For useful reference photos of many types of dogs in every possible position, explore dog photos on Adobe Stock. If you’re drawing a portrait of a specific dog, try to find as many reference photos as you can to get a sense of the dog’s personality.
If you draw or paint digitally, you can pull reference right onto your canvas and even practice by tracing one or two digital dog photos. Check out this step-by-step Adobe Photoshop Sketch tutorial to get started.
Understand dogs’ bodies.
Your drawing can benefit from learning about canine muscular and skeletal structure. “One of the most helpful things when you’re drawing any kind of animal is to realize how their anatomy conforms with our own,” says artist Jonathan Case. A dog’s skeleton is fairly similar to that of a human, with a spine connecting the head and neck to a prominent rib cage and pelvis, but the hips and neck are angled, and the proportions of the bones are different.
Dogs’ legs can be particularly difficult to capture. “What we think of as the dog’s elbow is actually like their ankle, and their back legs have a very different structure from the front,” artist Megan Levens explains. “They’re up on their toes like most animals.” Becoming familiar with the skeletal structure gives you a literal and figurative foundation to build upon. “Once you have an idea of how to rest that back foot and understand where their thigh muscle sits in relation to their knee and their ankle, you get a better understanding of how to proportion them,” says artist Lucas Elliott.
Begin your drawing with basic shapes.
Use simple shapes to create a rough outline of the dog’s body. Draw lightly — or, if you’re drawing digitally with Adobe Fresco, use a layer you’ll hide later. “For a dog with a longer snout, I’ll draw a ball or a rounded cube for the main part of the dog’s head, the cranium, and then I’ll add a cylinder, rectangle, or some sort of block for the rest of the snout,” says Levens. “For shorter-faced dogs, it ends up being two cubes kind of blocked together, or even one cube. And then a cylinder for the chest and a smaller rounded cube for the hip area.”
For the legs, remember that the upper leg bones (femur and humerus) appear shorter than the lower leg bones. Check your sketch against reference photos and make adjustments until you’re satisfied with the proportions.