Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Let's Draw Warthogs

By Justin Gerard

I have an upcoming illustration project that has warthogs in it. Before I begin, I am taking some time to familiarize myself a little better with these ugdorable creatures.

"I wake up in the morning, I look in the mirror, and I ask myself; just how did you get so good looking?"

I often do this before starting on a drawing that has animals or costumes I am unfamiliar with. (The drawings, not wondering how I got so good looking.) I like to do studies from life when I can, or photos when no models are available. 
As I draw from my reference, I try to commit everything I can to memory.  Most of this will happen automatically as you draw. Your brain beings to see certain things as correct and others as incorrect.  

Studies from photos

After you have worked from the photo it is amazing how much information your memory retains. Details you didn't realize you were taking in come back to you as you draw.  

From Memory

The next drawings, done from memory with no reference around, will lack the sharpness and realism of the ones worked from the reference, but they will have a little more personality to them and I usually find them more interesting. 

 Once I feel like I have a decent understanding of my subject I start on the final drawings for my illustration.
Warthog Tracker #1

Warthog Tracker #2 

Later on, when I am into the final illustration I will bring out my reference again to fact-check, and make sure I haven't put an extra leg in there somewhere.  My brain is good, but it has been known to trip over itself from time to time.

Most of this method of handling reference with illustration I blatantly stole from the Disney artists.  On some films, like the Lion King, they would have workshops where they would bring in an actual lion and do life drawings of it before they began work on the film.  It was a very good way of both keeping the personality in the character, while at the same time making sure it is anatomically coherent and believable.

Edit: (Thank you raphael for mentioning it!)
To see this process more clearly outlined and executed, check out Ian McCaig's Visual Storytelling Tutorial from the Gnomon Workshop. It is a really excellent demonstration and has been very influential for me in how I approach using reference.


  1. This one is so cute and happy, it makes me happy.
    I like the first study you posted too, he looks almost regal.

  2. A great little piece, and some very fine shapes too.

  3. Nice sketches!
    Its fun watching them run, mostly only their 'antennas' showing in the tall grass. Best is when they have a few young, mirror images of their parents, just smaller. They are hard as nails and you are capturing that perfectly!

  4. Great post! So true about the drawings from memory having a little more life and personality. Those study drawings free you!
    Those are some nice drawings. Great work!

  5. wow! great. . i like your way! your line quality is great!

  6. oh, beautiful drawings! (and awesome creatures, too!)

    regarding the use of reference, i always find myself going back to iain mccaigs three step approach: free drawings from imagination first, gathering reference and making ref drawings second, and lastly, combine for best effect.

  7. Justin, these drawings are absolute magic. Thanks for sharing.

  8. Great illustrations Justin! I'm going to have to give this method a try and give it my fullest attention when studying the reference first.

  9. Justin, thanks for the informative post about this particular method of approaching reference vs. drawing from your head. It answers some of my questions from the last email I sent you.

  10. Justin, a question has been pestering me since I read your first article on this subject in ImagineFX magazine several months ago.
    When you draw from photo reference, your drawings always seem to have a strong light source from the top. The effect this gives to the drawing is great, and I'm sure that it aids in analyzing the form. But is that actually in the photo? I rarely see photos with this sort of light setup, and usually most photos I see have really terrible lighting.
    So I guess my question is, in order to get this consistent lighting scheme that I see in your drawings, do you put that in subliminally, or is it actually in reference that you find? And if the latter is the case where do you find photos of this kind??!!
    Thanks, and have fun drawing wart hogs. You know what they say: "Hakuna Matata"!

  11. Raphael, That is a great point, and I am remiss not to mention Ian's method here as it was another great influence on my way of thinking about using reference like this. I have added a link to this series in the post.

  12. Will,
    The trick is to stare for long periods of time at Rembrandts and Dores. Then all other lighting arrangements seem wrong.

    I'm kidding, but only sort of.
    I am just a big fan of classic overhead stage lighting, and will set up my photo shoots with them, or just add it in later, even if it's not in my reference.

  13. Beautiful drawings Justin! Very interesting to get to follow your approach as well. Thank you!

  14. @Justin
    Ha ha! I will admit right now that I don't stare at Rembrants and Dores nearly enough! I would probably be much better off if I did!

    And I'm not in any way criticizing your choice of lighting schemes - I think it's way cool. But you can understand the confusion that ensues when searching for reference with this kind of lighting - it's non existent!
    Anyway thanks for the comment - I think I'm going to go into the woods now & see if I can find a warthog to draw. With overhead stage lighting.

  15. Gostei dos traços Justin, saiba que sou um grande fã do seu trabalho!

  16. That sounds like a great way to use your reference. I have to admit that I am MUCH too married to mine. I'm ok to add or remove things, but I never draw from memory. I think I'll give it a shot.

  17. You know you're good when you can make a warthog lovely... and you are very very good! These are so very enjoyable - you've inspired me all that much more in my own current project! I'm practicing using this method right now and I have to say I really like working this way so far. Thanks for sharing these - how you made warthogs adorable...

  18. Very nicely done. I'm getting ready to sculpt one and came upon this as reference. Great work! - Jay Scheuerle


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