How to draw animals better: 23 brilliant tips

Leading illustraors show how they create amazing animal artworks – whether vector, drawn or painted using digital tools or pens, pencils or brushes.


I start by creating a mashup of photographs of the chosen subject, I manipulate, merge and create something different to everything I put in. I’ll then draw directly from that with a Pentel pencil or a thicker softer one depending on the texture I’m aiming for.

Jamie Mitchell (UK)

I scan it in, using a setting I’ve honed to get the best from my drawings. Add colour to the point where it feels finished, using textures, overlays and painting directly onto it and changing the opacity to ensure it’s not overbearing. I struggle to draw something unless I can see it. I like to include a lot of detail, and it’s hard if you’re making it up.

Jamie Mitchell (UK)


I love animals. The thought behind my illustrations normally goes something like this: ‘okay, I like this animal, what could it be doing in my drawing?’ I always pick the animal first. I like to have a zingy colour involved too, so I usually try and pick an object or an item of clothing which will contrast with their natural colour.

Jamie Mitchell (UK)

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The key to any successful animal Illustration is balance. For me, finding the right balance between the complexity of patterns, segments and colours is crucial. I tend to use a grid of geometric shapes to construct my composition whilst using an invisible frame to place visual elements around my drawing.  

Casiegraphics (Germany)


Focus on the eyes. Animals, like humans express themselves predominately through their eyes and their gaze. Giving enough expression in this area can really make or break the whole illustration.

Casiegraphics (Germany)


As a stylistic choice I tend to keep my illustrations within a maximum of five colours along with black and white. The colour selection is almost always performed during the initial sketching stage from my selection of swatches. As my sketching develops, the colour choices are ever-evolving alongside.

Casiegraphics (Germany)

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Invest in a good graphic tablet and editing software as they will be indispensable in the final stages of your illustration. Even if you are more of a fan of traditional techniques, any crucial final changes or adjustments can be made digitally during this part of the process.

Casiegraphics (Germany)


Sketching the characters first to see what I can come up with. When I am satisfied with the basic lines, I scan the rough pencil work and continue with Photoshop to refine it. Creating a setting – a world for the character to exist in comes next. Keeping things simple is one of my main concerns. When I make an illustration, I see the setting more like a theatrical stage and not as a whole world that I have to draw every tiny little detail.

Danny Chatzikonstantinou (Greece)


I digitally paint my artwork using Artrage and Photoshop. I use a lot of real life scanned paper because I love the texture and feel of it. When I finish with color, I remove the pencil work, as I don’t want it to be part of the illustration. Occasionally, I use a bit of collage in my work if I think it would be an improvement.

Danny Chatzikonstantinou (Greece)

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When I’m working on a narrative piece, like a kids book, I have to consider what the text is asking the characters to do and how much I might have to anthropomorphise them. For example a cow standing in a field is pretty straight forward, but if he’s later driving a car and dancing the lindy hop I need to work out how this can be anatomically possible and still retain some continuity.

Kate Hindley (UK)


Get out and about as much as you can – visit nature centres or local parks - you can never have too many references! Pinterest and Flickr are the best at-the-desk ways to find out which way horses legs bend, and discover new obscure animals that might spark ideas. The biggest challenge is often getting the anatomy right. I’ve found Youtube is a great resource to find videos of animals in motion.

Kate Hindley (UK)


I think fur and markings are good fun, and can really change the personality of your characters. Short dots and dashes usually denote short hair, whereas long strokes suggest something silkier or shaggy.

The medium you are drawing with will make a difference too. Something rough and bitty like a pencil crayon enlarged on the photocopier looks quite unkempt compared to shiny silky strokes make with a soft brush and ink.

Kate Hindley (UK)

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I often start with the ‘bare bones’ of a character; it’s basic shapes. I add the eyes and the mouth holding the expression I want and the body language is then drawn to support the facial expression.

I do ground them if necessary to help with where the weight of the character will be distributed and a simple shadow can do wonders.

Emma Levey (UK)


Drawing from life is really important. If you’re drawing animals it can be difficult to find the ones you want to draw or they often move too quickly to get them down on paper. This is good to capture the ‘essence’ of them but if you’re after detail then books, the internet and wildlife programmes are great tools to research animal traits and habits.

Emma Levey (UK)


When I first start on a new bird illustration, I use Google’s Image Search to try and get a feel for how the bird looks, and moves. I’ll spend a good while watching videos too and keeping my finger hovering over the pause button to capture an interesting angle. Once I’ve collected enough reference material I start sketching in Photoshop.

Andrew Lyon (France)

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I prefer to sketch digitally with my reference on the screen as it allows me to easily edit my sketches.

For me, the rough sketching phase is the most important part of building an illustration. If I’m not entirely satisfied which my thumbnail sketches I know that the illustration won’t work as a finished illustration.

Andrew Lyon (France)


I aim to capture the movement and elegance of a bird using simple forms rather than feel that I’m constrained by reality. I try to decide from looking at the reference material what feeling I want the bird to convey. In the case of my swan illustration it was elegance, so I built the bird in my sketches using long simple curves to reflect this.

Andrew Lyon (France)


Create a few basic geometric shapes and use them in combination to solve the animal’s form.  This may seem limiting at first but it’s incredible what you can make using a small arsenal of geometric shapes.  Limiting yourself with a set of ‘rules’ in this way means you have to come up with new and alternative solutions rather than just drawing something true to life.

MUTI (South Africa)

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Pay particular attention to proportions. If your chosen animal is something that is small or quite nimble, then make sure the features represent that: small paws or feet, dainty or pointed features to retain elegance and weight.

Marcus Reed (UK)


With larger animals, bigger bolder shapes to instil a sense of scale, power and size. Illustrating in a stylised way, I tend to think more in shapes and symmetry – creating geometric and angular shapes for a stronger defined look, which works well with this lion.

Marcus Reed (UK)


For creating muscle groups and definition, a good basic understanding of anatomy helps – as it does when drawing anything organic, human or animal. But like anything in life, you'll get better with practice.

Marcus Reed (UK)

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I always start a drawing by hand to find the essential characteristics of the animal. I use one or two colours to create depth – selecting colours that complement each other for strong visual impact – and make use of symmetry to repeat elements to speed the process up.

YoAz (France)


I principally work with Illustrator, using the pen tool and build up the illustration with geometric shapes, and visual symbols.

YoAz (France)