How to Draw a German Shepherd in Colored Pencil

German Shepherd Dog Smiling Outdoors

Purple Collar Pet Photography/Getty Images 

Drawing animals, particularly beloved pets, is a lot of fun. Their facial expressions and color markings allow for artistic interpretation and a great depth of color. Dogs are a perfect subject for any artist, and in this tutorial, we're going to learn how to draw a German Shepherd using colored pencils.

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The Reference Photo

A German Shepherd Dog Photo

Janet Griffin-Scott., 2017

Any good realistic drawing begins with a great reference photo. This allows you to capture the dog's personality and unique markings so it can be true-to-life. You can follow along in the tutorial using this German Shepherd photo or one of your own. Just customize the dog's markings and details.

In this case, her head will be straightened out in the initial sketch, so her ears are level. We also finish the cropped ear and adjust the angle of her neck where it meets her shoulder. All of this adds balance to the drawing and is the sort of artistic license you can take.

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Sketching the Dog's Structure

Dog 1

Janet Griffin-Scott., 2017

In this colored pencil tutorial, our subject is a half-grown German Shepherd puppy with a charming look about her. Just like any other drawing, we start by breaking down the basic underlying shapes.

  • Notice the kite shape which is formed by the diamond of her forehead and the triangle of her muzzle.
  • The nose is a circle, and the ears are rounded off triangles.
  • Two ovals form the ruff on her neck.

The drawing then starts to take shape by simply removing lines with a vinyl eraser. At this point, we also add a few new lines above her eyes and the lines of her muzzle.

Tip: Use a plain hand-held sharpener to get the point of the pencil nice and sharp.

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Preliminary Sketching

Dog 2

Janet Griffin-Scott., 2017

By adding a few more details, the dog begins to form. Right now you can refrain from worrying too much about the details; we're still going for the basic outline in this preliminary sketch. 

  • Outline the hair in her ears and start sketching in the edges of the fur where they overlap on the ruff, neck, and shoulder.
  • Add more detail in the eye and pupil.
  • Add the nostrils. You will find this helpful later when the dark layers obscure their shape.
  • Adding a few framing lines on the outer edges will also help place the crop of the drawing.
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Transfer the Sketch to Paper

Dog 3

Janet Griffin-Scott., 2017

Your rough sketch is done and now it is time to transfer it to the paper you chose for the final drawing. This can be done in any number of ways and you can experiment to find which you prefer.

  • One method is to scribble a soft leaded pencil all over the back of the rough sketch and tape it to the surface of the new paper. From the front side, trace the lines of your sketch with a harder pencil, thereby transferring them onto the drawing surface.
  • Another option is to use the laborious grid method. This does take a bit more work but is a good exercise that you might find useful in the future.
  • The third method is to project the drawing on the surface of the paper and gently outline your main guidelines. This can be useful if you want your final drawing to be larger or smaller than your sketch.
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First Layers of Color

Dog 4

Janet Griffin-Scott., 2017

Once your sketch is transferred, it's time to begin adding color. Over the next few steps, the layers will build up color by color. Just follow along, and your German Shepherd will begin to come to life.

It's important to note that colored pencil manufacturers are not as good as paint makers when it comes to naming colors. They often do not reflect the actual color. They can also vary from one brand to another. For the rest of this tutorial, use the closest color you have available or whichever works best for your drawing. 

  • Begin laying down a light layer of Laurentian’s Cream by using large circling strokes of the base color layer.
  • Draw the strokes in the direction of the growth of the fur. For instance, the hair grows outwards and upwards over the eyebrows and long and straight down by the ruff on her neck. The tiny hairs on her nose are small compared to the large wavy hairline in her ears.

The image is darkened here so you can see it on-screen; the actual drawing is more subtle.

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Adding Warmth

Dog 5

Janet Griffin-Scott., 2017

  • Start adding darker areas with Laurentian’s Sienna, which is closer to a yellow ochre color.
  • Her eyeballs in the previous step were put in using Bright Cadmium yellow. They have also been toned down by adding a layer of Sienna.
  • Her ears are outlined with Sienna.
  • At the base of her ears, small strokes of Sienna are added, noting the direction with the strokes. They seem to sprout upwards.
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Coloring the German Shepherd Mask

Dog 6

Janet Griffin-Scott., 2017

As the color continues to build, follow your reference photo carefully for accuracy. Each dog's markings are unique, and you will want to tailor your marks to their particular coloring.

  • Two more layers of Laurentian’s Coffee (otherwise known as Burnt Sienna) are added on the eyeballs.
  • We also skip ahead to black to start adding detail to the eyes and the black mask of fur that is typical in German Shepherds.
  • Add small strokes of black on her forehead in the 'V ' shape and make sure the strokes go upwards like the hair grows.
  • Begin to suggest the hair on her nose with light strokes of black and darken the right eye slightly as it is in shadow. 
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Continuing the Mask

Dog 7

Janet Griffin-Scott., 2017

  • Continue adding black strokes to define her nose, the nostrils, and her lips.
  • Darken the 'V' shape on her forehead with more strokes, radiating outwards from the center of her head.
  • Sketch in the nostrils darkly and add lighter strokes on her nose.
  • Add strokes on both sides of her muzzle and add hairs down in front of her left ear.
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Developing Texture and Color

Dog 8

Janet Griffin-Scott., 2017

The reference photo includes the German Shepherd's red collar. Since the dog has long hair and we have not added much detail to her neck, it's easy to add at this point.

  • The collar is added with Crayola Red Ochre, which is a bright shade of Cadmium Red.
  • It also has upward strokes of Alizarin Crimson -- Prismacolour calls it Crimson Lake -- to suggest the detail of a nylon collar. A ring at the front is sketched in with black.
  • Also, at this point, much more Burnt Sienna is used to draw in the details of her ears, under her eyes, and on her forehead.
  • The pink in her ears is put in by Laurentians’ Soft Peach -- a flesh tone -- and Blush Pink (very similar to Magenta paint).
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Drawing Hair and Fur

Dog 9

Janet Griffin-Scott., 2017

The drawing is starting to take shape. From here, it's all about the finishing touches.

You will find that these final details look best if you keep your pencil very sharp. As the pencil dulls down, work on the larger, bolder strokes. It's also a good idea to rotate the pencil as you draw. This ensures you're always working with a sharp point. 

  • Rather heavy layers of black are added on her muzzle and nose.
  • Bold, dark strokes are laid out on her shoulder and lighter smaller strokes on the ruff under her collar.
  • A bit of black is added inside her ears, and the hair in her upper ears is outlined again for emphasis.
  • By adding to the black strokes at the bottom, we give ourselves a little freedom when deciding the final crop.
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Final Layers

Dog 10

Janet Griffin-Scott., 2017

  • White highlights are added in her eyes, which help add dimension.
  • Darken her pupils and the hair around her eyebrow areas by pressing harder on the pencil and going over the same strokes again and again.
  • Lay down one layer of Cream to start the background. Do so by laying the pencil almost flat and rub it lightly with a tissue to flatten it. 
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The Completed German Shepherd Dog Drawing

Dog 11

Janet Griffin-Scott., 2017

It's time to complete the portrait of this beautiful German Shepherd.

  • Add about six more layers of Cream and Sienna (Yellow Ochre pencils) in light, soft layers. As the layers build up, the surface gets softer and softer and becomes loaded with pigment.
  • Erase areas in the background that became too dark with color.
  • Also, use the eraser on its flat side to smudge and blend all the layers of color in the background.
  • Add more layers to the left and less to the right to give the background some graduated color.