Before there is further confusion and I can see more people misread my meaning, by all means use references. My point however was not to use them as a crutch if you WANT to improve your animal anatomy. If you want the best use out of them reference at the very end so you can correct and learn from your mistakes rather than straight tracing from the get go.
It's VERY easy to get lazy and sloppy with a picture if you have everything, composition, anatomy, colors provided to you. And while I learned via photography and nature shows as well and rarely had the luxury of zoo sketching, I managed to learn a boatload and I attribute this to not copying straight from a photo but using them as references.
If you have your own experiences or remain unconvinced that is your call, but please do not try to sabotage this tutorial. I am open to differences of opinion but feel it is counterproductive when you feel your methods are more useful and they are not shown in a tutorial. I encourage those who feel differently to instead create your own tutorials to disprove my theories and explain how you are able to learn more animal anatomy and structure (not details) from straight tracing or copying.
A snow leopard tutorial requested by
I added a few more head details to help some people.
Notes would be that snow leopard spots are rather light but you should still take note that you should use a lighter color at 100% opacity brush stroke. if you want to go and color it in more solidly protect transparency and go over it with a darker color. For me I used an oblique brush as this gives the spots a more naturalistic slant.
Another would be that the face is absolutely paramount. the body in general should look good but if the body looks spectacular but the face looks off then your picture would be a failure since most everyone focuses on heads the most.
This where you MUST spend your most time on and references definitely should be used even when indirect.
On this note copying from photographs is a nono. I see a lot of deviants here just copy off from their own photographs, animal anatomy, composition and all thinking that it's ok and the results will be awesome.
Wrong. The results don't have the spirit and life of the animal unless you learned how to paint and draw the animal's anatomy.
And that's the main point of this tutorial. If you want to learn animal anatomy and underlying structure you have to stop relying on a photo for everything. Yes, fine artists do actually use photographs and reference heavily off them for the fur details, but they also have the ability to draw realistically without them as they do plenty of field study. If you want to only draw fur details copying photographs will help, however if you want to draw an animal in any pose I firmly believe copying will not help you.
To help my animal structure I do this. I go for a sketchy base even if it looks like crap and work to fix it step by step while preserving the liveliness and motion. Only on the final phase do I use photographs for reference and while the frustration that it's not exact will be there I'll be given details and information I would never notice if I was just straight tracing.
Straight tracing is only useful if you want to get the general appearance of what is right. If you say straight trace in lines a zebra or a horse you can use that linework as a reference for what a perfectly anatomically correct horse would look like.
Again photographs do provide you with details you'll never be able to accurately duplicate off the bat. And for that, I agree that detailing requires good photography so you can learn how the light falls on the fur and how to paint the forms and colors. But animals are like people and can be absolutely beautifully photogenic, or simply look like crap. If you want to make pretty animals, use photographs in the way that helps you not harms you.
It takes work to draw like this. A lot of work, but soon you'll be able to draw the base relatively reference free and use refs only to check your final anatomy or for details and fur that we cannot memorize fully.