I’m fascinated by dogs’ noses. A dog’s sense of smell is truly awesome. When I’m out in the woods with my dogs and they go into a sniffy, barky frenzy at the end of their leads it’s not often because there’s a wild animal nearby. It’s more usually because a wild animal walked this way hours and hours ago. Dogs can be trained to detect various drugs, cancer cells, approaching epileptic seizures, and changes in blood sugar levels in diabetics. They can detect bombs and mines. It is such a finely tuned instrument that it puts the best human smellers to shame. And if you want to find out more about how dogs perceive their world through their noses, and how humans can learn to reactivate some of their sense of smell, you could do worse than read Alexandra Horowitz’s Being a Dog.
Especially Penny’s nose is a work of art. Maybe this is why I was trying to draw it again (see a previous effort here). This time, though, I wanted to make an effort to get the texture of her nose right, that craggy leatheriness. So, I did what I always do in these circumstances: I consult YouTube tutorials. What did we even do before YouTube made tutorials freely available? To be fair, some of the ‘tutors’ on YouTube probably shouldn’t be, but in drawing you can judge for yourself: if you like the finished picture, why not follow the steps the person in the video took to get there? I consulted Katie Bowman’s tutorial and found it incredibly helpful. Leontine van Vliet is taking a different route, but also arrives at a similar result: a realistic-looking nose. I also had another look at Kirsty Partridge’s tutorial on how to draw fur.
And another thing: I invested in a blending stump. A very worthwhile investment that’s turned out to be! I never realised the difference that blending makes. But see the results for yourself
I’m still working with a smallish sketchbook but I thought that I should try to make larger-scale drawings to be able to concentrate on detail better. Hence this odd little picture of Penny’s muzzle seen from above as she was reclining and, if I remember rightly, snoring gently.
I began with the nose.
Compared with my previous efforts, this is a lot better. What changed? I had better tools, I knew more about method, I tried to build in highlights from the start, and I took my time. I think it’s Kirsty, who says in her tutorial that you just need to take the time if you want to draw realistically – and I found this advice congenial as well as right.
This is where th eblending stump entered the picture. It made such a difference to the lips. The other piece of advice that I took to heart was layering, i.e. creating layer after layer of skin and fur, so that the final result looks three-dimensional. You can see that I was struggling with Penny’s newly acquired grey fur, though, – me and my girl are greying fast!
When it came to the right-hand side of Penny’s muzzle, I went back to YouTube and found My Drawing Tutorials’ video on how to draw soft white fur, and took a few hints from that.
And on to the finishing line.
Here’s Penny’s stonking conk in all its glory. I’m very pleased with it. Compared to the last time I tried to draw her nose, I’ve improved a lot. It actually does look fairly realistic.
Compared to the reference picture, her nose and lips are slightly too large perhaps, but it’s mostly right. My box of tools now includes: pencils of varying grades, a blunt eraser, a wedge-shaped eraser, a pen eraser and – my newest purchase – a kneaded eraser for those tiny lines and dots. I also feel better about working from photographs: I’ve begun following a few artists on Instagram & they, like me, work from photos displayed on an ipad. Overall, I think this little drawing (it’s about 12 x 13 cm in size) took me about 7 hours to complete. I may well be able to speed up as I get better, but I found the task to be thoroughly absorbing and don’t think I want to aim at drawing faster. It’s not a race, after all.
Onward and upward – I may try a larger picture of my girl’s face before long.