An animal portrait can be a casual sketch that captures the person ality of the animal, but often it is an attempt to get a more formal treatment and likeness.
You will find lots of reference material out there: books, magazines, stock photos, clip art, and Internet photos, to name a few. They can be handy, but will not be the best way to learn to see and draw. Looking at a flat image is not the way to practice shape and form. Even detail is best seen for real and then drawn. Use the world of reference and photos only when you really need them, and try to see your way rather than copying the flatness.
To do an animal portrait, start with the basics: gesture, proportion, and form. Then add as much detail as you feel you can see.
For rendering more exotic animals from life, instead of from books, try visiting the circus or zoo. You'll be practicing new animal shapes and forms, while exploring other fun and interesting drawing challenges, such as the tents shown in this illustration.
Look at what happens when you draw the animal using texture as the technique that illuminates the defining shapes. Here, you see a bear and two badgers.
When studying animal forms, try to capture just the shape to tell you what animal is being rendered. Pay attention to positive and negative spaces. Which animals do you see here?
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