Jul 18, 2014

How To Draw Animals - Horse Legs - Part 1

This won't be a comprehensive tutorial on how to draw all animals from head to toe. There are plenty of how-to-draw books and articles out there already. If you're interested in learning how to draw animals I'm sure you've already seen tutorials that show you how to start drawing a series of circles around the major sections of the body, then connecting them with outlines and finally adding detail. This isn't going to be that type of tutorial. Instead, I want to focus on some specific things artists tend to struggle with when first learning to draw animals, things too specific to be covered in a general how-to-draw-animals books. For example, legs can be a challenge so today I'm going to talk about legs.

Since most people have seen horses in real life, and they're considered a favorite animal and art subject by many, I'm going to use the horse as my subject for the topic of drawing legs today.

If you want to draw horses the first thing you should do is learn their basic anatomy. I recommend you go do an image search for horse anatomy before continuing. Look at some pictures that have all the body parts named. Study some pictures of muscles and skeletons. And you really should keep an anatomy book like Animal Anatomy for Artists on your bookshelf. So I won't be giving you an anatomy lesson today. I will, however, add an image with the names of a few major leg joints here just for handy reference so you'll know what I'm talking about when I name joints.

Today I'm not only going to focus on legs but specifically the hind legs. The front legs are straight so they're relatively easy. We all recognize that most animal's back legs are not perfectly straight but have at least one bend in them, and a portion of the leg is at an angle and not perpendicular to the ground. The problem with beginning animal artists is knowing exactly where that bend goes and how much of an angle to give it. The leg does indeed bend at the hock joint even when the horse is standing squarely. The upper part of the leg slopes at an angle toward the rear of the animal. The lower part of the leg, however, does not have much of an angle when the horse is standing squarely. It is usually close to being perpendicular to the ground, as shown in the image below.

One mistake I see with beginners is putting too much slope in the lower part of the leg. This puts the hind feet too far forward under the body so the animal looks like it might rock back on its hind legs and sit down. I've drawn an image here, exaggerating a bit to highlight what I'm talking about. I've drawn colored lines representing the correct and incorrect angles next to each other for easier comparison.

So, to avoid this mistake, remember that the upper part of the leg slopes at a clear angle relative to the ground but the lower part is relatively perpendicular. Another thing to keep in mind is that the lower leg lines up vertically with the horse's buttocks. If you were to draw a straight line down from the buttocks to the ground, the line would pass through the hock and fetlock joints.

Another mistake I see with the hind legs is going the opposite direction. By putting too much slope in the upper part of the leg (rather than the lower part) the hind feet are pushed out behind the animal.

With this mistake the artist often also puts too much of a curve in the upper leg as well as too much slope. Because the rear contour of the leg is rather curvy we tend to think of the whole leg as curvy. But if you look at the front contour of the hind leg it's relatively straight with just a few undulations where muscles and joints bulge slightly. But the entire upper leg is not one big curve.

So keep these tips in mind:

  • The upper and lower sections of the horse's leg are each rather straight. The main bend, or angle, in the leg is only at the hock joint.
  • When the horse is standing squarely, the lower section of the leg is nearly perpendicular to the ground. It should only be angled if the horse has shifted its foot forward, or is walking or running. In that case the entire leg should be rotated forward or back, not just the lower part.
  • Remember the buttocks. Drop a line from the buttocks to the ground and see where your leg is relative to that line. If it's too far forward or backward it should be because your horse is in motion, walking, running, or trotting.

Well, that's it for this tutorial. I'll talk more about legs in part 2 next time.

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