Realistic Penguin Drawing in 4 Steps With Photoshop

What are the steps for a realistic penguin drawing? This penguin drawing guide will go through the considerations to think about in regards to the overall shape and form to create an accurate depiction of this cute little bird.

Rarely having any natural land predators due to the isolated location of Antarctica, a penguin is a bird that is naturally curious when approached by people. It is this seemingly friendly attitude, combined with the way they walk, that makes them adorable.

In media, the penguin is portrayed as a sophisticated and playful animal. The black and white markings give an impression that the bird is wearing a tuxedo. In terms of drawing it, it is also one of easier birds to draw as there are no complex feathers.

While it seems straight forward enough, penguins do have a multitude of species. To help distinguish physical appearance, look for: beak size, body to head ratio, distinct markings, feet colors, etc. Thus, it is a good idea to study up on the species first when learning realistic penguin drawing.

Sketching a realistic penguin drawing

Just to list a few: Emperor penguins, Adelie penguins, Little penguins, Rockhopper penguins, Humboldt penguins, etc. have unique characteristics when looking at them up close. For example, Emperor penguins have very sharp beak versus a blunt beak of the Adelie penguins.

The idea is to understand these small differences to draw the right specie. Aside from that, the rest is to focus on the upright standing position, flat flippers, flat webbed toes, a short neck, and a large body that comprises the rest of the bird.

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For my example, I am drawing a Humboldt penguin because I like the overall shape. It is very simple: have the flippers drawn on the upper one-third of the body while the legs are drawn at the lower one-third. The rest is filled in as simple circles and triangles.

I also filled in the sketch with a flat color and added simple shading, which will dictate the rest of the drawing in terms of understanding where the major shading should be placed. I am not too concerned about details at this step.

Smudging the realistic penguin drawing

First, I switch over to the smudge tool, using the sketch lines, to pull the different colors to form a beak.  The key here is to have two different tones denoting the upper and lower beaks. The eyes are drawn in with a simple black circle that I will be detailing later.

As for the body, a larger smudge head is used to pull in areas of color to form patches of feather. As I work down, I have to be careful to retain the division lines that separate the flipper with the rest of the body. This is true for the feet as well.

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From there, I will switch to the airbrush tool to block in more areas of feather using a chalk brush head. The biggest challenge is the feet. I constantly switch between a smaller brush and a larger brush to draw in individual toes.

The other part of this step is to erase or pull in the outlines as I go to retain the entire shape of the penguin. Sometimes, I will lock the shape of the penguin so I don't color outside of the boundaries (to work on shading) while unlocking the shape to refine the boundaries.

Detailing the realistic penguin drawing

Despite a smooth looking body from afar, penguins do have fine feathers that need to be drawn to give it more realism. Luckily, there is just the right brush for the job: this is the spatter brush head. This particular brush looks like a sponge.

The 'scratching' effect by this brush draws out many fine lines in one stroke that will mimic fine feathers. The challenge would be to know how to control this brush head to create layers of fine feather. In practice, it's actually fairly easy.

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With this brush, there are three possible ways to draw on the feathers. The first will be small circular motions used around the head as a way to round out the head. The second method is to dab in small areas to show short feathers. Lastly, doing longer strokes will show longer feathers.

The penguin layer is then locked down where I proceed to use those three methods to draw in the fur. When completed, a variety of other chalk brushes are used in tandem to complete the small intricate details of the eyes, feet, and beak.

Shading the realistic penguin drawing

Notice, up until now on this guide on realistic penguin drawing, that the black markings was never a drawn in until all the small intricate feathers and other details have been done first. Otherwise, it would be a waste of time correcting shading mistakes in the details.

For the markings, I tend to draw it on a separate layer converted to a clipping mask. This will allow me to experiment with the black patterns as I see fit. Again, I continue to use the top down method and work from the head down to the body.

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The details on the beak are darkened in first. Then, I create the swirls around the head covering much of it except for the neck. Since the markings are on a clipping mask, I can easily erase or change out the markings as I see fit.

The markings are then expanded out to cover the back and the flippers. The challenge here is to cover the flippers enough that there is still a small white line to show the division of the flippers from the rest of the body. Then I proceed to block in some shadows to emphasis depth some more.

For areas that contain white feathers, I switch back to a white brush and dab those areas in with a spatter brush head. The majority of the white will be on the front belly, small bands, and the legs leading towards the feet.

Finally, I clean up the rest of the drawing by changing the contrast settings as well as sharpening some of the lines with a global sharpening filter. Overall, it's a very simple process that allows me to create a realistic penguin drawing.