How to Draw Animals in Action!

The magic of art and illustration is that you can depict something that doesn’t exist or happen in real life. You have the unique ability to bring something out of your imagination and make it real for others to see and experience. Today I’ll be showing you the process I use to figure out how to make an animal look like it’s doing an action that animals don’t normally do! This process is handy if you want to get into character development or children’s book illustration. Let’s go!


1. Choose your animal and action

This week’s Making Art Everyday prompts are “Animals in Action.” Each day of the week pairs an animal with an action that animals don’t usually do. But you can choose your own animal if you prefer! You can think about what might make sense, like a lion brushing it’s hair (lions have a lot of hair!). Or you can think about contrast. What wouldn’t make sense at ALL but would be funny to have an animal do? What about two narwhals trying to kiss? Ouch! If you want some random ideas, check out my random drawing idea generator at The prompts aren’t all animals, but you’re sure to find some weird combinations!

For our example I’ll be combining the animal GORILLA with the action BALLET.

2. Study the Animal

Look up reference photos of the animal. Break the animal down into basic shapes that you can manipulate, the simpler the better. If you can simplify your subject into the most basic of shapes, it will be easier to create your own pose, vs. replicating a pose you see in a reference. And you probably won’t find many photos of gorillas doing ballet! I have a couple of tutorials about this process. 

Foundations of Style // Learn how to study a subject matter, identify it’s unique characteristics, break it down into simple shapes, and develop your own method for drawing that subject.

Sketching Birds // Drawing upon techniques learned in my Foundations of Style Procreate tutorial, learn all about how to simplify the bird form into simple shapes and develop the perfect sketch for creating some birdie art.

Make a quick sketch of your animal using these basic shapes. Identify any other defining features or characteristics you might use in your drawing. I did a Google image search for “gorilla” to find these photos. (Sources: Image 1Image 2 ). You can have your image search results side-by-side with Procreate by using the iPad OS feature, “Split View.” You can also drag images onto your canvas (or import images you’ve saved from the web) like I did below. 

3. Study the Action

Look up reference photos of the action being performed (probably by a human!) Observe the forms of the arms and legs and how they might be interacting with objects or the environment. Make a quick sketch of the position of the body and any props or objects the person might be holding. Also consider if adding clothing to your animal will help “sell” the action. I decided my gorilla should definitely be wearing a tutu! To find reference photos I did a search for “ballet dancer” (Sources: Image 1Image 2 )

4. Merge & Sketch!

Identify ways to merge the two studies. Make a new sketch manipulating the basic shapes of your animal into the pose of the action. Reduce the opacity of the initial sketch and refine it. Add curves and details to give the animal more character and definition. In my second sketch I added muscular curves to the arms and legs and a more shapely tutu. 

5. Color & Finish Artwork

Once your sketch is complete, start coloring the shapes on a new layer beneath your sketch layer. I started by filling in the body in flat color on one layer. Then I made a new layer to draw the brush strokes for fur and the other details. 

As you work on your drawing, continue to look up reference photos! This will give you a guide about how to depict the details of your drawing. As I progressed on my gorilla, I looked up references such as “gorilla reaching,” “gorilla feet,” “gorilla chest,” “ballet tutu,” and more. An artist’s research is never done!

Final Artwork

Here is my final artwork for gorilla + ballet. Its a fun process to take something that only exists in your imagination bring it to life! I hope you have fun making animals in action!

Aniket Pednekar at 9:08 pm

Hi Lisa! I was wondering which brush did you use for the fur? Is it part of the Bardot Brushset?

Kelly at 10:08 pm

That was so fun to watch you create this dancing ape! I am new to iPad and I am not an artist BUT I love creating and really want to get into procreate. I really do much better at hands on learning so I am soooo bummed that the classes in the apple stores are not able to continue at this time. Can you tell me how you did the hair on the ape? I am working through your tutorials but I sure wish you had hands on classes:) Sincerely, Kelly


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