To draw a jaguar, we first need to start with the basic construction lines which will serve as our foundation. Using a 2H pencil, lightly draw a circle for the head, followed by a large, warped oval shape for the body. Connect the head to the body with a bent neck line. Also sketch in the back, left leg which will be planted on the ground, and draw a triangle shape for the paw. These construction lines do not have to be perfect - they are just a guide for what is to come next.
Now let's get to work on the head. First draw the triangular-shaped nose along the right edge of the head circle, about two thirds of the way up. On the exact opposite side of the circle will be the cat's right ear. Remember, animals point their ears back when angry or in action. Place the eye directly in the center of the nose and the base of the ear. The eye should be in the exact center of the head circle, about three fourths of the way up. Notice the green line - the tip of the right ear, the center of the eye, and the top of the nose are all perfectly in line with each other. Continue to draw the top of the head and snout. Don't forget about that left ear hiding in the back! Without it, the head will lose its dimension. Be sure that you are still drawing lightly, as these pencil marks will be erased after the piece is inked.
Finish drawing the head by giving the jaguar a roaring mouth with large, sharp canine teeth on the top and bottom jaws. Give the cat a large, curled tongue and powerful jaw muscles. Draw in the rest of the eye by including an iris and pupil. Add more snarl wrinkles to the snout and around the eyes.
Let's start making our way down the body by drawing the outline of the neck, followed by the two front legs. Jaguars are extremely powerful animals known for carrying large pray into trees, so naturally these cats are very muscular and have large, hooked claws.
Draw in the hind legs and tail to complete the outline of the figure. Be careful not to draw the tail too thin, as these animals use their thick tails for balance and agility. Since all of the animal's weight is pushing off from the back left leg, that foot should be very depressed into the ground.
This would be a good point to shift from pencil to pen. Using a brush or marker, such as a Micron or Copic Multiliner, carefully ink the outline of the figure and then erase the pencil marks with a kneaded eraser. Look at how clean your illustration has suddenly become! But we still have several more steps ahead of us…
I would say that this is the most enjoyable part of the illustration - inking in the spots! Ordinary jaguars are covered in oddly-shaped spots, no two spots being alike. They're kind of like snowflakes that way! Something important to observe is how the spots on a jaguar begin at the very top of the head and spread downward from that point. Notice the green arrows which show the direction of the spot pattern. Also notice the green marks beneath the neck and in the joint of the back leg where the skin is tighter, thus bunching the pattern closer together in these areas. Have fun here and make the patterns as unique as you'd like. I would suggest using a blunt marker or brush for this process. Note that the spots on the face and lower legs are smaller than the spots on the sides of the body, whereas the spots near the tip of the tail are so thick that the tip turns completely black. Feel free to also take this opportunity to darken the cat's lips and draw in the marks around the eye. Using a very fine tip marker, such as a 01 Micron, draw in the whiskers.
While laying down spots can be the most enjoyable part of illustrating a jaguar, the most important step is in the shading phase. With shadow, we add depth to the figure, giving it life. Our light source is going to be at the top right corner of the image, so the underside and left side of the figure will have shadow. Notice that the light bounces off the ground and creates a thin outline of light along the bottom edge of the figure. Provide a shadow on the ground below that connects to the cat's hind left leg so that the figure does not appear to be floating in mid air.
We can continue to render the image and add additional depth and texture with feathering and crosshatching. Remember where the light source is coming from. When crosshatching, thin out your lines as you get closer to the light source. When feathering, the thin end of your brush stroke should also be closest to the light source. Use a fine tip marker to tuffs of fur in random areas, hairline fractures on the claws, and add more detail to the iris on the eye.
For a few finishing touches, go back to your now fully inked image and, using opaque white paint or white ink, add a few highlights in certain areas where light is directly hitting or creating a shine, such as along the tip of the tail or along the lips. One of the most important things you need to remember is to place a white dot on the pupil of the eye - this single white dot gives the image life! Take a moment to make any final corrections or additions such as perhaps extra spots on the fur, additional rendering, more texture, or anything else you may notice. Congratulations! You now know how to draw a mighty jaguar! I hope you had as much fun as I did!
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