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Animal anatomy can be an intimidating subject for artists of any skill level.
In this video demo Aaron Blaise shows you how he approaches drawing animals and gives many helpful tips on drawing big cats. It’s not quite a tutorial, but more like a look over the shoulder of a professional artist with over 20 years’ experience working at Disney.
Suffice it to say there’s a lot to learn here.
If you’re a newcomer to drawing then this video series will be an invaluable resource on how to approach drawing in general.
Aaron includes tons of useful tips about the drawing process. He does a fantastic job of explaining both what he’s doing and why he’s doing it.
This veteran Disney animator specializes in drawing animals, and he really knows his stuff. He shares a wealth of knowledge on drawing technique, constructive animal anatomy, and drawing from observation.
Few living artists know as much about drawing animals as Aaron Blaise. He will share amazing observations from his many years of studying these animals, both for realistic work and for animation work.
These videos are high quality and his style of instruction is laid back but packed full of detail. You really feel like you’re hanging out in the artist’s studio as you listen to him in real-time.
But let’s dive into the details of this demo and see what it has to offer.
Choosing your references and tools:
Aaron starts off this video series with a beautiful portrait of a male lion.
You’ll want to follow along by finding your own big cat reference material, or at least pay close attention to what he’s doing to start this painting.
If you want a great drawing you need to start off with the right tools. The most important tool you have is a solid reference.
Aaron talks about why he chose the particular photograph he will be working from and what you should be looking for in a good reference image.
He also goes into some detail about what you will be drawing with.
Each tool has its strengths and Aaron will show you how to use them all to great effect.
Stuff you will want:
Charcoal(sticks, powder, and/or pencils)
Excellent photo reference
Kneaded erasers (Lots of them!)
Q-tips and cotton balls
Composing your Drawing:
So you have a beautiful image that you’ve carefully selected to work from. You’ve built your tool-box.
Aaron explains his thought process for laying down the broad strokes of an initial drawing.
He covers some basic principles of composition that are clear, easy to follow, and universally helpful even to professional artists.
Aaron also talks about modifying your reference image as you go.
This is something that new artists can be a bit scared to attempt. Departing from your reference photo can add drama, mood, and narrative to your artwork that might be missing from real life. But this is where a lot of the beauty comes from.
He frequently says “Don’t be a slave to your reference!”
And this is a truly important concept.
It’s why we bother to draw in the first place. You can enhance an image both aesthetically and emotionally by trusting your gut and tweaking things.
Here comes the fun part! The part of any project where people get intimidated: the under-drawing.
Getting started can be scary. It won’t be when you have Aaron walking you through every step of his process.
When you start a drawing don’t jump right in to the fine details. Even a master makes mistakes.
Your success is about training yourself to see those mistakes and rework them in real time.
Aaron constantly repeats that you should start off with the biggest possible shapes. You slowly break down those shapes through careful observations.
Always begin with the broadest possible changes and make sure they’re correct before continuing.
Questioning everything you do and cross referencing your drawing against your reference is key in making a realistic drawing. If you want to build a house you don’t start with a sofa. You start with a solid foundation.
If you draw a perfect lion’s eye it doesn’t matter if you haven’t drawn it in exactly the right position.
By ensuring that everything is in the right place you set yourself up for success in the rest of the drawing process.
Aaron goes over the concept of under-drawing with a few key components in this section:
Why it’s important
What you should be trying to achieve at each step
Things to look out for
When you know it’s time to move on to the next step
If done properly, this will serve as the foundation to all other choices you make in the drawing. It’s all downhill from here.
Values, Values, Values
Aaron understands the value of values.
In general, “value” in drawing refers to the different degrees of light and dark that give a drawing its depth.
When handled properly, a good range of values will make your drawing pop off the page and give a realistic sense of lighting.
His drawing process will begin with creating a ground of mid-tone values to work from.
You will then slowly build up the drawing and get to see exactly how he does it. This is done by erasing out lighter values and darkening shadows.
As your values become more extreme you will also be steadily increasing the level of detail.
This section will also show you how to “render” a drawing.
This includes not only building up values, but selectively adding in fine detail to enhance the image.
Aaron will show you how to add realistic fur textures too. He’ll show you what tools you should be using and how to use them in this critical step.
Good mark-making is key here. You can follow along with his process for rendering by drawing with both eraser and charcoal. He pulls out lighter areas with a kneaded eraser following the underlying form of the lion and the direction of the light.
Through this process Aaron has been stressing how important it is to not draw gratuitous details.
Now is the point where we get to add those satisfying finishing touches. Seeing how he draws in the lightest hairs, darkest shadows, and sharpest edges… it’s a real treat.
Having good control over this concept really distinguishes a novice from an expert in drawing and painting. Some marks should be soft and blurry, while others need to be harsh and crisp.
This is where q-tips, cotton balls, and other blurring utensils come into play.
In this part of the demo you will be able to watch Aaron add beautiful polish to his drawing that less experienced artists might never thing to do.
Even an expert artist will find helpful insights so be sure to make time to go through it all.
Even if you’re quite skilled at animal anatomy you’ll find something useful in Aaron’s comments on drawing lions. He’s got years of experience in this area.
The third installment of this video demo is all about distilling a life-time of observations from drawing animals.
Constructive anatomy is all about taking an extremely complex subject and simplifying it in a useful way.
He talks in great detail about the internal anatomy of big cats. This part of the tutorial is really amazing, actually.
I would even suggest that you start here before following along with Day One if you want to get into the nitty gritty details right away.
Getting a good grip on what’s going on underneath the fur and skill will help tremendously when drawing from real-life or a photograph.
For this section you learn all about the skeletal structure of felines. Aaron shows off some of his big cat skulls while pointing out their distinctive features.
He doesn’t just show you what the distinctive features of big cats are. He explains how they work mechanically and how to characterize them in a drawing.
He talks about how they differ from other animals, how their musculature works, and how they move. He also explains why their anatomy is the way it is and how they use their unique bodies to move and hunt.
This information will be extremely helpful for an artist who wants to draw these animals in the wild, in a zoo, or from a picture.
Even if you’re not particularly interested in drawing big cats, these principles can be applied to all sorts of animals.
If you were only going to watch one section of this video series don’t skip this one. It’s a must-see!
Freebie: Drawing at the San Diego Zoo
Note this is actually part of some free content from the Proko website, but it relates directly to this demo and I think it’s possibly the most entertaining video!
Aaron & Proko founder Stan Prokopenko head to the San Diego Zoo to draw some animals up close & personal.
Aaron and Stan draw a variety of animals, including big cats, in their sketchbooks.
These aren’t highly polished drawings at all. Instead they are meant to quickly capture the character of the animals. Drawing this way is critical to the development of your artistic abilities.
They talk about the fun and the challenge of drawing animals from life. They don’t pose for you, and they don’t necessarily sit still! You have to roll with the punches and keep going.
The guys also talk a bit about their different approaches to drawing. You can even see them influence each other as the day goes on. It’s a really interesting process!
Check out the free video here and it’ll give you a taste of what this demo is all about.
If you’re persistent you will end up with some great results. You will draw things you never would have come up with sitting in the controlled environment of a studio.
Not every drawing will be worth framing either. But you’ll learn from each attempt. That’s the point of this entire demo is to show just how far you can go if you keep making the attempts.
These two pieces turn out some beautiful drawings that demonstrate how studying constructive anatomy will enhance your observation skills.
Overall the demo seems to go by really fast, but it’s also packed with valuable information that you’ll never forget.
Anyone seriously interested in animal anatomy, especially for animation work, should pick up a copy of this Proko demo.
Aaron is a remarkable artist with a decorated history in animation. And this video demo is worth every penny if you want to see exactly how he practices drawing and painting.
Many expensive art classes will fail to capture as much information as what Aaron can share. Mostly because his background is so heavily tied to creative arts and animation work. This isn’t something you can find in any old art teacher.
He also shares entertaining and insightful stories from his personal life, both as a student of art, and as a professional at Disney.
Watching through this video demo made me want to take a class from him in person! Or even just head to his studio to hang out and draw.
His love of drawing has me excited to pick up some charcoal and take a trip down to my local zoo myself.
In addition to the detailed information you’ll get about good drawing practices, you’ll also get a wealth of information on charcoal drawing.
Perhaps the most valuable thing Aaron shares is a comprehensive understanding of feline anatomy. That isn’t the key point of this demo, but it is something you’ll pick up if you watch through the entire thing start to finish.
Whether you’re a beginner or a professional artist, this demo is well worth your time if you’re interested in animation, animal drawing, or any artistic styles that match up with Aaron’s work.