How to Draw Horses with Eva Dutton
Eva Dutton - Posted on 22 Feb 2012
Drawing from lifeThe question I am most frequently asked as a painter of horses is: ‘How do you make them keep still?’ The answer is, you don’t! What you learn to do is observe: look, watch, sketch and draw as much as possible, and you soon develop the eyebrain- hand coordination that allows you to pick up on the line, shape and form that builds into a recognisable horse.
These racehorses were closely bunched together. I quickly drew circles to position the horses, details were added later.
I tried to follow an arc shape to add to the balance of the group
Drawing from live horses will teach you the most, but it is also the most difficult when you are first starting, so by all means use other reference material to help you get going. Photographs, film footage, sculpture, paintings and books will help you to develop an understanding of your subject so that when faced with a real horse, you will have gained some confidence in your abilities as an artist.
Don’t be put off by people looking over your shoulder; be pleased they are interested enough to have a look and remember it is very easy to criticise, and very brave to actually have a go at drawing in public.
If possible, try to collect some horse hair from the coat, mane and tail, as this will help you to understand texture and colour, but you will need permission to do this.
If you are really keen, you could obtain bones and even hooves from dead horses. Ask your local vet or hunt kennels – these are completely orthodox sources. Please don’t do as George Stubbs, the famous horse painter, did, and employ body snatchers. I do, however, recommend that you look at his anatomical drawings.
Riding School Ponies
Ponies trotting in a ménage will circle several times, so you can get a good look at them.
These were going around on a track and over some poles
Good places to draw horses
- The parade paddock at a racecourse.
- Horse shows, especially in hand classes where horses will be standing for lengths of time without a rider.
- Riding schools often have viewing galleries and they are sometimes indoors, which is great for bad weather sketching.
- Horse sales – but don’t come home with one!
- Workshops, for example with the Society of Equestrian Artists, where you can meet like-minded people
In hand show class at line-up
These Hunter-class horses were waiting to see who had come first.
I think the judge was approaching as the two horses on the right have noticed movement.
I have used lines as well as circles to place and position these fellows so the proportions correctly relate to the whole line-up
There is a lot of information available, so be choosy and try to pick out quality images.
Using reference material
Remember that while photographs can be extremely useful, they are no substitute for drawing from life. Use them when needed to aid memory and learn about the look of something, but you still need to be aware of expressing thoughts and feelings in your work that are unique to you. This will not happen by slavishly copying a photograph. Also, often what works brilliantly as a photograph simply will not work as a painting.
Digital cameras are very useful for making short videos, which is a good way to study limb movement. Keeping a folder of useful images is a good idea, even better if you are organised enough to put them in sections such as heads, eyes, rearing, jumping and so on. You can easily keep adding to your collection.
A family group
This family group are very closely bonded and I wanted to show them in close proximity to each other.
Looking clockwise from top left, you can see that they begin as a scribble drawing, develop into a shape drawing, then a tonal detail drawing, and finally a painting
Study of a horse - Artists to look at
- Henry Moore – look for his sketched ideas for sculptures, such as those in the book Animals by WJ Strachan.
- Leonardo Da Vinci – there are Da Vinci Sketchbooks containing drawings of horses
- Lucy Kemp- Welch did paintings, mainly of heavy horses, as well as the illustrations to Black Beauty, the 1877 novel by Anna Sewell.
- Captain Adrian Jones was a sculptor and painter who specialised in animals, especially horses. Look for his equestrian sculptures.
Using anatomical drawingsIt is worth learning a little basic anatomy. This will help almost literally to put flesh on to your scribble and shape drawings. Look closely at the illustrations here and, if possible, look at real horses or good photographs to grasp a sense of what is going on just below the surface.
Take time to look at a static, and then a dynamic, moving horse. Notice how muscle shape alters, especially on the neck, shoulders and hindquarters. It is also helpful to note the difference between human and equine anatomy.
We have evolved to stand upright while horses have evolved to stand on all fours, in effect standing on tip-toes to enable them to outrun predators.
When drawing and painting, try to put your body into the horse’s posture, feel the tensions, relaxations, contractions and expansion of muscle, tendons and ligaments. This will help you to develop an empathy towards horses’ moods and feelings and give more sincerity to your work.
A note on safety
- Always obtain permission to have contact with other people’s horses and never go on to private land without it.
- Do not be tempted to feed titbits to horses – it can cause a lot of problems.
- Be careful not to drop anything when sketching – horses will find it and eat it.
- Flapping sheets of paper and the hiss of spray fixative can scare horses.
- Never leave a tied-up horse unattended.
- Set yourself up in an appropriate place to sketch so as not to interfere with horses, riders or even mares with their foals, however cute.