If you’re an aspiring creature artist, you may know the struggle of trying to draw a head in a specific view from imagination. It’s so easy to lose the proportions when adding all the details to some crazy 3D view! Even if you study hundreds of photos, you may still have trouble imagining the 3D form of what you’re drawing.
That’s why it’s good to study skulls—you can hold them in your hand, you can touch and rotate them, and this way you can find the set of guide lines that will work for every view. In this tutorial, I will show you how to study skulls to become better at drawing animals from imagination.
What You Will Need
Obviously, a skull. You can buy a real skull from a local hunter, but be careful. Some animals are hunted as a part of the population control (in Poland, that’s foxes) or as an effort to get rid of invasive species (in Poland, raccoon dogs), so getting a skull acquired this way is fine.
However, some animals are hunted illegally, and by buying a skull from this kind of hunter you support this practice. Before you buy a skull, do some research to find out if the animal you want to study is under protection in your area. In that case, even buying such a skull may be illegal!
In many cases, the safest way is to buy a high-quality replica. The only difference lies in the smallest details, so they’re perfectly fine to study, and they’re also often much cheaper than the real thing!
1. How to Draw the Upper Jaw
We want to establish the proportions as completely and as early as possible, to create a support for more lines. I prefer to start with the width of the forehead—it’s a part of the “top cross” that creates an impression of a plane with only two lines.
The other arm of the cross is the line going along the longer axis of the skull. It should bend according to the profile of the head.
See? Only two lines, and we already see the top of the skull.
The eyes are another important element that should be established early. Attach the eye sockets to the shorter arm of the cross, paying attention to the perspective.
The nose is another thing that captures our attention, and it can be simplified to a nice, regular shape. Its position will help us imagine the end of the muzzle.
The basic proportions are established, and now we can slowly build the form on them. First, the top of the muzzle. The nasal bridge is usually flat, keeping a constant width on its way towards the forehead. You can also elongate it to create the front of the muzzle, slightly protruding to close on the food.
The muzzle has a variable width along its length, so it’s important to divide it into simpler parts. For example, the very front of the muzzle has a pretty constant width. Sketch it as a simple three-dimensional form.
Here’s where things get slightly more difficult, because we can’t draw everything as simple forms. But we can try! There’s a wide part in front of the eye sockets—define its width, and then connect it to that simple front form.
That was only the upper part of the skull, but there’s also another part below, with the teeth attached to it. Sketch its side, turning a bit towards the middle line.
Outline the side. It’s hard to see it in the photo, but the part right below the eye socket turns towards the skull and, in many cases, away from the view.
Time for the actual forehead. This will give the eye sockets some more definition as well.
We’ve drawn the eye sockets as simple ovals, but they’re a little more complicated than that. Fix their shape now.
The zygomatic arch—the cheekbone—can be tricky to draw because of its curvy shape. In most cases, it helps to imagine it like this:
Finish the form of the bone by adding some width to it.
The braincase is not simply a sphere on the back of the skull—it has the shape of a teardrop attached under the forehead.
The eye sockets are not hollow. Draw a wall between the muzzle and the braincase (it’s very hard to explain it with a photo only, but if you have a skull in front of you, you’ll know what I mean!).
Time for the canines! Foxes have them very long and curved.
Sketch all the teeth—just their general form, without any details.
2. How to Draw the Lower Jaw
The upper jaw is finished, so we can take care of the lower one now. Studying them separately like this will help you draw the jaws open in the future.
Start by finding the jaw joint—the point of attachment and rotation.
Sketch the line of the lower jaw, keeping it in proportion to the upper one.
The lower jaw has a width and a special shape. Sketch it.
Outline the front part of the lower jaw.
The back of the lower jaw has a complex shape. Start with a gentle arch coming towards the joint.
Create a smaller arch between these two parts.
Draw a line between the joint and the bottom line of the jaw.
There’s an additional structure to the back of the lower jaw. Add it by drawing a line going away from the rhythm of the jaw.
Finish its shape.
Add the shape of the lower canines, fitting right between the upper incisors and upper canines.
Outline the rest of the teeth.
3. How to Finish Drawing a 3D Study of a Skull
Our sketch is done, and now we only need to stress some lines to make the form clearer. Start with the nasal bridge.
Add the forehead.
Outline the form of the muzzle, with all its 2D planes.
Outline the teeth in the front.
Outline the cheekbones.
Outline the teeth, giving them only a basic form.
Outline the lower jaw.
Define the hollow in the back of the lower jaw.
Draw lines on the side of the lower jaw to show its 3D form.
Outline the lower teeth.
Add some form lines to the back of the head as well.
When you’re done, you can darken some of the main lines to make them stand out among all these form-establishing ones.
You can also shade the skull to make its 3D form even more pronounced.
You have drawn your first skull study! But that’s not all. Studying is about practicing and experimenting. Draw the same skull in other views, testing your set of guide lines on each of them, until you are ready to draw such a skull entirely from imagination. This will help you draw the head of the animal in all the views you wish without any reference, and will be also helpful for designing new, realistic creatures.