How to Draw a Lion Head

how to draw a lionheadDrawing lion heads is easier when there is plenty of expressive light and shadow. Shadow and light space is more important than color. All of the greatest artists agree that the murkiness of the tone is more important than color. A lion’s head can be drawn or painted in any base color, or in black and white. Choose which medium to use, as there are many choices: chalks, oil or water paints, pastels, charcoal, markers, pens, colored pencils and drawing pencils are the most common choices, but anything that leaves a mark on a page may be used. Be creative when choosing a medium, especially if working with kids. Crayons and finger paints can create a perfectly beautiful lion head to a child.

Anyone can learn to do a high-quality rendering of the king of the jungle, so long as the artists first learns the basics of drawing and a few artists tricks. Begin by analyzing several photographs of lion’s heads on the internet or in books. Take note of where highlights are seen and where shadows give depth. Compare the size of the face with the size of the mane. Remember colors and tones. Most lion’s can be portrayed using just five colors: black, white, red, yellow and brown.

Sketch the Basics

Try to replicate the basic shape of the face and measure where the eyes, nose and mouth lay in relation to the top, bottom and sides of the face. Proportion in the anatomy of the lion is very important. Art classes can teach about the proportions of lions and how to draw realistic portrayals of real lions, even if the painter has never seen one in person.

A lion’s head has a basic oval shape that is about ⅓ wider at the top than in the middle. The bottom of the face is about ⅔ the width of the middle section of the face. Mark the center of the circle with a light cross. The top center of the lion’s mouth will be drawn on that point. A drawing compass and a protractor are a wonderful investment to any artist and will help achieve proper proportion to the lions features. Go ahead and draw out the initial shape of the mouth and nose.

Place the eyes at the border between the top and middle third of the face. They should be on the same level horizontally and lined up vertically so that the inner corner of the eye is even with the outer corners of each nostril. Just do a quick sketch of the inside and outside edges of the eyes and the contour lines of the irises. The width of the lion’s nose should be about ⅓ wider than that of each eye


If the lion is male, it should have a large, luxurious mane. Drawing a mane begins with shading the shadows within each strand or clump of hair using short, light strokes. Leave plenty of room between strokes to portray a reflection of light. Keep in mind that the mane will only look realistic if the reflection of light and shadows is placed areas where light and dark would naturally appear. Continue shading until there is a basic mane encompassing the lion head. The mane should be twice to three times as wide as the face of the lion.

Color and Shading

Take note of where highlights are seen and where shadows give depth. Compare the size of the face with the size of the mane. If everything looks correctly proportioned, then it’s time to start coloring or shading the face of the lion.

Shading is the key to giving the lion’s head depth. There are several ways to approach shading, and most depend upon the medium, or supplies, used to draw. If using charcoal or pencil, begin by very lightly stroking the paper, leaving barely discernible marks in dark value areas. These marks are for adding depth, not detail, so don’t bother with adding individual hairs just yet. Try to avoid areas where highlights should be visible.

TIP: Cotton swabs are an inexpensive yet invaluable tool for blending charcoal into the page without leaving obvious strokes from charcoal pencils. Blending takes time, so be patient.

TIP: Watch to be sure that residual graphite or charcoal do not cling to the edge of the drawing hand and transfer onto other areas of the page.

If using colored pencils or chalk, keep colors and tones simple. Childrens’ art classes teach that most lions can be portrayed using just five colors: black, white, red, yellow and brown. Color the shadowy areas of the face and mane with a rich reddish brown base color. Add a light golden brown to the rest of the face and mane. Highlights should be done in a golden white color. The mouth and areas around the eye must be shaded in black, or a very dark brown.

The Eyes

Lions’ eyes are deep, mysterious and hypnotic. Capturing the predatory spirit of the lion is done in the angle of the head, eyes and expression on the face. Lion’s eyes are light in comparison to their shocking black contoured water lines. They have natural eyeliner that makes the eyes pop. The contrast between deep black and gleaming light eyes is stunning.

A predatory gleam may be portrayed by adding highlights to the eyes. Irises should be drawn using very small and intricate strokes. It takes time to do properly. Alternate light and dark colors for the most captivating effect, and do not forget about reflecting light.

Adding Detail

A lion is not complete without adding fine details. Detailing a picture includes adding dimension to hair, pores to skin, lines around eyes, shadow and wrinkles to skin and basically everything that transforms a picture from cool to amazingly realistic. Attention to detail is the hallmark of an artist.

Hair is very challenging to draw, but imperative to giving the picture a realistic feel. Begin by using very light strokes to draw individual strokes in the darkest areas. By beginning in the darker zones, it gives the artist practice in order to perfect their technique. Making a mistake in a dark area is no problem. Making one in a light area could destroy the entire picture. Draw with caution in light areas.

Each hair should be going in the proper direction of normal hair growth and should reflect a realistic length. Adding a touch of darker color to the underside and root of each hair will add dimension while adding a little white or light golden brown to the tops of hairs will give the impression of shine. Keep adding hairs until the desired effect is achieved.

TIP: Stand back from the picture frequently to gauge progress and keep the picture on the right track.

Complete any necessary highlights or lowlights to the eyes, ears, nose, mouth and mane. Use stippling around the eyes, mouth and nose to portray pores on the skin. Don’t forget to highlight the tips of every bump where light would normally reflect.

They key to drawing an impressively realistic lion is in the proper proportioning of the facial features, shadows and light and finishing details. Inexperienced artists wanting to improve their ability to draw a realistic portrayal of animals, people, architecture and more should take a class in their spare time. Practice makes perfect, so do not give up if it does not look perfect the first time. Keep trying.

Drawing realistic pictures is easier after taking art classes. Courses teach budding artists to identify different styles of art and artists. Students learn to develop their personal style, alternate between expressionism, realism, impressionism and other types of drawing or painting and learn to create masterpieces anyone would be proud to display.