Draw a Horse Show Jumper in Colored Pencil

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Drawing a Horse and Rider Jumping

The competed drawing of horse and rider showjumping.
The competed drawing of horse and rider showjumping. (c) Janet Griffin-Scott, licensed to About.com, Inc.

A challenging exercise in drawing, guest artist Janet Griffin-Scott will walk you through the steps needed to create a show jumper in colored pencil. This active horse and rider drawing use a fresh and light-handed colored pencil technique without excessive layering.

As you work through the lesson, feel free to make it your own. You can adjust the sketch, change the colors to suit your own horse, or add background elements as you see fit. In the end, you’ll have ​a full-color horse drawing that is filled with action.

Supplies Needed

To complete this tutorial, you will need a graphite pencil and eraser along with a set of colored pencils. Two pieces of paper are used, one for the initial sketch and another for the final drawing. You might also need tracing paper, but there are options that don't require this.

You'll also find it helpful to have some cotton swabs and a scrap piece of paper to act as a slip sheet.

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Sketching the Basic Structure

the preliminary structural sketch of horse and rider
The preliminary structural sketch of the horse and rider. © Janet Griffin-Scott, licensed to About.com, Inc.

Drawing a horse and rider jumping is quite complicated. It is a big subject that involves many components. The best way to begin is to break it down into manageable stages.

This step does not have to be done on your best paper. The preliminary sketch and outline will be traced onto another paper to ensure a clean background. Do make sure that both papers are nearly the same size to make the transfer easier.

By using your imagination, you can think about the main forms of the horse and rider. Begin with a very rough sketch that outlines the basic circles, ovals, triangles, and rectangles you see in the reference drawing. These will be used as guides for the final shapes we see and can help us analyze the underlying composition.

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Drawing the Outline

developing the structural sketch of the horse
Developing the structural sketch. © Janet Griffin-Scott, licensed to About.com, Inc.

At this stage, we begin to develop the formal outline of the horse drawing. Start by erasing the shapes underneath and sketch in joining lines to create the horse's frame.

At the same time, you can try to relate aspects of the drawing to other parts of the picture. This can help you judge whether things are lined up correctly and if the proportions are right. For instance, it makes sense that the top rail of the fence meets the base of the horse’s ears because this adds scale to both elements.

You can also do your subject a few favors while you're drawing. This is your chance to show them in the best light by using a bit of artist's license. You might correct any faults of the horse and rider, making a more attractive and desirable form going over the fence.

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Transferring the Outline

outline drawing of horse and rider showjumping.
The outline of the show jumping horse and rider ready for coloring. © Janet Griffin-Scott, licensed to About.com, Inc.

It is now time to prepare your outline to be transferred to the paper you’ll use for the final drawing. For this drawing, I used Saunders Waterford Watercolour Hot Pressed paper for the end product.

You can use a light table or a window to trace the outline onto tracing paper. It’s also a good idea to simplify your lines, tracing only those that are absolutely necessary for shape and definition.

How to Transfer the Sketch

There are a few different ways that you can transfer the sketch onto the final drawing surface.

  • Using a standard graphite pencil, carefully scribble along the lines of the drawing. Press these onto the new surface by tracing around them again while the graphite is pressed against the new paper.
  • If your final drawing paper is transparent enough, tape the rough drawing on a glass window and tape the good paper over top. Carefully trace the main lines.
  • Use an art projector and project the final drawing onto your surface. This is a good choice if you need to enlarge or reduce the sketch.
  • There is also the classical grid pattern method. This has you draw a light grid over the sketch and one on the final drawing. You'll then draw elements on the new paper, going box by box and copying the lines of your sketch. In the past, this was the only way to do a transfer, but I vastly prefer the second or third methods described above.
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Adding Color

begin adding color to the horse drawing
Begin adding color to the horse drawing. Janet Griffin-Scott, licensed to About.com, Inc.

It’s time to begin adding color with pencils. Start with browns on the roan pony’s face. The rider’s face is shades of flesh tones and reds, and the t-shirt is about five layers of red with navy blue shadows.

You can see the white texture of the paper showing as small white flecks. Hot pressed paper has just the right amount of texture for my style and preference. Experiment with different surfaces to see what works best for you.

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Developing the Drawing

Show Jumper - developing the drawing
Developing the Drawing. (c) Janet Griffin-Scott, licensed to About.com, Inc.

At this stage, the lines of muscle and tendons on the pony’s front legs are outlined with shading to show her strength. Also, work on the tack details for the bridle, martingale, and girth.

Notice how the shadowed areas are completed before moving onto new areas. This roan color can be a challenge to get right, so it's also best to leave highlights on the chest and shoulders.

Tip: Keep the drawing clean by using a slip sheet—a spare piece of paper—under your working hand.

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Adding Hair Texture

working on the horse hair texture
Working on the horse hair texture. (c) Janet Griffin-Scott, licensed to About.com

Small flecks of color with a very sharp point are added to suggest individual hairs. Keep sharpening your pencil to ensure the finest details while doing this.

Blend areas flat with a clean cotton swab to smudge and soften areas on the saddle flap. This gives the leather a smooth texture and also works well on the flank of the pony.

Darken the standards of the jump with a ruler and erase any smudges. A clean eraser is a must. Before each use, clean it on a scrap of paper to prevent adding dirty areas to your color.

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Filling Out the Picture

filling out details and background in the horse drawing
Filling out the picture adding details and background. (c) Janet Griffin-Scott, licensed to About.com

We are now going to fill out the picture by adding details and background.

Start roughing in the riding ring dirt with shades of brown and red. Darken the jump cups on the jump with a ruler and shades of gray to create crisp lines.

Tail hairs are drawn in one stroke at a time. Pay careful attention to the direction the hair is growing near the stifle (the large rear joint of a horse) to ensure realistic details.

Also, add the shadows of the rider’s leg on the barrel of the horse with a clean, accurate line.

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The Background and Foreground

Developing the background and adding some darks
Developing the background and adding some darks. Janet Griffin-Scott, licensed to About.com, Inc.

To complete the drawing, we just need to finish some details and work on the background and foreground. Everything is worked at once, so care must be taken to not smudge or ruin the previous layers of color.

More detail is added to the dirt, trees, grass, and background pasture. The ring footing (the ground in the show ring) is drawn, building up layers of dirt and suggesting small stones and contours. The fence, grass, and background trees are also started in layers of light green.

The jump is darkened slightly again. The blue sky is roughed in and smudged with the cotton swab to flatten the soft crumbly, waxy strokes.

As you look around, decide which areas to darken. Some suggestions include the front leg of the pony, the half chaps of the rider, and the first treeline.

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The Complete Picture

the complete horse show jumping picture
The complete horse show jumping picture. Janet Griffin-Scott, licensed to About.com, Inc.

To finish the drawing, final details are added in the shadows, tail, and saddle. White is also added on the saddle's highlights.

Darker green shadow areas are added to the background trees and more layers of color go onto the chest and front legs of the pony. The dirt is smudged again and more small strokes are added to suggest sand and an uneven texture.

Finally, the entire drawing is sprayed with a matte fixative to protect the fragile surface. It’s also best to frame drawings to fully preserve them. Using UV glass will help prevent fading as well.