how to sketch an elephant

How to Sketch an Elephant

Step 1.

Begin by drawing a large potato shape to create the basic form of the head and body. You could also do this by making two circles – a large one for the abdomen and a smaller circle for the head. Then connect the two circles to form one large irregular oval (the ‘potato’ shape). Note how the head sits higher than the rest of the body.

Step 2.

The elephant’s trunk is obviously the dominant feature of its face. It has a very wide base (see where it connects to the ‘potato’ shape) and extends to the ground. The green arrow shows how the front of the face curves slightly forward as it blends with the trunk, and the orange arrow shows the tight curve the back of the trunk makes as it joins with the bottom of the elephant’s face. The legs are quite simple to draw and will be explained in the next step, but just take note here that the front nearside leg is drawn about 1/3 of the way along the elephant’s length.

Step 3.

Unlike most other animals, the legs of an elephant are pretty straightforward to draw. The two nearside legs were added in step 2, and the two legs added here are thus on the opposite side of the elephant (the ‘far-side’). Because the perspective is of the drawing is from a low point of view, the legs all appear approximately the same length, with the far-side legs appearing only slightly shorter. Also, do not fall into the trap of just drawing long stumps for legs – see how the rear legs are quite curved, especially as they join with the main body, and how the front legs are much wider at their tops and have relatively thin ankles. The feet are also very important – the front feet look a bit like mushrooms and are pretty symmetrical whereas the rear feet are only hooked in the front.

Step 4.

There are a few facial features that we need to add before we start shading the drawing. Firstly, add the tusks which emanate from the lowest point of the skull and curve down and forwards from the face. You can play around with the size and shape of the tusks – some male elephants have enormous tusks that can weigh over 120 pounds each! If you want to draw a female elephant, make the tusks smaller. Next, add the enormous ears behind the face. You can see how the ears are about as wide as the front legs at their widest point, and how they make a triangle shape with a curved top edge. Then add the eye in the center of the face. The visible portion of the eye is just a thin oval, but the eyelid and bone structures around the eye makes it a bit more complicated. See the inset for a larger view (it looks sort of like a soup ladle on its side). Finally, redraw the top of the elephant’s back, making it dip in the middle like a saddle.

Step 5.

We can now start to create the elephant skin texture. Elephant skin is very thick and has thousands of small creases and wrinkles which criss-cross the body. At first it looks very complicated, but it is actually one of the easier animal textures to draw. We’ll start by shading the skin areas. We only want a light-medium base layer tone for the skin as we want the creases to stand out at a later stage. Make some of the regions below and behind the legs darker, and the top surfaces of the face and back light. Note the direction of the light source (orange arrows).

Step 6.

Smooth out the shading. The technique is explained below the drawing and involves just roughly shading an area (1), smoothing it out with a cotton pad/tissue (2) (using circular motions), and then repeating the steps (3, 4). You don’t really need the shading to be too smooth as elephants have very rough skin. We need to develop the shadows a little more in the next step.

Step 7.

There are only four areas of strong shadow in the drawing – behind the ear, behind the front leg/below the body, behind the belly and on the far-side rear leg. When drawing the shadow of the ear, try to keep it in a similar shape to that of the ear. There are also some shadows on the face that are cast by the bony skull of the elephant.

Step 8.

Smooth out the darker shaded areas with a tissue/cotton pad.

Step 9.

Now we can start to draw the skin texture. Elephants have heavily wrinkled skin that requires a special technique. The texture also isn’t the same in all regions of the elephant’s body – the skin around the rear leg has deep and long wrinkles, the skin around the front legs has a criss-cross texture of thin wrinkles and the ears have smooth undulations. We’ll start with the heavily wrinkled area around the hind leg/hip region.

Step 10.

The hip area has very deep wrinkles. [1] Begin by drawing just an outline of the wrinkles, making sure you get the general shape correct. [2] Thicken the lines with a dark pencil. [3] Now make the lines irregularly shaped with bulges and blobs. [4] Finally, shade beneath the black wrinkles and leave a thin strip of highlight above them.

Step 11.

Here you can see how the skin texture is progressing around the three areas highlighted. The wrinkles on the face are all aligned along the bony ridge that we shaded earlier, and also note how the wrinkles wrap around the eye. The wrinkles behind the knee on the front leg are very prominent, especially in the finished drawing. As they are highlights, they were drawn by simply outlining thin curved strips with a sharp, dark pencil.

Step 12.

Start to shade the folds of skin into the edge of the ear. It’s easy to overdo this, so try not to go too crazy.

Step 13.

Start to develop the texture on the trunk. These wrinkles arc across the width of the trunk and are different thicknesses.

Step 14.

Keep adding rings to the trunk as shown. Then add a lot of lines to the front legs and body to develop a leathery texture. The left inset image shows the development of this texture, and the right inset image shows how the rear leg texture is progressing.

Step 15.

The skin texture that covers most of the front leg and body is made up of many fine wrinkles that criss-cross each other. This is a pretty straightforward process that involves just drawing a bunch of lines in one direction, then another set over it in the other direction. At the end you may want to add a few darker lines as well. Make sure you use a sharp pencil and don’t press too hard (at first anyway). Also, if you are unhappy with how the texture is looking, you can just use a cotton pad/tissue to fade the lines away instead of using an eraser.

Step 16.

Add more wrinkles to the trunk. Notice how these wrinkles get less and less distinct further down the trunk, to the point where there are only minor wrinkles visible at the tip of the trunk.

Step 17.

Shade over most of the trunk and then add small vertical notches across the wrinkles you added in earlier steps. These notches can be pretty random shapes; they just need to break up the symmetry of the trunk texture. I've also added a lot of small little details to the rear leg. Remember that you don’t need to try and replicate all the details exactly as I have drawn them – you can definitely just do your own take on it.

Step 18.

In this step you need to finish the skin texture of the main body region. There are two textures that need to be added; the thin, fine wrinkles (using the technique from step 15) to the upper left area of the body, and the deep, dark wrinkles (from step 10) to the lower right region.

Step 19.

Here is a magnified image of the body region to help you see the smaller details.

Step 20.

We are now almost finished. The only major steps left to complete are the vertical wrinkles along the elephant’s spine and the shadow beneath the elephant. When drawing the shadow, keep in mind that the light source of the image is the midday sun and comes from the upper left region of the page. Thus, the shadow is cast slightly to the right of the page, behind the elephant. Also note that the shadow is very thin from the point of view of the drawing – especially the shadow of the trunk which is little more than a thick line.

Step 21.

Finish shading the shadow as dark as you can with a 4+B pencil. Then finally add a slight shadow on the undersides of the tusks and a few lines to create some detail, and you are done. If you want to add a background to the drawing, make the horizon run just below the bottom of the tusks. That’s it! I hope you enjoyed this tutorial which will unfortunately be my last major tutorial for quite a long time. I have really enjoyed making them over the last few months and hope you have found them helpful.

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Uploaded: January 19, 2014
Artist: JTM93
Difficulty: Advanced  Advanced Skill Level
Steps: 21
Updated: January 20, 2014
P.O.V: Side
Favourited: 8 times
Artist comments

African bush elephants are the largest land animals in the animal kingdom and are unique in appearance. Their trunks and large tusks are immediately identifiable and make this species an icon of African wildlife. This tutorial will explain how to sketch an elephant in a realistic style and requires HB-4B pencils, an eraser, a sharpener, and cotton pads/tissues. Unfortunately, this will be the last long tutorial that I will do for quite a while, but it has turned out to be one of my favorites.