On a regular basis, I receive emails from young and not so young artists asking for advice on how to draw horses well. To give a proper answer would require writing a book, but since some very good books have already been written on the subject, I'll just give some basic advice and then list the books at the end.
First of all, the bad news is that there is no quick, easy way to learn to draw and paint horses well. It takes a lot of practice and study and the development of "a good eye for detail" and knowledge of the horse's anatomy and movement. In other words, it takes a lot of hard work.
The good news is that it can be done if you're willing to put in the time and effort to learn. How do you learn, you ask?
First and foremost, to draw or paint horses well, you must learn the basics of drawing and painting. Without this first step your art will not advance very far. In other words, become an artist first and an equine artist second. If you can, take classes or workshops or lessons from professional artists. Start building a library of art books or borrow them from the library. A good thing to do is to borrow a book first, and if it's really useful, later purchase it. Amazon.com is a good source for new and used books, and Dover Publications has a variety of inexpensive art books that are mostly reprints of old favorites. Another good source is Northlight Book Club.
In order to draw or paint horses well, you must know your subject well. Read about horse breeds, care, behavior, riding styles and sports. Study horses from life and also from pictures in magazines or books. Learn horse anatomy and buy good anatomy books to use while you work.
It's also most important that you draw on a regular basis using your reference materials (photographs, books, magazines, live horses). Natural artistic ability is only a first step to becoming a good artist. None of us was born being able to create wonderful drawings of horses, so training is a necessary part of the process. To improve, you need to practice, learn to really see every detail as well as the whole and learn whenever and how ever you can.
Finally, remember that real horses do not live in a vacuum. Build up your skills at drawing people, barns and landscapes along with the horses. The sure sign of an amateur equine artist is artwork that shows horses which seem to float in an empty space on a tiny bit of ground or horse heads and necks which end in a sharp line. Your horses need to be a part of their backgrounds, whether it is a landscape or just a toned area. So, rather than just chop off the horse at the neck, blend the edges into the background for a much softer, more naturel look. Study perspective so that you can draw barns well and give depth to your artwork.
Your drawings and paintings will have more life and more appeal if you add backgrounds, humans and other animals to them.
Here are some resources to get you started.
HOW TO BOOKS:
"Draw Horses with Sam Savitt" by Sam Savitt - a master horse artist gives excellent instructions to get you on the right track. A very good starter book for the beginning equine artist.
"Drawing and Painting Horses" by Barbara Oelke - a very comprehensive book for anyone who is serious about their art, and includes some instruction on painting.
"The Compleat Book of Equine Drawing" by Dr. Marilyn Todd-Daniels. This book is now out of print but can be found on Amazon.com I highly recommend it.
Walter Foster Books:Walter Foster has published quite a few books on drawing and painting horses over the years; some of them are revisions of older books and contain some of the same information. These books are inexpensive and generally pretty good for young artists or beginners. You can find out of print ones on ebay. Here are a few of the better ones:
"Horses; Learn to Draw Step By Step" H11 very basic instruction but not as good as Sam Savitt's book
"Horses Heads" by Don Schwartz - beautiful instructions in oil and pastel
"Horses/Oil" by Cindy Larimore - comprehensive color instruction
"Horses; Learn To Paint Step By Step" - acrylic painting instruction in a loose style
There are many, many other books on drawing horses available, but so many of them are seriously flawed in one way or another. You cannot learn to draw a horse accurately from a poorly drawn example, so stay with the books above, and you'll be better off.
Also explore how to draw or paint animals books. Many of them contain sections on horses. Books on wildlife painting instruction are excellent resources for equine artists as well since they often cover painting fur, eyes, etc and expressing mood and putting animals in landscapes.
HORSE ANATOMY BOOKS
"Animal Anatomy For Artists" by Eliot Goldfinger
"An Atlas of Animal Anatomy for Artists" by W. Ellenberger. H. Dittrich and H. Baum.
"Animal Painting and Anatomy" by W. Frank Calderon - Dover Publications.
"Animals In Motion" by Eadweard Muybridge. This is a classic. Muybridge's groundbreaking photographs of animals in motion changed forever the way animals were depicted by artists.
There are also many picture books of horse breeds and sports that are often available on the bargain tables of book stores. I have several that have been useful from time to time. I also save horse magazines and cut pictures out of them.
EQUINE ART WORKSHOPS
American Academy of Equine Art - The Academy offers a series of workshops on different subjects every year. Most are held at the Kentucky Horse Park.
Taos Art School - Workshops in drawing, painting, sculpting and photography
Woodsong Institute of Art - Workshops led by renowned educator and artist, Dr. Marilyn Todd-Daniels
It's very useful to start a reference file containing your own photographs of horses to use in your drawings. You can store your photographs in photo boxes or albums or on your computer and divide them by subjects such as breeds, foals, ponies, jumping, pasture scenes, etc. Don't forget to include background photos, too, of pastures, trees, barns, clouds and other animals. As time goes on, your collection will grow and will become an invaluable tool for your art.
You can also start what's called a morgue file of photos you cut out of magazines or obtain from other sources. You can store them in accordian files or file folders. They are useful for finding details for your art such as how a leg looks from a certain angle at a certain phase of a gait or how the light looks when it's coming from a certain direction. Keep in mind that any photograph taken by someone else or artwork produced by another artist is protected by copyright and cannot be copied directly but only used to give you general information; that is, unless you get permission from the photographer or artist first.
There is an exception, however. When you are learning, it's okay to copy photographs and other artist's works as long as you don't show your copies, sell them or try to pass them off as your own original artwork. So, keep these practice drawings and paintings to yourself. See the page on becoming a professional horse artist for more information on copyright. Copyright is important for artists of all levels to be informed about in order to protect themselves and their own artwork from lawsuits and infringements.
THINGS TO REMEMBER
Remember that there is no one correct way to draw horses well. As you advance as an artist, you will develop your own style. It may be loose and painterly or it may be highly detailed. You may prefer bright, vibrant colors or more subdued hues. Your art may be highly realistic, somewhat abstract or full of fantasy.
Don't fall into the common trap of comparing yourself to other or more advanced artists. It will only discourage you and lower your self confidence. Keep in mind that a particular drawing may be THE BEST YOU CAN DO AT THIS MOMENT IN TIME, but remember that you will improve if you keep working at your skills and studying and observing.
If you take a look at the works of successful professional equine artists, you'll see a wide variety of techniques and styles. Study the works of those artists who are the closest to your own style, but don't hesitate to learn from other artists, too. Remember that you will never stop learning and developing as an artist.
If you're not a beginning horse artist and are looking for pointers on becoming a professional equine artist, check out this page;
horse paintings have been registered with the
Copyright Office and may not be reproduced, copied,
displayed or otherwise appropriated without the
consent of the artist.
These horse paintings have been registered with the Copyright Office and may not be reproduced, copied, displayed or otherwise appropriated without the consent of the artist.