Last week I taught a "How to Draw Animals" lesson to a group of high school students. Most of the students provided their own reference photographs to work from. Having the students copy their reference materials, would have produced acceptable results, but I wanted the students to get the most mileage out of this one-day project, and go beyond copying.
First, I discussed and demonstrated how to look for the main shapes of a subject, whether it's an object in a still life, a landscape or an animal. I advised them to look for and establish the shape of the animal's largest part first (usually its body), and draw an abstract shape, such as a rectangle or oval to approximate it. Then, keeping aware of relative size, distances apart and gesture, the other body parts could be added as general abstract shapes as well. I explained that while developing the drawing, the artists would be able to keep refining their judgements to make appropriate changes, as they gradually added detail.
Next I introduced the students to the process of working with vine charcoal and kneaded erasers on white paper toned with charcoal. First each student covered his/her paper with a layer of dark tone, using soft vine charcoal. This was smoothed over lightly with a paper towel. Then, using the same charcoal sticks, they drew the basic shapes for their animals. As the drawings progressed, I showed the artists how to use their erasers as drawing tools to "pull out" whites from the paper, and to blend grays. Erasers could also be used to add light strokes for background texture or fur. Fingers were also very useful for blending, adding and subtracting values and practically "sculpting" the darks and lights.
None of the students had used this drawing approach before, and all found it satisfyingly forgiving, effective and fun. Many of the artists were pleasantly surprised with their results, and parents and other adults were surprised at the sophisticated level of work that was accomplished in only two hours.
You can use this technique of initially toning the paper to draw an animal, a portrait, a still life, a landscape, a seascape or an abstract fantasy. Your fingers and eraser will be a mess, but you can always clean up, and I think you'll really enjoy the results.
The Students' Drawings