Drawing the Horse Head: Side View

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Hello! My name is Liz Staley and I’m a long-time user of Clip Studio Paint (I started using the program back when it was known as Manga Studio 4!). I was a beta-tester on the Manga Studio 5 program and for Clip Studio Paint, and I have written three books and several video courses about the program. Many of you probably know my name from those books, in fact!

The first subject I could ever draw well when I was a young artist was horses. I was obsessed with horses back then (and still am!) and would draw horse heads all the time. I had a drawing book with tips about how to draw horses and I’d use it to practice all the time. Horses are tricky to draw, so in this article I’m going to be sharing some tips and tricks on how to draw the horse head. If you like this tutorial and want more horse drawing tips, please give this article a like and a comment so I know there is interest!

In this article, I will be covering the following topics:
Finding Reference Images
Drawing the head: Side View
The Mane
Ear Expressions
A Note on Profile Shape...

Let’s get started drawing a horse in Clip Studio Paint!

Finding Reference Images

If you don’t already know how to draw a horse, and don’t have access to a horse to take your own photos to use for reference, you’ll have to use the internet to look for reference images. The internet is an amazing resource for artists because it’s become so easy to look for references for things that you need to draw that exist in our real world! I grew up in the time before the internet and would have killed for infinite reference images to be at my fingertips instead of having to go to the library in the hopes that they’d have a book with an image that would work for what I wanted to draw.

For horses, we have many options for reference images. You can, of course, do a search on Google and click on the Images option to view many photos of horses. There are also some websites that are dedicated to reference images for artists. One thing you must keep in mind if you are going to copy an image directly, however, is copyright. Copyright belongs to the photographer who took the photo (or whoever is stated as the copyright holder on the website where the photo is located). Despite what some people believe, finding something on the internet does not mean it is automatically free to use for whatever you want! However, if we were to gather up several images from similar angles and use them as just a reference for our own drawing that we come up with on our own, that is different than tracing or copying someone else’s photograph directly.

Of course you can also shoot your own reference photos if you have access to your subject (in the case of this tutorial, horses!) or look for images that the photographer has stated are available for artists to create works from. There are many images on sites like DeviantArt.com that the owners put up under a Creative Commons license or state that artists are allowed to use to create art from, just be sure to check the image description or the artist’s profile page for any terms of use before using an image if you are going to copy that photo directly.

You can also purchase images from some sites, usually for just a few dollars each, that you are then allowed to draw from or use the photo royalty-free. One of these sites is Wildlife Reference Photos For Artists, which works with photographers to provide wildlife images to artists. Once you purchase the image you can use it without having to pay royalties, and you can create artwork from the images you buy.

https://wildlifereferencephotos.com/gallery.php?mode=gallery&id=28&page=1

Another awesome reference for finding animal images is a little site called Animal Photo Art References Search. This simple search allows you to pick an animal species and then rotate a 3D skull to any angle you wish. Hitting Search then brings up images that may match the angle of the skull. It’s not a perfect search and isn’t highly accurate, and as far as I can tell the widget pulls images from Flickr so there will likely be some copyright issues with using these photos to copy from - though you could always click on the image that you like from this search, then locate the “Click here for more information about this picture” link in the top right corner to go directly to the Flickr page and contact the photo’s owner for permission to use the image. Copyright issues are not something you want to mess around with, so in this case it is always best to ask permission instead of forgiveness!

https://x6ud.github.io/#/

In the rest of this tutorial, I’m going to teach you the general breakdown for drawing the horse’s head from the side. This breakdown will hopefully give you the general idea of how to analyze the shapes that make up the horse. Once you have this down, you can change up the features to make different breeds of horse!

So let’s get down to actually drawing!

Drawing the Head: Side View

I feel like the side view is the easiest way to start getting familiar with the horse’s head. It’s the easiest way to get a handle on the proportions and general shapes that make up the horse, and you don’t have to deal with the foreshortening issues that come with drawing the horse from a ¾ or front view. So we’re going to start with the straight-on side view for this tutorial.

I will be drawing on a 10x8 inch, 350dpi canvas for this demonstration. I chose to have my canvas in the landscape orientation because the horse’s head is longer than it is tall in this view, so it’s easier to fit on a landscape canvas! I will be drawing on several layers using some of my favorite pencil tools. One is called “Pencil - Layout Blue” and I will be using it for my rough layout sketch. The other is “Rough Pencil (Flyland)” from Flyland Designs, and is my favorite pencil for refining sketches.

I have also loaded a reference image that I will be loosely following into my Subview palette, which you will see on the right hand side in the following screenshots. I have mainly included this so you can look at the photo and my sketch and compare the basic shapes as we go, as well as to give a better idea of how to use the reference as a jumping off point instead of copying it exactly because I will be making several changes to the horse drawing.

Okay, that being said, let’s get drawing! I like to start off the head with a large circle. This will form the curve of the cheek (the flat part of the horse’s head beneath the eye area) and also form the upper part of the head and forehead.

The next large shape of the head that I like to get roughed in is the nose and muzzle area, which I usually draw as a sort-of triangle shape with a squared off tip at the end of the nose area. This will form the upper and lower lips of the horse when we refine the sketch later.

The next large area is the neck. Horses are weird in that they usually have a fairly small head and a big, thick, powerful neck. So, unless you’re drawing a fantasy version of a horse that has a very skinny and elegant neck, make sure you give the neck some thickness!

Additional note on the neck: some breeds have typically thinner or thicker necks. For instance, the Arabian, Marwari, and Akhal-teke breeds (all fine, but strong breeds from the Middle Eastern deserts) will typically have finer necks. However, some draft breeds like the Ardennes and Clydesdale will have thicker, more powerful necks. The horse in the photo I’m loosely basing this drawing on is a Morgan, who usually have medium or thicker necks.

Now that we have the larger areas roughed out, we can start focusing in on the smaller areas. The ears are usually teardrop-shapes with rounded tips that come from the top of the head. Position of the ears changes the expression of the horse! If the ears are facing forward, the horse is alert and looking forward. If the ears are cocked to the side, they are listening to something to the side. Ears that are pinned back tight to the head and neck indicate a horse that is angry! Pay close attention to the position of the ears to get your desired expression. I like the alert position of the ears from the reference image, but I want to include the ear on the far side, so I’m going to rough that in as well behind the first ear.

Now that the general shape of the head, neck, and ears is roughed out, we can start placing some of the details on the face. The cheek area is a big landmark for the horse head, so I rough that in first so I can line up the other features. The cheek should be about ½ of the initial circle we started with in the first step. The eye goes above the flat line at the top of the cheek, about halfway between the top of the cheek and the forehead. I have also roughed in the shape of the upper and lower lip in the screenshot below.

With the basic head anatomy now roughed out, I like to switch to a new layer and start refining the layout with a pencil tool set to a black drawing color. I tend to start with the cheek and eye when doing a second pass on the sketch. In the image below, I have refined the shape and size of the cheek, roughed in the eye and the details around the eye, and started the line of the forehead. Remember that the horse's eyes protrude to the side of their head, so the bump on the “forehead” above the eye in this view is actually the top of the eye socket!

With the cheek and eye now in place, we can continue to shape the nose and lips. Pay attention to the shape of the top of the nose, because the curve of that line can change the breed of the horse. More information on this later in the tutorial! Most horses have a gentle concave curve from the top of the eye socket down to the muzzle. The nose should be soft and curved, unless you’re drawing an extreme expression like bared teeth! The top lip protrudes slightly over the top of the bottom lip, and the chin curves down before going back up into the lower jaw.

Usually when I get the nose and muzzle drawn, I add in the nostrils next and refine the mouth expression on the horse. Nostrils that are in a neutral expression are usually slightly teardrop shaped, and drawing just the top and outer curve can prevent them from looking like a pig snout!

Now we can draw the final shape of the ears and the neck. The ears of the horse in the reference photo I’ve been using are moved to listen to what is straight in front of the horse, but I decided to swivel the ear a little more toward the viewer so that the inside could be seen. This produces a more relaxed expression in the drawing.

Did you know that you can tell what a real horse is looking at based on what direction their ears are facing? Because of their wide-set eyes, they can look almost 360 degrees around their body, and they tend to swivel their ears in the direction they are looking in!

Now for the eyes! Horses have the largest eyes of any land mammal, and they are actually quite expressive with their eyes. One thing to remember though if you’re drawing a more realistic horse instead of a “cartoony” one is that their pupils are horizontal and almost look like a rounded rectangle. I like to include a white spot in the eyes right near the pupil so that the eyes look alive and not like a scary doll!

Drawing the Mane

Okay, so we now have a horse head! But Liz, I hear you saying, what about the mane? You are right, of course, our horse needs a mane to be complete! With a few exceptions, most horses have a forelock - the bit of hair on the forehead between the ears- and mane - the hair that grows out from the top of the neck. (Horses involved in some types of equine activities like Polo and sometimes pulling wagons will have their manes “roached” or shaved off, but usually the forelock is left intact.) The look of the mane can change the horse in your illustration significantly, so I’ve included a few examples of different styles of manes in the illustrations below.

Despite that the face is the exact same in each of the images above, the shape of the mane and forelock changes the piece dramatically! Also note that on the left and middle examples, there is a slight amount of space between the ears and where the mane begins. This is called a “bridle path” and is trimmed on domestic horses that are used for riding and other equine activities to ensure that the bridle sits comfortably behind the ears. I have left the bridle path space out of the right drawing so that it gives the horse an even wilder look. A unicorn horn would not look out of place on the right-hand horse!

Another note about horse manes. Most domestic horses have their mane “trained” to lay flat on the right side of their neck. So if you are drawing the right side of the head, you may not see much of the mane on a horse that has had its mane trained if the hair is long enough to lay over flat. There are horses that have a “double mane”, which is a thick mane that lays on both the left and right side of the neck.

Ear Expressions

I mentioned earlier that the ears of the horse can tell a lot about their mood and where they’re looking. Take a look at the examples of ear drawings below, all still made with our side view head portrait from the previous section in mind.

When the ear is forward, it shows that the horse is alert, paying attention to what is in front of it. This can also indicate that the horse is happy, but it doesn’t always mean this. For instance, our horse (Raven) loves to jump and so when approaching the jump she will put her ears forward - both to pay attention to what her rider is asking her to do but also because she is excited to jump. However, she also puts her ears forward intently when she is looking at something that she might be scared of and she’s deciding if that is an imminent threat!

Ears to the side can mean the horse is relaxed and is generally a “neutral” look in a drawing. Horses also swivel their ears to the side when they are listening/looking in that direction. Horses can move their ears independently, so it’s possible to have one ear forward and one to the side!

When a horse has their ears pointed toward their rear, that horse is often showing signs of nervousness, insecurity, or they are looking behind themselves. This can also happen when they are paying attention to their rider.

A horse with their ears pinned flat back against their head is giving a very clear signal that it is NOT happy! They may be in pain, they may be fighting with another horse, or they may just be the leader of the herd who is telling a lower horse that they need to back off!

A Note On Profile Shape...

I have learned from drawing many breeds of horses over the past few years that the curve of the line from the forehead down to the nose can completely change the breed of the horse! I mentioned this earlier, and now let me explain what I mean. In the horse we drew earlier, I drew a fairly neutral shape to this area, with just a gentle curve from forehead to the nose. Compare the two drawings below, however.

The one on the left has a more prominently concave line to its forehead. Horse lovers will likely recognize this as being consistent with the dished face of the Arabian breed. Exaggerating this line makes the horse head look more dainty and “feminine”.

The horse on the right has a slightly convex line from forehead to nose, which makes the head look more heavy and more like the head of a breed like a Clydesdale or Gypsy Vanner - a big draft horse that would be used to do farm work or pull heavy wagons! Just by playing with this line and its shape, you can create the look of a different breed entirely!

Conclusion

Horses are tricky creatures to draw, but with access to reference images, a little knowledge of anatomy, and some tips and tricks from observation, you can break them down to their basic shapes and draw them with confidence. Don’t forget to like this post and comment if you’d like to see more horse tutorials!

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