The How To Zoo

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Learn How to Draw a Tiger!

Though typically a solitary cat, these two tigers seem to get along famously.


If you love tigers as much as most artists do, you will appreciate being able draw one at home.  Not the average critter you can just spy on without much effort, seeing one of these big guys up close usually means a trip to the city zoo.  Rare animals in the wild, we are fortunate that they are being preserved this way, and I sincerely hope that they are around for us all to enjoy in the coming generations.  If you want to learn how to draw a tiger, you may find that a housecat will give you a decent enough model to work with, and at least they won’t see you as a food item if you try to pet one.  Use a little imagination and you’ll be surprised how the subject comes alive.


First, the Study of the Critter!

Large and liquid, a tiger's eye is extremely complex.

Tigers come in a wide variety of sub species, but usually the one most people think of is the big fluffy one with the shaggy coat.  Different from other big cats in this regard, the tiger’s coat is complicated to shade due to the stark striping pattern, and it may take a few tries to get right.  They are large framed and heavy looking, with massive paws and large round eyes.  They also have very distinctive ears, and the markings on these are also very unique.

The largest living member of the cat family, tigers boast a robust skeletal structure.

Cartooning and drawing the tiger is largely similar, the difference between the two styles being the level of detail you use.  If you want to draw a tiger cartoon, keep the features simpler, and make the face softer and more appealing, maybe not as sharp in the eyes as a wild tiger would look, keep it looking like a tiger that you might want to walk up and pet.  The opposite is true for anyone wanting to make the tiger look more real, it is a wild animal and should have sharpness to the eyes, as though the tiger is evaluating you for caloric content.  A wide range of poses for tigers opens up when you can get the striping just right, and that is why having a good picture to start with can be a huge help in either style of art.



Each tiger has a unique set of stripes, much like our fingerprints.

And Now, to the Pencils!


For here, mostly because of the stripes, I will start with the cartoon tiger.  This doesn’t mean you have to learn how to draw a tiger like Tony, but it will be a simpler affair to draw this style first and then try the same picture with more detail later.  Start with the eyes, and once you are happy with how they are placed go ahead and get right on the ears, so that you have a really good shape for the whole head, which is what you will lightly outline next.  If you are happy with it, roughly gauge where the shoulder and hip should be, and add a light line down the spine and make a curved tail.


So your tiger is kind of a tiger skeleton, and needs a belly and legs before anything else.  Get a good curve going where the stifle (the tiger’s knee) and the elbow meet.  He should look at least a little pudgy, because he is packing some serious hair on his body.  Next, decide how long his legs should be, and give yourself a guide line for both the front and back paws on the near side of the body.  This will make it easy to imagine where his legs should shape out, and a straight line will be a good indicator of how well you like where the limb is going.


Almost done now, with the legs finished and the tail in one piece, your tiger has a complete outline and there is nothing for it but to add the stripes.  They can be drawn smooth or fuzzed into the rest of the coat, the choice is yours.  They are round around the face and make small spots on the more tender parts of the body, and some of them will come up to meet others on the largest part of the body.  Tigers generally have no stripes on their belly, and they fade as they go further down the animal’s rib cage.  Leg stripes are broken, and run horizontally around the forearms; vertical stripes continue down the hip and begin banding at the hock (the tiger’s ankle).

This is an extremely rare golden tiger.

Tigers are unique creatures, striking visually and seeing one up close is something you will never forget.  One of the only big cats who actually enjoy water, tigers are as at home here as a black lab is, and will chase balls and raw chickens all day long in a large pool.  If you can, grab as many pictures of tigers in different poses as you can, this will help you learn to draw a tiger with stripes that look more natural, and each one will look better than the ones before.

Posted January 31st, 2012.

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