Drawing a Horse in Colored Pencil

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Learn How to Draw a Realistic Horse

horse drawing tutorial
Janet's completed horse drawing. (c) Janet Griffin-Scott, licensed to About.com, Inc.

Drawing realistic looking horses is fun with colored pencils. Guest artist Janet Griffin-Scott gives us a step-by-step tutorial for doing just that. It begins with the simple structure of a quarter horse and builds layers of colored pencil to create a fantastic portrait of a beautiful animal.

As you follow along, feel free to adjust the drawing or colors to suit your own horse. You can also apply these techniques to draw from any reference photo of your choice.

Supplies Needed

For this tutorial, you will need drawing paper, a set of colored pencils, and a black graphite pencil.

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Drawing the Basic Horse Structure

the basic structural sketch of the horse drawing
The basic structural sketch. © Janet Griffin-Scott, licensed to About.com, Inc.

As with any drawing, we will begin this horse with a simple outline. Start by breaking down the horse's body into recognizable shapes: circles, ovals, rectangles, and triangles. Draw very lightly so you can erase your structural lines and correct any mistakes (this sketch has been darkened so it will display on screen).

Tip: Remember that with any animal, it is easier to work off a reference photo than to draw from life. They’re unpredictable and will move when you don’t want them to. Besides, a photo will let you analyze the finer details of the horse and take your time adding those to your drawing.

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Drawing the Outline

horse drawing outline
The horse drawing outline. (c) Janet Griffin-Scott, licensed to About.com, Inc.

The next step is to join the shapes together in order to create a rough outline. Use fluid lines to connect each shape to the next and give the horse more life. As you do this, continue to keep the lines light.

At the same time, erase some of the basic shapes you started with. A few can remain to outline the horse’s muscles and direct your coloring, but many will be unnecessary once you add color.

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Adding the First Layers of Color

First layers of color on the horse drawing.
First layers of color on the horse drawing. Janet Griffin-Scott, licensed to About.com, Inc.

Now that your horse has a defined shape, it’s time to begin adding color. This is done in many layers and begins with the lightest on the horse’s body. Your horse will look a little pale at first, but we’ll build it up to the deep browns before the end.

Start with the basic colors for the various parts of the horse. The mane, tail, and legs will be black, leaving the white paper for highlights.

Yellow ochre forms a light first layer over the horse’s body. It doesn’t have to cover the entire body in a solid layer ​but will act as the base and highlights.

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Layering the Colored Pencil

Janet Griffin-Scott, licensed to About.com, Inc.

Start adding the next layers, gradually darkening areas as you go. Pay careful attention to your photo and notice the white highlight areas where the sun really reflects off the curves of her shoulder, rump, and back. Maintaining these in the drawing adds to the depth and realism.

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Refining the Details

Horse drawing - refining details
Refining detail in the horse drawing. (c) Janet Griffin-Scott, licensed to About.com, Inc.

With the base covered, the rest is a matter of tightening up the details. Work around the drawing and look for the little things you can add to give it more dimension.

For example, you can begin by adding layers of deep brown and black to further define the legs and joints. A few more strokes are also added to the hairs on the mane and tail and darker areas of shadow are created in the legs farthest away from the viewer.

Notice that areas of the flank start to get crosshatched. This darkens the colors but while still allowing a bit of the white paper to show through.

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Finishing the Horse Drawing

the completed horse drawing
The completed horse drawing. (c) Janet Griffin-Scott, licensed to About.com

The horse drawing is finished off with some work in the most detailed areas.

Here, the shadows on the neck and chest are darkened. You can also add definition in the rump, stifle and gaskin (upper back leg), and hooves.

A bit of green grass is added along the bottom and is allowed to partially cover the hooves. A dark blue shadow is drawn in directly under the mare. This finishing touch suggests an overhead light that matches the sunlight falling on the horse's body.

With those final details, your horse should be done. Use these steps and tips to try another horse portrait and remember that art is all about practice. Before you know it, these will become easy to draw.