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Drawing fur is almost like problem solving every reference photo in to relevant layers and textures. Creating the illusion of fur can be a real pain, but I hope this blog post gives you a good insight into my method of how to draw fur using pastels along with a few tips and tricks! I’ll give a little back story into my journey with pastels but if you’re easily bored and want to just get straight to the point, scroll right down for my method!
Not too long ago I found myself being commissioned for animals way more often as compared to humans which I was used to, quickly realising people love their pets more than anything! I had built my skill up to draw people for years so I was used to drawing smooth skin. Drawing the texture of fur was a whole different skill that I realised I had to quickly learn and improve on. I noticed I wasn’t able to produce as high quality of work compared to my smooth skin portraits. This turned into frustration and which definitely showed in my quality of work.
I began drawing fur by simply using pastel pencils alone and this created a multiple of problems. When using pastel pencils on their own, overall it can be boring, time consuming and you’ll also most likely be left with white gaps everywhere in your drawing where the paper shows through. You need to create a base layer of colour underneath where the detailed pencil strokes of fur will go instead of trying to create the base colour with just pencils alone. I create base layers of colour with PanPastel which are a condensed form of pastel that you apply to the paper using sponges. You can also use pastel sticks but beware, using these will make everything very dusty! Have a hoover handy and make sure not to hold it too close to your work so that is tries to suck up your work and ruin it. Other than making the work so much easier, it is also much quicker to use pastel chalks or PanPastel’s instead of pastel pencils alone and is one of the great benefits of drawing with pastel as a media.
Paper choice may be the most important factor in my improvement of fur drawing. I previously used a high quality, expensive paper called BFK Rives which did in fact work well with pastel pencil, however I found myself only able to build up 1 or 2 layers when using it. I also wanted to use PanPastels on it but the paper didn’t allow for detailed strokes on top of layers which was an issue when it came to fur. This is due to there being a minimal ‘tooth’ on the smooth surface (which I explain further in the next paragraph). I started looking around for an alternative and Pastelmat by Clairefontaine became an obvious answer. When I first tried this paper, I was completely blown away. Its specifically made for pastels so I felt as though I had been missing out this whole time! It even excelled in drawing smooth skin textures because I could incorporate more layers into the paper but most importantly it allowed for detailed pastel pencil strokes on top of pastel layers. The surface of Pastelmat has velvety / sandy surface, this is because its made from a fine coating of cellulose fibres. This gives it the ability to grab and hold many layers of pastels which is exactly what I was after for drawing fur.
It all comes down to the tooth of the paper. You may have experienced for yourself that the paper you work on can only handle a small amount of pastel before you’re unable to work more layers on top. The tooth refers to the peaks and valleys within paper, the smoother the paper means less peaks and valleys, the rougher the paper equates to greater peaks and valleys. I hope you enjoy my badly drawn example to the left, the lines in between peaks and valleys represent different layers of pastel. I had previously worked with rough paper but I tried to avoid it as I wanted my drawings to be as smooth as possible. Because of this, I avoided rough paper altogether but this was what was keeping my pastel ability from excelling. This is where PastelMat performs above the rest as it feels and appears smooth yet the fine coating of cellulose fibres allow for many layers. Understanding how pastel sits on the paper explains why smooth paper doesn’t allow for many pastel layers and details. As a layer of pastel goes on, the peak and valleys of the paper gradually fill with pastel, this is why smooth paper only has room for one or two layers. Where as using a paper like Pastelmat where the surface is sanded and the peaks and valleys are much greater, it can hold in more of those layers, also allowing you to put detail on top of previous layers below.
I hope all of that helped and gave you a bit of an insight into how pastels work. Just to recap, when drawing fur with pastels my method is:
- Pastelmat as paper choice (always!),
- Thin base layer of pastel, either in pencils, sticks or PanPastels to block in the colour,
- Always make up the base layer with shadows / dark tones so that the highlights of the lighter pastel pencils stand out,
- Refine fur details on subsequent layers with pastel pencils,
- Notes: Keep a hoover handy to clean up any dust (wear a mask for protection if needed & keep the workspace well ventilated. You do not want to breathe in pastel dust). If the pastel paper gets clogged with pastel, use a kneadable eraser to lift of some of the condensed pastel so you can continue drawing with detail. Keep your pencils sharp!
You can find many tutorials and real-time drawing videos on my Patreon HERE