Learn to Draw your Dog; Choosing a reference

This post refers to the course ‘Learn to Draw your Dog‘. Please click here for details.

Unless you are drawing an exceptionally patient dog, you should use a photograph as a reference for your drawing. Life drawing is a fantastic skill, especially for capturing movement and atmosphere, but as this course is focused on learning to draw detail and recognisable features a photographic reference is highly recommended. Also I have a Hungarian Vizsla (possibly crossed with a kangaroo) who is 4 going on 6 months, and an over confident but completely blind Jack Russell who sees sitting still as a punishment, so life drawing with any detail is not currently an option for me…

Choosing a reference photograph

Whether you prefer to work from a printed photograph or an image on a computer screen, you will need to choose a photograph that is in focus, sufficiently lit and the dog’s head and shoulders are clearly visible.

In focus – a blurry image will be very difficult to work from. It is often the smallest lines and creases and the subtlest shapes to features that capture a recognisable face in a drawing. All of these are missing or warped in a blurry photograph reference, meaning unique features and character are lost.

Saying this, you don’t need extremely high definition in your reference. If you can clearly see the shape of the eyes and nose, creases in the ears and any wisps or tufts of hair, then your photograph is most likely perfect to work from. If you are in any doubt, ask on the course Facebook group or email me at courses@gillianussherart.com.

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Th clarity of this reference photograph is perfect, the features are all visible and defined and the whiskers can be clearly seen.


Lighting – The image should have enough lighting to allow you to clearly see all of the dog. If it is too dark, you will be faced with large dark areas containing no features or lines to guide your drawing. If it is too bright or overexposed, you will be facing the same problem with large light areas.

The best lighting is almost always natural daylight, but unless your photo is very much in shadow or extremely bright then the lighting is probably perfect. Again, if in any doubt please ask on the course Facebook group or email me at courses@gillianussherart.com

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Natural daylight makes the best light source, al of the features are clearly visible without extreme shadow distorting the lines and shapes of the face and features.

Clearly visible – You can only draw what you can see, and if any ears, noses, or any part of the dog’s head and should are missing from your reference photograph you will not be able to accurately include them in your drawing.

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Tips of ears are very often cropped from photographs, especially in ‘bat eared’ breeds such as Chihuahuas, French Bulldogs, etc.

Feel free to get in touch with any questions at courses@gillianussherart.com and please post your choice of reference photograph in the course Facebook group.




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