With its flowing mane and thundering roar, it’s no wonder that the lion is called the “king of the jungle.” Mufasa from The Lion King and Aslan from The Chronicles of Narnia are just two magnificent felines that have permeated our popular culture, enchanting many young artists and writers with their enviable prowess. Whether you’re a practiced animal drawer, or just starting out, it’s never too late to tap into your wild side and draw a lion you can be proud of.
In this tutorial, we will go through the steps of drawing a portrait of a noble male lion. Want to give it a go? Then put The Lion King soundtrack on speaker and grab your drawing supplies—it’s time to draw a lion!
Learn how to draw a lion step by step
It’s good practice to do a bit of research before beginning any drawing. Since we’re drawing a lion head from the front, you can peruse online for a photo that clearly shows the big cat’s face. You’ll want to make sure that you have a good view of its features with no obstructions (e.g. people, other animals, foliage). Additionally, you can search for a few different examples of lion manes to inspire how you want to draw yours.
Step 1: Make guidelines for the head
When drawing a lion head from the front, it’s key to make his facial features as balanced as possible. Therefore, before you start drawing, consider placing a t-shaped guideline made of one vertical and one horizontal line. You can do this freehand or, for more precise lines, with the aid of a ruler.
Once the lines are in place, you can sketch a square at the center—this will be the lion’s head. At the bottom of the square, add a protruding half-trapezoid shape for the lion’s snout.
Step 2: Add the mane and ears
After you’ve centered the head of the lion in the t-shaped grid, you can add a pair of semi-circular ears to the top corners of the square. Next, we’ll sketch the mane. Depending on the age and size of your lion, the mane can look any number of ways. However, for this tutorial, we’ll be drawing a luxurious layered mane.
To do this, lightly draw a heart shape around the lion’s head, ending it at a point a little ways below the chin. Wrap a second layer around the first if you want to draw a thick mane. Remember to round the mane over the lion’s head and ears so it puffs up at the top.
Step 3: Draw the facial features
Now, using the t-shaped guidelines, begin sketching the lion’s facial features. If you want your lion’s face to be perfectly symmetrical, this can be a time-consuming step. Otherwise, just use your best judgment to draw a small circle on either side of the vertical line. Attach two triangles to either circle so that it makes an upturned, almond-shaped eye.
Next, add lines on the inside of either eye to indicate the bridge of the nose. At the bottom of the square—where it meets the beginning of the trapezoid shape—add the lion’s nose. This should be a triangle shape with two pronounced oval nostrils.
Afterward, it’s time to carve out the snout from the trapezoid. To do this, draw a short vertical line descending from the base of the nose. Then, split the line in both directions to create the mouth. Use these lines as an anchor to round the snout upwards. Lastly, you can define the chin as a soft rectangular shape.
Step 4: Erase any initial guidelines
At last, when you’re content with the outline, you can start erasing any unnecessary guidelines. If something is still bothering you at this stage, set the drawing aside for a bit and come back to it. Once you have a bit of distance, go ahead and make any adjustments that you think are needed.
Step 5: Add texture to the drawing
What is a lion without his mane? Take some time at this stage to flesh out your mane sketch with more textured lines. While you’re at it, return to the face and add some finer details to the eyes and nose. Even if you don’t want your drawing to be too realistic, adding a few extra lines here and there will add a lot of depth to the illustration as a whole. Hatching—a technique that involves adding numerous parallel lines—is one easy way to do this.
Next, it’s time to demarcate the black areas of the drawing, which will be the inside of the eyes, the pupils, the lips, nostrils, and inside of the ears.
Step 5: Add decorative elements
Even if you’re only drawing this lion head for practice, why not complete it with a few extra elements? You can make an easy border by sketching a crescent shape at the top and bottom of your lion. Crown these rounded shapes with fine lines that fan out on either end.
For those that prefer a graphite drawing, you can consider your lion done at this stage. If you want to enhance the illustration with ink, go ahead and continue to Step 7.
Step 7: Go over the drawing in ink
To finish your drawing in ink, pull out your favorite pens, and slowly trace over your final drawing. You can create interesting line variation in your illustration by using an array of different pen nibs. Once you’ve gone along all of the graphite lines, consider adding texture to the lion’s thick mane. If you have time and patience, you can use stippling (the process of adding numerous dots) to carefully shade the mane.
Finally, once you’ve given the ink ample time to dry, erase any remaining pencil lines. Congrats! You now have a magnificent portrait of a lion.