Bored at home? Try this DRAWING lesson.

Draw a Capybara

Here's a quick lesson to get your head wrapped around something you can do creatively.

Last year I agreed to illustrate 18 animals for a new Rainforest exhibit at the Brevard Zoo in Melbourne, Florida.

Color added to Capybara drawing

When the executive director and director of education talked to me about what they could expect stylistically for the illustrations I explained that my art would be interpretations and not photo realistic. Thankfully, they were fine with this.

The zoo had professional and talented amateur photographers in the area that love to photograph their animals. However, the animals are only a few feet away from the visitors and MY art was going to be used on educational signs. It just seemed to me that an exact photographic image or precisely accurate illustration wouldn't be as strong an element as an interpretive hand drawn artwork.

How to think about your drawings.

Most of all, I'd like you to draw what you see, not what you think others want to see. It doesn't have to be accurate, anatomically correct, or even the exact colors.

Picasso illustration one line
Picasso's one
line Camel,

In this case it's a Capybara. It could just as easily be a landscape, a house, or an umbrella on the beach.

It's what you see. It's what's in your head. Not mine. Or your significant other's, your mom's head, or the opinionated zoo board member next door. For once, it's all about you, and you are always right when you draw. Ask Picasso >

Be sure to start with reference material

Capybara reference animal

I can't draw animals out of my head. I've tried. It always ends badly. I forget where the tail attaches or how close the ears are to the nose. They look ridiculous. So I'm in the habit of finding reference material. In the design business we call it 'scrap'. You can say to your parent, teacher, or spouse, "I'm going out to find some scrap," and this will make you sound very 'woke'.

One morning I went to the zoo to do some quick sketches of the Capybara, but the Capybara weren't feeling particularly cooperative. This isn't unusual. Animals have other things on their minds than posing. And the visiting humans were very distracting, too.

Out of desperation I did a quick search on my phone and found the stock example above.

Waste lots of paper or pixels when you sketch

Sketch for yourself. Avoid tracing. Paper and pixels are cheap. I like softer charcoal pencils (HB to 6B). I wanted the Capybara face and body to be more gestural. You can see I wasn't worried about accuracy. I wanted a gesture or body position.

Capybara sketched animalJames Audubon

Happily the very sharp director of education at the zoo looked at my sketches and said, "good, that works." We were off and running stylistically.

I have found that when you don't try to draw animals as accurately as naturalist painter John James Audubon (see above) people aren't as picky about feather shapes and nose hair colors.

Add definition with a darker ink, marker, brush, or even a crayon.

Capybara inked animal

Transfer your sketch freehand to your heavier paper. Sometimes, as a guide, I put my sketch on top of my heaver paper and press hard on my sketch to put a light indentation on my heavier paper. Then I draw again and follow the indentation. Other times I take a picture of the sketch with my phone and import it into my iPad Pro.

(BTW, this is where you ask your parents for the new iPad Pro with the big screen and the $125 pen that's easy to lose.)

Adding definition helps you hone in on the animal shape and forces you to make decisions about the shape of things and where lines fall. Again, don't be worried about an exact reproduction. The more you fuss over little areas of the drawing [like the ears, for example], the more awkward the entire drawing looks.

You'll want a better quality of paper when you add the outline. This contains the shape and the color of the animal. Bond paper falls apart. I like smooth, white bristol, and you can find this almost anywhere.

Add lighter and darker color to give your Capybara dimension and shape

I know what you're thinking: he just threw the color on the animal! What a rank amateur! But, there's method to my coloration technique:

I like to start with a wash of color ... a lighter color that I can add darker or lighter colors to. You can see this wash of lighter color under the belly and at the top of the face. Lighter colors work better since colors darken as they dry.

Color added to Capybara drawing

I add darker colors for shadows and lighter colors for highlights. You'll notice that I wasn't too particular about accuracy. I just wanted my Capybara to look alive and 3-dimensional.

You can also see that I colored outside the lines (a mortal sin in elementary school art class years ago). I even added hairs over the black outline. The shame!

Above everything else, have fun & don't be critical of yourself!

This is your drawing. I've been drawing for years and still don't like half of what I draw. If you show your drawing to someone and they turn up their nose, don't fret or be deterred. Keep a pad of paper (or your iPad) in your backpack or in the glovebox of your car and look for things to sketch.

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