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How to Draw and Render Realistic Fur With Pencils and Charcoal

Final product image
What You'll Be Creating

It is hard to find anyone who doesn't have an affection for an animal of one type or another, but more often than not people will fall for the cutest, most furriest animals there are in the natural world. It is a great challenge for any artist to try and replicate this on paper. Come with me as we explore the methods you can use to draw and render a cute, furry terrier puppy.

What You Will Need

The tools you will need for the drawing phase of this image
A selection of the tools that you will need for rendering this image
  • Drawing paper or newsprint
  • Drawing board (optional)
  • Masking tape
  • Pencils (Types, 7B to 2H)
  • Mechanical pencils (Types 6B to 2H)
  • Pencil sharpener
  • Steel ruler
  • T-ruler
  • Black coloured pencil
  • Compressed charcoal sticks (Extra soft)
  • Charcoal pencil
  • Tissue/toilet paper
  • Cotton buds
  • Kneaded eraser
  • Gum eraser
  • Tombow Square and Circular detailed erasers
  • Varied size blending nubs
  • Tub of graphite powder
  • Soft paint brush
  • Artists fixative

1. Setting Up Your Reference

Step 1

From the off, make sure you have a good quality photograph to work from, as it will be very important for working with later on in this tutorial. You can find the reference we shall be using here from PhotoDune

Using Adobe Photoshop, open the photograph at a reasonable size. For this tutorial I shall be working a reference that is A4 paper size (11¾ x 8¼ inches). 

Reference image

Step 2

In the View button on the top bar, look for the Show option, and click Grid to show a default grid on your image. 

How to set up your grid

Step 3

This may need adjustment in order to make it easier to draw the image so look for the Preferences option within the Photoshop button and adjust the grid lines to the size you require. For this tutorial we are going on a gridline division of 8 cm by a subdivision of 2 cm.

How to find the option to adjust your grid sizes

Step 4

Once your grid is set up correctly, press Shift-Command-4 to take a screenshot and then paste the screen shot on top of your original photo. Using the resize command (Command-T) adjust your image so it matches the canvas size. Then crop the edges with the Crop Tool

You may want to label your grid axis both across the top and down the side as shown below. I prefer to label mine 1, 2, 3 across the top and A, B, C down the sides. Doing this can help you keep track of your grid and can ensure you do not get lost in the reference.

Labelling your grid can make it easier to keep track of your reference

2. Prepare Your Paper

For this tutorial we will be working on A3 size paper (11¾ x 8¼ inches). If you have a drawing board to hand, secure your paper onto it with tape so that does not slide around as you are drawing. Personally I find a standard smooth Bristol board is best for this type of drawing.

It is best to tack your paper at each edge with some masking tape to avoid slipping

3. Drawing Your Grid

Step 1

Start by measuring out how big you want this drawing to be. You can either work to the exact size of the paper or, as I will be doing for this tutorial, you can work slightly smaller. With your steel ruler, measure out a box whose width is half a centimetre smaller than the size of the paper.

Start by drawing a basic square for our grid

Step 2

Use your ruler to measure out the size of your grid. It would be best to avoid drawing too small a box, as this can complicate the construction of the image. My best advice would be to use a box that is either 1 x 1 inches or larger. For this tutorial I have decided to use a box measuring 1.9 x 1.9 inches exactly.

A comparison of the size of boxes that can suitable for use when constructing an image like this We shall be using the box 19 x 19 inches

Step 3

Draw out your grid on the paper using your T-ruler and a sharp 2B pencil with a moderate touch, as you may need to erase these lines later. Remember that pressing too hard on the paper or using too hard a lead can leave unwanted indentations that you may not be able to erase.

Your grid should look like this once drawn out

Step 4

If you wish to do so, label your grid axis 1, 2, 3 across the top and A, B, C down the sides. Make sure the labelling is identical to the one on the photograph reference.

You can choose to label your grid if you wish

4. Constructing Your Image

Step 1

For drawing it is best to continue using the 2B pencil. Before starting to draw, be sure to sharpen your pencil, as one of the most common mistakes I see with this type of work is artists using a blunt pencil to draw. 

Using the reference, choose a focus point to begin your drawing. Personally, I would choose to start with the puppy’s head as it is a main point of the image and is easy to construct with a simple circle. Use a moderate to light touch with your pencil when drawing, as you may need to erase some lines later on.

Begin drawing rough shapes to define the puppy

Step 2

Continue drawing out basic shapes to define areas of the image. If you have labelled your grid as explained earlier, it should be easy for you to draw these points on the image.

Continue using only basic shapes and rough guidelines to construct the figure

Step 3

Once you have all the basic shapes in place, we now have to fill in the details. At this point, take care when drawing, and be sure to go back to your reference regularly, as a poor drawing at this stage will be reflected when we come to rendering. Clean up any loose lines with your putty eraser and make sure you have a clean image to work with for the next stage.

Once your figure has been constructed then fill in all of the fine details including where areas of tone differ

Step 4

You can now erase your grid lines if you wish to do so before we begin the rendering stage.

You can choose to erase your grid if you wish before you begin rendering Remember to go over any lines that may have been inadvertently erased

5. Begin Rendering Your Image

Step 1

Now that we have the outline of the image, we can begin to fill in the details and create our fur effects. We shall be working from left to right on the paper to avoid smudging the graphite and charcoal, but if you are left-handed you can do the opposite to this. 

My best advice to you too at this point is to only work a section at a time and avoid working on too much of the image. If you do work on too much of the image at once, you will find smudging becomes more of a hazard as you fill in the details.

We will be using three methods of applying graphite to the paper with pencils and graphite powder:

  • circulism
  • cross-hatching
  • overlaying

Circulism involves rotating your pencil with moderate pressure in a circular motion whilst moving the pencil across the page as shown below. Like hatching, this can be used to build up tone depending on the pressure applied to the paper and how many times you repeat the motions. I use circulism more for darker tones, and it is especially useful for black areas as it gives good coverage on the paper.

Cross-hatching is applied by a series of strokes in a diagonal direction going one way, then repeating the motion in the opposite direction. Levels of tone can be built up in this method by bringing hatchings closer together or repeating the motions time and again. You can also choose to blend the area you have shaded afterwards with a cotton bud or tissue paper if you so wish.

Overlaying involves laying down a light to medium base tone applied using circulism and then on top of this, using a 2B pencil or darker and using medium pressure, stroking the pencil across the paper repeatedly to give the impression of fur. Be sure to note which direction your fur is going before you begin this process. Change to a darker pencil and continue the motions to build up tone.

The methods of rendering we shall be using

Step 2

Start by using a small amount of graphite powder on your soft paint brush to lay down a light base tone on the paper.  Apply using the circulism method described earlier. Continue reloading your brush with powder and working into the paper. Remember to only cover a limited area of the puppy at this stage.

Begin laying down a base layer of graphite powder on the puppys ear

Step 3

Once the first layer is put down on the paper, take a cotton bud and work over the top of this layer using the circulism method, again with graphite powder picking out darker tones. Be sure to follow your reference at this stage to check where these are.

Continue applying more graphite powder as and where needed to build up tone. At this point check your reference and if your image is not quite matching the reference, additional tone may need to be added. For this I would use a soft lead (either a 5B or a 6B) and use a tight cross-hatching technique. Additional blending with your tissue paper will be needed here.

Next blend in a second layer of graphite

Step 4

Now we move on to one of the trickier parts of rendering fur: working with charcoal. This can be a messy business (even more so with a soft charcoal stick) but if you are careful you can make it work. As in the previous steps, use the stick to draw in where the black tones might be.

Then work in a layer of charcoal using an extra soft charcoal stick

Step 5

Now you blend in the charcoal you have drawn in with another cotton bud. At this point do not worry about fine details—just concentrate on getting your tones right. After you have finished blending the first round of tones together, you may need to go over this layer again as you might find your tones look more grey than black.

After you have blended the charcoal you may need to apply a second layer as the first layer may look more grey than black

Step 6

Now we go from working in black tones to drawing out white tones. Using either of our Tombow detailed erasers, take the edge of the eraser, and using a limited amount of the overlay technique, erase parts of the charcoal and create the effect of lighter hairs in the puppy’s ear.

Using both of your Tombow erasers begin erasing in controlled strokes to create the effect of highlighted hairs

Step 7

Now you hopefully have your lighter tones sculpted out. We can now go in again with a charcoal pencil and a black coloured pencil and draw in individual hairs both inside the ear and on the edge of it. 

As in the previous step, it is very worthwhile taking your time with this one, as concentrating on details like fine hairs will make a massive impact at the end of the drawing. For really fine hairs, it is my best advice to use a sharp black coloured pencil to draw these, and make sure you keep sharpening it regularly.

To finish off this stage draw in any individual hairs with a 7B pencil charcoal pencil or a black coloured pencil A steady hand is essential at this point

6. Rendering Lighter Tones, the Head

Step 1

Now we move down the image a little and we begin rendering a section of the puppy’s head. Begin as in the previous section by laying down a graphite powder base. Next, instead of applying compressed charcoal, continue applying graphite to areas of the reference that appear darker. You should be left with a base that we can now work on.

As in the previous stage start by applying a layer of graphite powder

Step 2

We shall now begin using the overlay technique we talked about earlier. Using a sharp 4B, 5B or 6B pencil and with a moderate touch, begin to overlay pencil strokes in the direction the puppy’s fur is going. It is obviously important to pay close attention to your reference to see which direction the fur is actually going.

Work into this layer using 4B 5B or 6B pencils using an overlaying technique

Step 3

Now take one of your Tombow erasers and, using the edge of the eraser, begin carving out highlights in the puppy’s fur. As in the previous section, if you have done the first steps right this step should be no problem. Just be sure to take care when you erase, and do not go overboard.

Return to the use of your Tombow erasers to draw out light tones around the eyes

Step 4

If you find you have any darker hairs that need touching in, you can use either a 7B or a black coloured pencil to do this. Lighter hairs can be drawn in using a HB, 2B or a 4B mechanical pencil.

Draw in fine black hairs using a SHARP black coloured pencil

7. The Left Side and the Lower Legs

Step 1

Now we continue moving down the body but still working on the left side of the puppy. For this first part of this section we are going to use the same methods we used to render the puppy's ear. Start off by applying a layer of graphite powder, and then blend it in using a cotton bud or your soft paint brush.

As with our previous heavy black areas begin by applying our layers of graphite powder

Step 2

Once you have applied your base, fill in any black areas with a layer of charcoal using your soft charcoal stick and then blend this in too using another clean cotton bud.

Follow this up by working in a layer of charcoal

Step 3

Once you have your charcoal layer down on the paper, take your circular Tombow eraser and, using a light touch and only short strokes, erase the edges of the puppy's legs. 

If you are using the right amount of pressure you will find that you will be left with a light grey tone on the paper. This is ideal, because if you look at your reference the fur of the edge of the puppy's legs is highlighted, and it is this effect we are looking to achieve in this step. 

Finally, using your black colour pencil, draw in any fine details like tufts of hair. Remember not to rush this step, as these tiny details matter.

Return to the use of our Tombow erasers for the next step although a putty eraser can work just as well

Step 4

Moving on now to his forelegs, you need to follow the same method we used in previous sections, starting again by laying down a base tone using graphite powder.

Continue working down the left side of the puppy moving onto the forelegs

Step 5

Returning to the technique of overlaying, using a 4B pencil, begin drawing in the hairs on the puppy’s legs. Use only a moderate touch to build up the layers here, as once this stage is complete we will need to resort to our Tombow erasers to bring out the lighter hairs.

Hopefully you can now see a convincing image starting to emerge if you follow the steps correctly

Step 6

Moving on to the darker sections of fur, using a regular or mechanical 6B pencil or darker, touch in darker hairs using the overlay method. For very fine black hairs on the puppy's feet, it's best to use your black coloured pencil, although remember to keep it sharpened.

Any fine dark hairs on the puppys forelegs are best drawn with a 4B or 6B mechanical pencil or a sharp black coloured pencil

8. Working on the Bridge of the Nose

Step 1

Now we come to another focal part of this image, the bridge of the nose. Start as in previous steps by laying down our graphite base. Because the bridge of the puppy’s nose is quite dark, it might be worth your while working over the base with more graphite powder to darken the tones.

A close up of our base tones Take note on how I have tried to build up darker tones to give me an indication later on

Step 2 

After you have laid the base tones with short overlaying strokes, build up your fur layers with a 5B pencil. This is another one of those steps where paying close attention to your reference will pay dividends in the long run.

As we can see later on when I have filled in some of my finer hairs the early work was invaliuble

Step 3

When it comes to working in darker hairs, my best advice would be to use a sharp 7B or black coloured pencil. This section of the image may take a while to build up as the hairs are only short, but it is one of the main focal points on the picture so taking care is essential. 

Lighter hairs are few and far between in this part of the image, but any that do need working in are best created using our square Tombow eraser.

We are close to finishing this section now I must state again that using mechanical pencils in this step is vital

9. Working on the Underbody

Step 1

For the lower parts of the puppy’s underbody, it is best to follow the same technique as we have used on his head, applying a layer of charcoal with our soft charcoal stick and then working into it with a cotton bud. After applying the base layer, take your Tombow erasers or putty eraser if you wish and, using a light touch, draw out lighter hairs on the body.

You can see the reason why it is best to work light to dark in this screenshot

Step 2

Following the overlay technique we have used throughout this tutorial, you should have no problem rendering the fine, dark hairs on the puppy's underbody. It is best to do this stage with either a 6B mechanical pencil, a sharp 7B regular pencil or a black colour pencil.

Here you can see how useful our Tombow erasers are in creating fine white hairs

10. Back Legs and Adding Lens Blur

Step 1

Now we shall move on to the parts of the puppy which, if you notice in our reference, are slightly out of focus in the shot. To create this we begin as we have done in previous steps by putting down a base layer of graphite powder and then working over the top with our soft charcoal.

For the puppys back legs using our circulism technique can save time time and effort

Step 2

Next, if you have blended the charcoal, take your square Tombow eraser and begin carving out lighter tones, but only use a light touch to carve out hairs. This is because we do not want to be left with big white spaces—as you will notice in your reference, the hairs on his back legs are not that well highlighted due to being out of focus. 

Using your Tombow erasers with a light touch or your putty eraser is best for this step

Step 3

To further dull the features, you can either use a cotton bud, soft brush or tissue paper to blend the tones on the puppy’s back legs. For the edges of the legs it will best to use a clean cotton bud or medium blending nub to work on these, using tight circulism with a light touch to blend the edges. 

You may need to go over the edges a few times to achieve the right effect and, again, pay close attention to your reference, as this is another one of those points where you may need to work hard but the payoff is more than worth it. 

After you have finished blending, you may want to come in with your square Tombow eraser or regular gum eraser to clean up the edges where you have been blending.

After applying darker tones use a clean cotton bud large blending nub or soft paintbrush to blur the edges to give the feel of distance

11. Creating Floor Shadows

Step 1

Now for a relatively simple part of our process, working on the shadows underneath the puppy. To work on this, take a sharp B pencil and, using light cross-hatching, work in a light tone underneath the puppy. Nearer the back legs it might be worthwhile going over your hatchings again to darken the tones. 

For blending, take a piece of tissue paper and, using the circulism method, bring your tones together.

The shadows on this image are very light so will require only a light touch to work in

Step 2

Paying close attention to our reference again, you may notice on the floor there is a slight reflection of the puppy’s claws. To simply create this, take your round Tombow eraser and remove a section of tone where the reflection is.

Erase areas of tone to give the impression of reflections of the puppys claws on the floor

12. Working on the Eyes

Step 1

One of the main focal points of this image is the puppy’s eyes. They are one of the main features that make him so loveable, so it is worthwhile paying very close attention to them. 

Start by laying down a layer of graphite using your cotton bud in the highlights of his eye, but only use a light touch at this stage as we may need to erase areas of these as we proceed. 

Afterward, take one of your compressed charcoal sticks and with a moderate touch, begin working in the black areas such as the pupils and shadow around the eye. Avoid filling the edges near the highlights for now.

Hopefully you can see our two base tones side by side here both charcoal and graphite

Step 2

Take a clean cotton bud and, using our reference, begin blending the edges of our black areas to give the impression of shadows in the eyes. 

As before, you may notice that blending does draw out the charcoal, giving it a “grey” look rather than pure black. To fix this it might be worthwhile taking a charcoal pencil and going over the pupils and other black areas that require a fine touch.

In the opposite eye notice how clever blending of the charcoal layer can give a great effect of depth in the eye

Step 3

Now we move on to the reflections in the eyes and, if you have done the first steps properly, this should be straightforward. It is worth remembering that there are no pure whites in the eyes themselves, and even the so called “white of the eyes” have a little tone in them. The only pure white is for our specular highlights. 

So for this step, take an HB or a B pencil and, using light cross-hatching, blend in lighter tones in the iris and then take a small blending nub to blend these together. Any fine details in the iris can be drawn in with a mechanical HB or 2B pencil. 

Finally, for the specular highlights in the eye, take your circular Tombow eraser and remove any traces of graphite in this area. Now you should have an eye that will strike any viewer of your work.

The finished right eye Notice thew only white area left is in the little specular highlight in the top left corner

13. Working on the Nose

Step 1 

Having worked on breathing life into a dog’s soulful eyes, we now move on to another part of a dog which really adds cuteness: his wet nose. For this we begin by placing a few layers of graphite using our cotton buds and circulism application methods to create a good base.

Apply a graphite base tone as you have done throughout this tutorial

Step 2

Now to begin creating the “wet look” on his nose, take your circular Tombow eraser and begin “tapping” the paper with a light touch to create the pores on his nose. For pores that are quite highly reflective, use a harder touch to remove the graphite. 

At this point, take note of your reference closely and do not go crazy in creating pointless effects, a useful tip being “less is more”.

The nose a little more rendered with 4B and 6B pencils Note how I have begun to pick out highlights at this point too

Step 3

Now for the darker tones, using a sharp 6B or 7B pencil, touch in darker pores along what would be the edge of the puppy’s nose.  As with the above, be measured in how many pores you wish to put in, and remember to pay close attention to your reference. 

For the nostrils, continue using your 6B pencil to fill in shadow areas. For pure blacks, take one of your black colour pencils and work this in using tight circulism. It may be necessary to use your putty eraser for the dull highlights under the nostrils.  

The finished section careful rendering with mechanical pencils is essential

14. Finishing Touches

You should now have an image that is more or less finished! At this point I would recommend you go over your work and check it carefully against our reference to make sure you have not missed any details. If you have been careful and have taken your time with this image, hopefully you will find that this is not the case. 

To seal your work, you should now spray your drawing with artist’s fixative. This substance prevents any accidental smudging of your drawing when it is in storage or on display.

Our complete image

And at Last We Are Done!

Now you have a cutesy, cuddly drawing that either you or others can treasure for many years to come. Also, you now hopefully have the knowledge to take forward and try drawing and rendering your own pets at home or ones you observe in the natural world.

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