jaw.

fox skull lower jaw front shape
fox skull lower jaw front drawing

Step 5

The back of the lower jaw has a complex shape. Start with a gentle arch coming towards the joint.

fox skull lower jaw back
fox skull lower jaw back drawing

Step 6

Create a smaller arch between these two parts.

fox skull lower jaw back detail
fox skull lower jaw detail drawing

Step 7

Draw a line between the joint and the bottom line of the jaw.

fox skull lower jaw hinge
fox skull lower jaw hinge drawing

Step 8

There's an additional structure to the back of the lower jaw. Add it by drawing a line going away from the rhythm of the jaw.

fox skull lower jaw finish
fox skull lower jaw finish drawing

Step 9

Finish its shape.

fox skull lower jaw done
fox skull lower jaw drawing

Step 10

Add the shape of the lower canines, fitting right between the upper incisors and upper canines.

fox skull lower canines shape
fox skull lower canines drawing

Step 11

Outline the rest of the teeth.

fox skull lower teeth shape
fox skull lower teeth drawing

3. How to Finish Drawing a 3D Study of a Skull

Step 1

Our sketch is done, and now we only need to stress some lines to make the form clearer. Start with the nasal bridge.

fox skull sketching nose

Step 2

Add the forehead.

fox skull sketching forehead

Step 3

Outline the form of the muzzle, with all its 2D planes.

fox skull sketching muzzle

Step 4

Outline the teeth in the front.

fox skull sketching canines

Step 5

Outline the cheekbones.

fox skull sketching cheekbone

Step 6

Outline the teeth, giving them only a basic form.

fox skull sketching upper teeth

Step 7

Outline the lower jaw.

fox skull sketching lower jaw

Step 8

Define the hollow in the back of the lower jaw.

fox skull sketching lower jaw detail

Step 9

Draw lines on the side of the lower jaw to show its 3D form.

fox skull sketching lower jaw form

Step 10

Outline the lower teeth.

fox skull sketching lower teeth

Step 11

Add some form lines to the back of the head as well.

fox skull sketching back head

Step 12

When you're done, you can darken some of the main lines to make them stand out among all these form-establishing ones.

fox skull darkening lines

Step 13

You can also shade the skull to make its 3D form even more pronounced.

fox skull shading

Good Job!

You have drawn your first skull study! But that's not all. Studying is about practicing and experimenting. Draw the same skull in other views, testing your set of guide lines on each of them, until you are ready to draw such a skull entirely from imagination. This will help you draw the head of the animal in all the views you wish without any reference, and will be also helpful for designing new, realistic creatures.

how to study skulls
how to draw fox skull
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