Realistic Swan Drawing in 4 Steps With Photoshop

At first glance, a realistic swan drawing looks like an easy exercise. If we are talking about just the general shape, it is very straightforward. Depending on how complicated or realistic the swan is, it can get to be a real challenge. Here is how I handled drawing this bird.

In our culture, a swan represents fidelity and long lasting love because of the animals natural tendency to mate for life. Due to this romantic idea, there's no simple reason to want to learn how to draw a swan other than the love motifs that the animal represents.

One of the most famous motifs involves a pair of swans. The 'S' curved neck represents a heart that is very nice to look at. By itself, the swan represents purity, grace, and beauty. In some instances, the swan also represents growth as seen in the Story of the Ugly Duckling.

Aside from the long neck, this animal shares a lot of similarities with ducks physically. From the way it drawn in the water is almost identical. As an artist, my challenge here is to retain the details of the entire animal. Here's how I learned how to draw a swan in Photoshop.

Sketching the realistic swan drawing

The first thing in a realistic swan drawing is to get the simple shape down. As seen in multiple drawings and pictures, it seems that the most common and preferred position is the animal sitting on top of water. There will be two divisions: the neck region and the body region.

The body region will have the focus set on the wings. The sketch will have all the different sections of the wings aligned and position in a way that flows naturally. This flow will have a slight 'kick' as it tapers upwards towards the tail.

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The head part is simple enough as it is just a curved 'S'. The key here is the beak. There are no sudden changes in direction as the 'S' curve starts from the beak, curves up towards the head, rounds out the back of the neck, and then curves into the rest of the body.

In order to make the proportions correct, I mentally measure the length of the neck and make sure the ratio is about 1:1 in regards to the length of the body. Once I have this simple sketch down, I fill in the rough drawing and block in some shading to give the swan some weight.

Smudging the realistic swan drawing

Smudging is a huge deal. There is no better way to change those messy line than to smudge it all in. I am a fan of chalk brushes as it will give me jagged edges when I start smudging in the feathers found on the wings. It really is a simple little hack that saves time.

The same chalk brush head can be used to draw in sections of the face. The bill, in particular, can be filled in with a dark color. The rest, like the tails, legs, and parts of the neck, can be blocked in little by little. Now is also a good opportunity to erase into the drawing to clarify the overall look.

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This step is where I also start with the small feathers found on the wing. Unlike smudging gently, I hard smudge the colors with a fine solid brush on max settings. This will blend in all the hues that the brush manages to pull based on its brush size. I use this to pull the feathers as a quick means to draw it.

On larger areas, while still using the smudge tool, I switch to a slightly bigger brush head to pull larger feathers. I repeat this step the closer I get to the primary feathers. Between soft and hard chalk brush types, the drawing is proceeding quite nicely.

Detailing the realistic swan drawing

There is still some cleanup that needs to be done before the details can be worked on. Using the eraser tool, I erase the outline to better form the shape. If I erase too much, I can always swap back to the smudge tool and hard smudge the colors back out.

Once I am satisfied, I lock down the layer to protect the shape. From here, I finish drawing the head by adding the eyes and refining the beak. For the neck, I actually use a brush head that looks like a sponge. With it, I dab in small little streaks that automatically form simple fur in just one go.

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Even then, there is no shortcut to doing the feathers. Realism on the feathers will simple need to take some time to do. Following the outline, I hard smudge in each individual feather. The real challenge here is to smudge out the feathers in a way that it doesn't interfere with other surrounding feathers.

When that happens, I switch back to the chalk brush and gently draw in a grey area to show the division between each set of feathers. When I am satisfied, I finish off the details by hard smudge out the tail and bits of the legs. Again, this step will take a fair amount of time to complete.

Shading the realism swan drawing

Realism will be dependent on how well the light source is handled. Using a round brush and gently fill in the back. The lighted areas can be glossed over with the dodge tool. Small shadows underneath the wing can be drawn in with the burn tool.

At some point, I will need to draw the reflections of the animal as it sits on top of the water. Depending on the perspective, this bit can get tricky. What I did is to duplicate my realistic swan drawing first. The next obvious step is to flip it vertically and place it behind the original realistic swan drawing.

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Unfortunately, the base of the original and the flipped layers do not line up in my case. I got it to line up by going to Transform > Warp, and selected the 'Arch Upper' under the custom drop down menu. This allows me to put in a value and have it automatically arch the entire flipped drawing to match the base.

Then I went to rotate it a few degrees. After that, I went into Transform > Perspective to match the base properly. After that, I darkened the entire reflection to differentiate it from the original drawing above the waterline.

While close, there are still some areas that do not match properly. This is easy to solve. All I did is put in extra layer and draw in a neutral color to link both layers. At this point, I can stop. However, if I were to continue, there are many ways to improve the drawing.

For instance, I can draw in the rest of the water around the swan and smudge the reflection layer so it ripples alongside the water. Regardless, I am happy with how this turned out as it looks realistic but also simple enough that the idea of a swan sitting on top of the water is not lost.