In this tutorial I'll explain you how I draw and stylize animal heads, and will give you tips how to start your journey!
The key of stylizing is to simplify and exaggerate the right features of your creature, give a big mouth to those scary and hungry animals or maybe just a small harmless muzzle and big friendly eyes like a young curious cub? With this you can work on making different animals stand out with their key features, or make different members of one species look different from each other.
Stylizing things differently or similary can both work! If you're making a comic, styling each character differently makes it easy to recognize each of them and make specific features / personality traits obvious. Or if you have to draw many very different looking characters into the same piece, styling them similary will make them look like they're from the same universe.
The most important thing
Okay, so you've decided that, you only want to draw cool stylized animals? Well I have some unfortunate news for you. We start from learning how actual animals look like, you need to draw those FIRST before styling them! Don't look at those how-to-draw-manga things, don't attempt to copy traits from your favorite artist and think you can memorize each fun looking stroke from every angle. If you want to learn how to do consistent styling on your characters, you need to understand why you're drawing those fun looking lines and where.
So, lets start looking at photographs of animals! I suggest you look up ones that are CC-BY (or alternate creative commons licence) incase you want to share your learning progress of drawing over them. Here's the ones I picked up for this tutorial, the tiger and the wolves.
Practicing with photos
Feel free to use these same photos I found (they are CC-BY 2.0), or google your own. Wikipedia is a good source, just remember to check the licence carefully and do what it requires if you ever post your practises online, for critiques as an example, CC-BY in simple means you need to credit the source and mention your changes! But remember: never ever ever ever post online modifications of photos/images you don't know the licence for or if you're uncertain about the actual source! Now that you're educated, lets start drawing on the photos wheeh!
1. Inspect the photos for a while and try to imagine that there's a ball inside the head, how big of a ball can you fit there? Draw it. Next you need to draw lines that go around the ball on it's surface, we will draw two of those, one vertically and another horizontally. Try to get them cross between the creature's eyes. The horizontal line can be a little below eyes, right in the center or you can ever draw two horizontal lines above and below eyes! Now, the important part is that the place 'between eyes' is not exactly between if we measure with a stick, you need to imagine as if the picture was a 3D shape instead. You'll probably need to practise getting down the 3D shape part a lot, it's an important factor to succeed on anything that comes next.
2. Next are the basic features of the animal: Eyes, muzzle, nose, mouth, ears and probably some fluffy bits that define how wide the head looks like. While tracing these parts, don't just mindlessly draw them but inspect them and make connections between similar shapes that different species have. Such as wolves and tigers have a muzzle equally long but the tigers muzzle is much wider and felines in general have a clear ":3" face, where are dogs and wolves face is a bit more like ":)".
Try out things!
After you've gotten down how to draw a few of the animals you want to start styling up, lets try different things out! The very basic thing you can do is make a specific feature of the animal bigger. Such as eyes, bigger eyes are more expressive but can also make your character look young and cute, further more making the nose/mouth/muzzle small will help giving that look. Doing the exact opposite however will make your character look old or even somewhat scary.
3. These examples have bigger: eyes, ears and cheek fluff but smaller muzzle. It makes them look younger and less dangerous and kinda cute.
4. The second row examples have a bigger muzzle and small eyes & ears, now they look older and not so harmless either anymore. The female wolf now looks like a motherly figure more than a young love seeker.
We want to start drawing without photo references, so it's good to figure out some extra helpful shapes in our animals. These can be used to help sketching your character from scratch, shading it, "test" that your drawing is the right shape and further help to stylize. This step really requires you to get down how to imagine the drawings in a 3D shape, so practice practice practice!
5. This is what kind of shapes I imagine for mammals, you can probably notice that the feline and canine have similar parts but they're slightly different. Feel free to come up with your own, the key is that you memorize them and make use of them. These are not only useful for styling but also help drawing imaginary animals or hybrids.
6. Here's an example how I take adventige of these assist lines, making the eye bigger. Notice that the eye doesn't flow over from the area, and that funny crossing line meets the same points of the eye even after it's a lot larger! This helps to keep the eyes looking good and avoid wonkiness.
7. This time, I've shortened the ellipse that describes the top of the muzzle, but only transferred the rest there. And now we have a good looking shortish muzzle for the tiger!
After you've memorized your lines and shapes and figured out how you want to style your character, it's time to start drawing from scratch! Here's my order of sketching the head:
1. Defines the direction the character is looking at.
2. Fuzzy shape for muzzle and how apart eyes are.
3. Define muzzle with shapes, draw eyes and eyebrows.
4. Add rest of the elements.
5. Test for propotions with the helpful lines learned before.