Realistic Cow Drawings in 4 Steps With Photoshop

A very special animal, realistic cow drawings is one way to honor what this noble farm animal has given us. Through ancient times, we depend on cattle for a lot of our dietary means. In some cultures, a cow drawing represents wealth, strength, and other positive symbolism.

As an artist, you need to learn many different animal forms to build a strong artistic foundation. To be exact, you will be learning how to build form using very simple and angular shapes, as oppose to circular shapes, from this lesson.

Not only that, but you will be learning how to combine different levels of values through the patches found on a dairy cow. When you're ready to start, open up your software and follow along to create your own illustration of this fine animal.

We will start the lesson on realistic cow drawings with a simple gesture sketch to get the form and proportions right. There are a few key elements here that you need to pay attention to.

Sketching the realistic cow drawings

While there are many ways to start a gesture sketch, I think the best part to start on is the body of the cow. That is, draw a rectangle to where you will attach the head and the limbs to.

The limbs are very straight forward as well. The main thing to look out for is to make it fairly vertical. You want to emphasize the tall figure of the cow. Do not forget about the joints of the limbs. You can suggest these by circular shapes.

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Some other noticeable parts of the cow are the flaps of skin hanging from the neck and the teats protruding from the belly. As for the head, you may want to create a crescent shape to emphasize the snout of the cow and the pointy cranium section of the skull.

Just remember that a lot of work is done at this step so it's OK to spend some time getting the proportions correct. When you are satisfied, move on to the next step of filling out the sketch with a base background color.

Blocking in the realistic cow drawings

Now that you have your outline, it's time to use it to create a solid object to detail the cow's skin and muscle textures. The best way to do this is to create a layer underneath your gesture sketch. Then, paint in it in, with a light color, using your digital art brush set at 100% pressure.

When you have covered the areas as much as possible, combine the two layers together. You should have a solid object of your cow with the gesture lines.

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From here, clean up any excess lines near the border of the shape. You may want to smudge some of the outlines a bit to suggest small hairs growing out.

For the next part of learning realistic cow drawings, preserve the transparency of your object. This will make sure that any brush strokes will be contained in the shape of the cow object. With a chalk brush, start blocking out the form of the cow's limbs, face, belly, and other areas to create form.

Detailing the realistic cow drawings

This step will help you create all the textures you need with one simple tool: the smudge brush. Use the chalk brush head to do fur or any type of jagged streaks. Make sure to turn off 'preserve transparency' option when smudging the edges.

With that in mind, pick your brush size and gently go back and forth on your cow drawing. The lines from the initial gesture sketch will be very helpful here in creating more textures as you smudge. Smudges in the direction of the fur and not in one direction as that will make it artificial.

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When you are done, the next step is to add black patches to your dairy cow. You can either start a new layer and turn it into a clipping mask or paint right on top of your cow object if you're confident.

On a diary cow, the main black spots are located on each side of the face, the neck, the shoulders, the upper torso, and the upper thighs. The overall shape doesn't matter so long as it's a random pattern. Be creative with this.

Shading the realistic cow drawings

Now that you have all the texture in place, the drawing is now primed to move onto the final stages. By this time, you will notice that the cow is a bit flat. That's where you will need to add lighting and shadows to finish it. There are several ways to do this.

You can use a clipping mask and draw light that conforms to the shape of the cow, actually paint right on the cow object, or duplicate the cow object and paint light (from there, adjust the opacity to reveal the cow textures underneath).

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These choices are dependent on your drawing software (for example, Photoshop for clipping mask abilities) and how comfortable you are with using its tools since not all drawing programs offer the same tools.

Anyway, glaze the perimeters of the cow with a soft brush and a light color. You want it to blend into the background. Notice you want to shade in a way to bring out the flat nature of the animal. This can be done using a chalk brush instead of a round brush to get those sharp edges.

For the legs, make sure to darken the inner legs because that is where light can't reach. As for the back, make sure you use a solid brush to create a fierce contrast of light to emphasize the square body.

You can even use the dodge and burn tools to create additional contrasts without destroying the skin and muscle textures too much should you decide to draw directly on the animal instead of using a separate layer for this step. After that, just make any small touch ups to finish the drawing.