What a wonderful weekend we had here in my studio… running the Drawing Animals workshop for the first time. To find out when I’m running it again (UK/USA/CANADA) read on…

Really lovely company and weather too, and lunch in the garden on both days. All the cake’s gone, but I’ve still got cookies for supper! ๐Ÿ™‚

June 2018 DRAWING ANIMALS workshop

I’ll be running this workshop in my studio again in October (20-21) and, as a 3-day workshop, in:

OTTAWA, ON – August 17-19
Limited places now available


CLEARWATER, FL – August 24-26
Only ONE seat remaining!

Join Jenny and me and let me pass on all I know to you.

(Many thanks to High-tech Sundar for the photo above)


Liz emailed me to ask:

How far do I take the “detail” of short hair, when the horse’s coat is so very smooth? I feel I’m losing the “sense” of shape if no detail. in the very smooth areas. So detail or not?

It depends on what you think the major features are – the main message you want to convey. In this case it’s probably the smooth and glossy appearance, so I’d concentrate on that, and then add just enough texture to maintain the feeling of hair.

Coincidentally, my friend Sheona (who is currently taking my Drawspace Advanced course) submitted a drawing that might help you.

"Racing Ready" by Sheona Hamilton-Grant
“Racing Ready” by Sheona Hamilton-Grant

The horse is definitely glossy but not so smooth that it looks unnatural. In this case, it was an exercise on recession, so you wouldn’t expect to see hair detail on the head and neck, but I think the mottled rump sends the “hair” signal that you then subconsciously apply to the rest of the horse.

Personally, I went through a “Detail is King” stage and I believe it is a necessary step before you learn which detail to enhance and which to merely suggest.

Duvet design

Here’s an old drawing of mine from around 1987:

Section of Duvet design by Mike Sibley
Section of Duvet design by Mike Sibley, 1987

It is deliberately high contrast with few areas of flat midtone shading because it was designed to be printed onto fabric, but if I’d intended it to be a print or sold as an original, I’d consider it to be over-detailed.

The dark eyes do attract attention but the horse’s mane is so sharp that it drags my eye back – it’s more primary than secondary in importance. The same applies to the base of the neck – it contains detail with a strength that defeats any attempt at creating recession. Softer detail in that area would have increased the perceived depth. It’s also of little or no importance to our understanding of the horse. The Shetland Pony contains less physical depth so I can probably get away with the globally-applied tight detail it contains.

Incidentally, this was part of a duvet design. The rest of the stable and other featured animals are on a series of separate drawings:

Complete Duvet design by Mike Sibley
Complete Duvet design by Mike Sibley

The kittens appear to be black and white, have glossy coats, and are obviously hairy. Again, if this was not intended for printing onto fabric, I would have softened the detail in the hair.


Think of the message you want to send to viewers of your artwork; maybe look into your reference and extract the visuals clues that are working for you; then use what works and, to avoid visual confusion, discard the superfluous.


John emailed to ask about indenting – a technique that isn’t working too well for him:

I tried to draw the cat in the ‘Cat Food Advert’ as an exercise but it never really came off. I’m happy with the drawing as such but my indenting never really worked and I gave up trying to draw the chest area fur.

My drawing of our Clarrie produced for Burns Pet Foods cat food packaging

The chest fur of our lovely tortoiseshell cat is all negative drawing, which is quite easy once you get used to seeing white shapes on white paper and using the shadows to make them appear.

I’m happy with the drawing as such but my indenting never really workedโ€ฆ The width of the whiskers looked to vary due, I think, to not having even pressure of lines crossing the indentation.

Indenting, in my experience, has to be applied with as much pressure as your paper will stand – and the pressure has to be consistent, except for the final taper of course. It works best on a smooth surface – my Mellotex takes it like a dream – and ( this is important) you must have a hard, smooth surface beneath your paper. My drawing board is both hard and smooth, but if you’re using a wooden board or like to work with additional sheets below the one you’re working on, it won’t work effectively.

There always seems to be minute gaps between it crossing!, if that makes sense.

I’m not certain what you mean, unless your indent is throwing up a burr on each side? My Mellotex does that and I like it – it gives a very sharply defined edge. Also I don’t find it to be a problem, so I don’t think I have a ready answer for you.

Then there is a problem when the underlying fur runs in the same direct as the indentation. I keep getting stuck in the ‘tram lines’!

Often I divide the drawing of an area into line and tone – line detail first and then shaping tone on top – but if I meet an indent, I’ll sometimes reverse that. By applying tone with the flat face of a chisel point, I avoid dropping into the indent. That tone clearly displays the indent, and then it’s just a question of drawing the line content carefully so each stops at the indent and continues on the other side. If the hair direction is the same as the indent, that procedure works just as well, although more care has to be taking with lines that cross “underneath” the indent.

I have tried practicing but I’m not sure what I really should be doing about the above, even having read the book. Is there an ultimate width for the tip of the inscriber and can one use different widths. I think of the difference between the main whiskers and those round the mouth area of the cat. Does one use a broad one for the whiskers and a narrower one for the mouth area.

I have two indenting tools, both mounted into old clutch pencils. The one for whiskers is a darning needle that has a rounded point, ideal for indenting. For the smaller hairs of the top lip that extend over the darker mouth below, I have a smaller needle that has had the sharp point blunted on an oil stone.

If you’re trying to indent hairs to either side of the nose, or below it, I would never do that. Indenting works best in areas of high contrast – where the indent runs over black or very dark areas – but it produces a very mechanical line. I overcome that to some extent by drawing into the root of the indent to merge it into the surrounding drawing. For all areas above the fringe on the top lip, I always use negative drawing. The results are far more natural, and more controllable.

However, if you meant you indent thinner short whiskers on your cat’s muzzle, by all means use a thinner needle, but do ensure it does not have a sharp point that might tear the fibres of your paper. If you try to use a thick needle to indent thin lines, your pressure will not be great enough to indent deeply and cleanly. A little light flat-face shading with 2B will display their positions, and it can be removed or faded with Blu-Tack as you reach each area.

I e-mailed you a few weeks ago, about doing another course next year if you are doing some. What I really want to get to grips with is draw long fur, like a Spaniels ears and the throat ruff of the cat (as above). If you do another course, is it possible to be there but do my own thing!!

You certainly can do your own thing! ๐Ÿ™‚ I have an new Intermediate course on April 12-14, 2013, which I haven’t written yet, but it will be based around my Drawspace 8-week course. That includes a week on drawing hair, and another partial week, so I can virtually guarantee the workshop will also include long tresses and curls.

There are three exercises in the Drawspace course that between them virtually cover the drawing of all types of hair and at any distance and they will undoubtedly be included. Other subjects will be negative space, negative drawing, advanced and creative shading techniques, using contrasts and drawing weeds and grass (the latter uses very similar techniques to hair).

Oh, my picture from the course this year; my wife framed it and actually has it in the lounge on the book cabinet for all to see!!

A wife with a refined artistic eye – what could be better! ๐Ÿ™‚ There’s so much to fit into the 3-day Intermediate course there may not be a final drawing, but at least you’ll have the opportunity to work on your own. I hope you can join us.

Negative Drawing – Tiger’s ear

Alexandra emailed me to ask:

I was wondering if you would be able to give me some tips on a tiger’s ear I am drawing at the moment. The fur is really wiry and thin, and I’ve tried breaking it all down, but am not sure whether I should use the indenting technique or negative technique or both. Do I try and draw individual strands of fur, or not worry about drawing exactly what’s there?

Tiger's ear reference

First, don’t concern yourself with copying the photo. A split second after the photo was taken that area probably changed. Instead get an overall feeling for it, study it until you know it well, and then draw your interpretation.

Indenting works best in areas of high contrast, so you could use it where the hair is in front of the dark depths of the ear. Either use a fine needle or, as this is not white hair, use a hard sharp pencil, such as a 6H or even 8H. But don’t overdo the indenting, because it produces a very mechanical line that does not blend easily into surrounding drawn lines.

Personally, I’d use negative drawing for almost all of this with just a few narrow indented lines where those lines directly cross over others or where the background is dark.

Don’t be daunted by the seemingly complex task – split the job up into many stages, so you can more easily concentrate on each one. Start with the shadows between the hairs so you leave a network of white hairs. The next step is to begin working on those hairs one hair at a time. Tone each down as you think fit, to give it shaping and form, and decide at each junction or crossover if your hair is beneath or in front of the other hairs. Have fun! Seriously, don’t stress about it – take it in easy stages and just watch it grow.

Finally, you can use layers of overall tone if you need to push any areas further back, or lighten with Blu-Tack or a kneadable eraser to bring it forwards.

I hope that helps. It looks like a great project!

You can view Alexandra’s work at:

Drawing HAIR the Negative Drawing way

I’m involved in a series of discussions concerning the relative merits of the different techniques used for drawing hair – dog hair in particular – and I’m arguing for the use of Negative Drawing against the use of applying tone that is then cut through with a sharpened eraser. So, having set the scene, here is my initial argument, followed soon by a more in-depth look at the Negative Drawing method.

First, erasing hairs is a technique worth exploring and it may work well for you. However, in my opinion, it will rarely achieve a sense of true reality… and here’s why:

  • Layering tone onto an area before establishing the position and tonal values of the hairs that will exist in that area may result in the loss of the purity of the white of your paper – you may never be able to remove all of the graphite.
  • This immediately limits the range of tones available to you for those hairs and, more crucially, controls the brightness of your highlights.
  • Erasing will produce a soft-edged line. Intrinsically, hairs possess sharp edges. However, erasing may be beneficial if the hair is of a soft nature, and with fly-away ends that tend to soften the edges of bunches of hair. But in most cases, as I said, hair and locks of hairs do have sharp edges.
  • But, of far more importance than all of the above, erasing does not permit a full understanding of the hair you are working on. It is, in truth, the exact reverse of the technique required to render believable hair.
Drawing showing the erasing of hair within applied tone
Exercise showing the eraser method of establishing hair.

Let’s, for example, take a lock of white hair of an Old English Sheepdog, or similar smaller breed as shown above. That lock of hair springs from the top of muzzle, above the nose, to fall down the side of the face. Beneath the lower end of that lock, another lock curves down towards the mouth. A casual glance will lead you to believe that the two are one long single lock, as they appear to flow into each other.

Erasing is that “casual glance”. You see a white or light shape in your reference photo that begins on top of the muzzle and falls down the face towards the mouth. You erase that shape and establish the position of the lock. Now you look a little closer, identify stray hairs emerging from the lock and attempt to erase those also. That’s when you discover that an eraser, however sharp, cannot produce a sharp pointed end to a hair. You can of course draw around the erased shape to sharpen it’s edges but, as the original edge was soft and blurred by the eraser, you cannot be certain that you’ve drawn into it sufficiently to overlay the non-white content.

Now let’s assume you have a similar lock close to the original one and, to suggest depth, you decide to cut an angled hair in between them – one that emerges from under one of the locks then disappears under the other. Not difficult, but you will have to start erasing within the white of one lock, cut through it’s outline, through the previously applied tone, and then through into the white body of the other lock. The eraser will drag graphite into the second lock, which now needs to cleaned up. Then the edges need repairing. And finally you can tone down the new oblique hair and add the necessary cast shadows and shading.

Now we’ll work the reverse way – the way I work. First you lightly outline the position of the white lock. This forces your concentration away from the lock as one single entity and onto its edge, section by section. As you search for understanding of that edge and look ever closer you discover that it is not one long lock of hair from muzzle-top to mouth but two. The upper one extending down the side of the face where it overlays the root of the second that curves down towards the mouth. You find all those stray hair ends too as you work your way around the extremity of those locks. As you’re just outlining, you can establish those stray hairs so they possess truly sharp ends.

Once you have the lock of hair outlined, and the adjacent one, you ignore them and begin to work on the hair between them. That crossover hair you attempted to erase earlier is now simple to establish. You draw it between and up to the outlines of the two locks to either side. Your full concentration is on that tiny area so your understanding is greatly increased. Now you also have the facility to draw an even deeper layer behind that crossover hair, which you progressively darken to almost push it right into the shade. That makes the crossover hair stand out, so you can now tone that down too, to push it back into the midground, and add the shadows cast by the two main locks.

Those two main locks are as yet undrawn. They remain as pure white “silhouettes”. But now you can finally begin to work within them, working your way slowly down their lengths, one at a time. As each is surrounded by the previous drawing of the midground crossover hair and background hairs, you have perfect control over its tonal values. You could, for example, create a three-dimensional edge that curves down to meet that crossover hair beneath it, and you can control the tonal values of that edge so it as lost in the shadows or as plainly visible as you wish. You are thinking three-dimensionally, taking the lighting direction into account, and not just erasing a two-dimensional shape through previously applied tone – tone with values that you could only guess at.

Showing the use of negative drawing techniques
Drawings showing the use of negative drawing techniques

All those hairs – the two locks, the crossover hair beneath them, and the background hairs – are living forms. You are not trying (or tempted) to draw a large area at one time with minimal understanding, but slowly recreating those hairs so they grow out of the paper. As they grow, your own mind will spot inconsistencies with Nature and correct them; it may experience an imbalance caused by a too-clean edge and force you to break it up by adding protruding, wispy hair-ends; it will see the lock as a three-dimensional form and suggest the application of tone to the side receiving less light; and be your guide as to where to leave bright highlights. And, as you are working on pristine paper and not an erased surface, you will still have your brightest white available for your highlights.

In brief, and assuming you’re working from a reference photo, I believe that the erasing technique may cause you to look in too shallow a manner. To see “blocks” and “shapes” that you can create with your eraser in the previously applied tone. But to achieve a sense of reality, you need to study each tiny area until you fully understand the qualities (texture, three-dimensional form, edge features, etc) of the element you are about to draw.

Instead of erasing a long lock of hair and then, in my view, attempting to “repair” it and turn it into a semblance of hair, consider the Negative Drawing alternative. I recommend that you use Negative Drawing to isolate that lock of hair (you’ll learn much about it as you decipher it’s true outline), then establish the background hairs around it that will add depth to your drawing. Finally draw the lock itself, beginning at one end. Work your way slowly down as you experience it in your mind as a three-dimensional object. Make changes if you feel the need; perhaps introduce a narrow parting that exposes the background drawing beneath, if you feel the lock is looking too regular and uninteresting; but above all imagine it as being a real-life lock of hair. And don’t feel the need to complete it quickly and move on…… remember:
Any drawing is only as good as its weakest part.

Showing the use of negative drawing techniques
Drawings showing the use of negative drawing techniques