How to draw animals | The 6 step Dairy Cow

How to draw a cow
How to draw a cow

Cows and calves can be found all around the world especially in the western culture are typical scenery of the landscape. As a dutch citizen cows are part of our culture and scenery. Ever since we started draining the polders 500 years ago, these beautiful animals are showing off in the meadows.

Cows are sweet and curious animals who like to stand in herds. Because cows are such big interesting animals I like to draw them.

In this blog you will also find a step-by-step plan so that you can learn to draw a cow step-by-step.

Cows come in all shapes and sizes in the netherlands comman species are the holstein-friesian (black and white cow), dikbil cow, blister heads, and several more.

These cows all have the same build and so we can make one anatomy study for mulitple species.

Cow Anatomy

All cows have the same muscle groups and by making an anatomy study, I usually get a good idea of how to simplify the cow to the most essential basic shapes and planes.

By studying the bone structure and muscle mass, you can see that the cow is a solid and heavy animal.

This can also be seen in its appearance and posture. It is an impressive animal that can defend itself well in the herd.

So once again you don’t need to know the exact anatomy, it’s more about getting an idea about how to put the animal on paper.

In the picture you see the skeleton with all the important muscle groups underneath.

In the study below the skeleton I tried to create shadows. This way the cow is more translated into large shapes and planes.

It doesn’t have to be a perfect anatomy drawing but as long as the rough shapes and proportions are correct. We’re just trying to put our idea of reality on paper.

Drawing a cow calf | Step by step

When you have a rough idea about the anatomy, you’re ready to start drawing the cow. It is important that you can put the essence on paper.

In this example I chose a calf, because I liked the picture I used as an example. And who doesn’t like calves.

When you draw the calf always start with the big shapes and work slowly towards the details. As shown in the steps below.

When you see draughtsmen drawing by heart, it means that they can skip several steps in their head.

I made these images in photoshop for the sake of clarity for the website.

I advise you to start with an HB pencil and in your sketchbook or a piece of paper and for example change to a 2B or even 4B pencil from Step 3 onwards.

If you are not satisfied with a line, erase it. We are all students and don’t be ashamed to correct yourself if you don’t like the line.

Step 1 | Flowing lines and large shapes

Cow drawing | step 1 gesture
Cow drawing | step 1 gesture

Actually, all steps on this website are almost the same, it is important that you work from big to small. The general though process of drawing animals is for me universal.

I always start with some big organic shapes combined with gesture lines. This step is from upmost importance because you lay the foundation work for the rest of the drawing.

Pay also attention to correct proportions and placing of your drawing. The placement of shapes within your drawing boundaries determine your overall composition. If you only do a study this is not that important, but when you draw or sketch for a beginning painting keep this in mind.

When the ground work is laid on paper and step 1 is finished I dissect the animal in different parts mainly the head, neck, shoulders, belly and legs.

Step 2 | Construction of large shapes

Cow drawing | step 2 construction
Cow drawing | step 2 construction

This step is for the most part imaginary, I try to imagine myself the big shapes. Because these big shapes will often muddy down your drawing. Therefore try avoiding them on paper.

Off course, when you first draw a new animal it can help to put these big shapes on paper. But only if you find it hard to imagine then I would put the essential shapes in your drawing.

The most helpful shape for me is the keystone shape at the shoulders. You then have a good basis to put the legs down.

Step 3 | Head and Neck

Cow drawing | step 3 head
Cow drawing | step 3 head

When you have the essence on paper, we can draw over the large forms step by step.
As mentioned earlier I always divide my subject into sections, for animals this is head, neck, shoulders, belly and legs.

For the Head, I start with the eyes and nose, these are important characteristics for me because they determine the proportion of the head. When these are correct I sketch the ears and the rest of the head on paper.

Try to get the proportions of the facial features right, these are often the focal point of your drawing. And people can easily sense if something is off with the drawing if the overall proportions does not match.

It is important that you draw between and around the large shapes. And only create the suggestion with minimal lines. As you can see above I only try to draw the “suggestion” of fur.

I work my way down and try to follow the anatomy of the beast. Because the cow has a lot of fur – depending of the subspecies – as opposed to the dog in another example, I don’t draw lines but sketch curves which should indicate the fur.

Don’t focus on every detail you see, because a drawing is just a representation of the artist perception of reality. And it is therefore not “THE” exact reality, you notice around you.

Tip: When drawing the coat don’t try to draw each hair separately but try to give the suggestion of shape.

Step 4 | Shoulders and Body

Cow drawing | step 4 body
Cow drawing | step 4 body

Again, try to think in big shapes and don’t get distracted by the details.

You will notice that the simpler the drawing the more pleasant it is to look at.

Cows stand high on their legs and are heavily built. When they are still calves they often have long legs in relation to their body. This can make them look clumsy when they hop through the meadow or fields. But this also gives them a lot of charm.

When I put the lines of the shoulder and the body I try to draw ‘around’ and ‘over’ the imaginary shapes and lines of step 1 and 2.

Step 5 | Legs

Cow drawing | step 5 legs
Cow drawing | step 5 legs

The legs can be a bit complex because muscles can be complex. Try to imagine the anatomy well and simplify it to the structure you see, for ease look to the anatomy study above.

If you have followed the steps above you will see that it slowly starts to look like a cow. And if you have already created a good looking cow, the next step is to indicate the details. Try to stop in time and not include too many details in your drawing.

Sometimes drawing less lines tells you more on the drawing.

Step 6 | Details , tonal value and color

Cow drawing | step 6 Tone and colour
Cow drawing | step 6 Tone and colour

Try to add some tonal value in your drawing, do this by applying the laws of light and shadow.

Erase the HB pencil construction lines from step 1 and 2, if you don’t want them in your details.

When you use a pencil this can be done by cross hatching or slightly fill the area with graphite. And when darker values needs to be put down on paper just press harder or use a 4B or even 6B graphite pencil.

Highlights can easily be created by erasing them in with your eraser.

I gave the cow some colour in this last example. I only did this because I liked it. And with colour everything just gets a little happier.

Further Steps

If you have followed the steps above, there is now a cow on your drawing. Maybe you are not satisfied with it yet, but this is going to be fine if you keep practicing.

Drawing is a skill that takes time, the same as any other profession. Remember that drawing is just a hobby and try to have a lot of fun with it.

If you want to draw even more cows you can takeĀ  pictures of cows outside or look up pictures online. The steps are exactly as indicated above, keep repeating this and before you know it you may call yourself an professional artist.

Good luck and more importantly have fun!