A griffin is a mythical creature, said to be half-lion (the hindquarters) and half-eagle (the forequarters, head, and wings). They are known from ancient times, and they were believed to be real, though rare, animals. In the Middle Ages they were often used in heraldry, being the symbol of courage and boldness.
Griffins are hybrids, which means they are constructed of parts of different animal, mixed together for an interesting look. Their design is not feasible—both eagles and lions are perfectly functional as they are, and replacing some of their parts with those of another animal would not do them any good. However, that’s what fantasy is for—making the unreal real, even if it doesn’t make sense. Because griffins look so cool!
Their design is not feasible—both eagles and lions are perfectly functional as they are, and replacing some of their parts with those of another animal would not do them any good. However, that’s what fantasy is for—making the unreal real, even if it doesn’t make sense. Because griffins look so cool!
In this tutorial I will show you how to create your own griffin from scratch. First we’ll design its body learning from real animals, and then we’ll draw it step by step in an interesting pose.
Griffins are not real, but lions and eagles are. That’s why we need to be able to draw both a lion and an eagle (at least in parts) to draw a realistic griffin. Let’s prepare for this task using the process described in How to Make Your Drawing Better in One Day. If you’re not interested in the creation process, and you just want to follow the step-by-step instruction, feel free to skip this part.
Prepare a lot of photo references for lions, eagles (harpy eagles have a perfect “mane”!), and various details of their bodies. Sketch them, trying to simplify them all to remember them better. If you have problems with such sketching, you may need to work on your precision some more. Check out How to Draw from Imagination Exercises: Precision for simple exercises that will increase your general drawing skill.
You can also learn all the details of the animals’ anatomy from my tutorials:
- How to Draw Big Cats: Lions, Tigers, Cheetahs, and More
- How to Draw Birds: Step by Step Instructions with Anatomical Details
- How to Draw and Animate Wings: Birds, Bats, and More
Now that you know what lions and eagles are made of, it’s time to sketch some basic designs of a griffin body. Use a thick pen for this, and make these sketches small. Draw them quickly, trying to capture the energy of the strokes in the silhouette. Don’t worry if the first ones turn out disappointing—let your hand and mind warm up and keep drawing, until you’re satisfied with any of the designs.
Once you have the perfect sketch, work on it to make its proportions clear. In SketchBook you can simply lower the opacity of the layer, enlarge the sketch, and draw the new lines on top.
First, draw the basic skeleton of the limbs. No details, just the length of the bones and the position of the joints.
Now add the basic skull and the rib cage of a bird with characteristic keel. It’s necessary for the wings to work, so we can’t really use a lion ribcage here. It should probably be even bigger, but we don’t want to make it ridiculous.
Now add the spine.
Let’s add the third pair of limbs: the wings. They should have their own pair of shoulder blades, with some space to move. If we wanted to be very realistic, the wings should be ridiculously huge, but paradoxically, that would not look believable.
Attach the rays of primary feathers…
… and of the secondary ones.
To make the tail useful, attach some feathers to it as well. They could be used for steering, and this will also make the tail more lion-like, as a replacement for the dark tuft.
We have a basic plan for the griffin’s body. Now you can sketch some details on it, just to visualize your idea better.
Create a kind of a reference for further drawing.
Time to prepare the sketch for the actual drawing. What pose would present our griffin in the most flattering way? Sketch a few examples to find out.
Draw the Skeleton
If you skipped the previous part, you still need to have some base sketch before you start following my steps. You can download my sketch here [CAN’T MAKE THE ATTACHMENT WORK]. Keep it almost transparent, on a separate layer.
The base sketch has been drawn quickly, for energy, not for accuracy. So we need to cast the actual “skeleton” upon it, to make sure the proportions are right. Start with the limbs.
Attach the hips and the shoulder blades.
Now, the skull. You can draw it as described in my tutorial How to Draw Birds: Step by Step Instructions with Anatomical Details.
Add the huge ribcage. If you have problems with making it look 3D, stop here and practice a bit with How to Draw from Imagination Part 2: Freehand Perspective and Drawing in 3D.
Add the keel in the front.
Connect all forms with the spine.
Now, draw the wings, step by step: first “the arms”…
… then primaries…
… and secondaries.
Outline the general shape of the wing, leaving some space for the slotted feathers.
Sketch the coverts area.
Add the feathers to the tail.
The basic skeleton is done!
Draw the Body
The body of our griffin has the pose and proportions established now, but it needs something more—the volume. Let’s add it along with some bigger details. Make the skeleton almost transparent for a reference and keep working on a new layer.
First, draw the detailed structure of the “hands”. As I’m going to cover them with fur, I gave them a very simple structure: three parts for every finger. Real birds usually have more complex constructions.
This is a very simple way to give some body to the claws.
Now, the feet. Let’s make them very simple, too. First, define the ankle and the length of the stiff part of the foot.
Make it look 3D.
Add a flattened sphere in the front to make a base for the paw.
Draw a basic outline of the paw, following the perspective.
Draw the tip of each finger.
Connect the tips with the rest of the paw.
Let’s come to the bigger elements: the arm and the thigh. Envelope the bones in big body masses.
Give some volume to the forearms and calves as well.
Connect the hands and feet with the rest of the limbs.
Lion thighs have more muscles between the thigh and calf.
Don’t forget about the Achilles’ tendon!
The head has a pretty good form already, so just outline it.
Outline the whole body. Looks pretty much like a bird, doesn’t it? That’s the point—bird bodies are optimized for flight, and a griffin needs such a body if it’s supposed to be able to fly. A lion body just wouldn’t do!
Let’s add the neck. The simplest way is to draw a coil between the skull and the collar bones.
Another smaller coil will define the esophagus.
Outline both coils to create the form of the neck.
Let’s cover the wings with feathers now, as described in How to Draw and Animate Wings: Birds, Bats, and More. Pay special attention to the side of the wing and the overlapping of feathers.
Finally, outline the tail.
Attach the feathers to the tip.
Out griffin has a full body now!
Draw the Details
Again, make the previous drawing almost transparent and draw on a new layer. This is the most fun part. You have a perfect foundation, now you can add all the details you want without a risk of destroying anything. It can only be better!
Outline the beak and give it some form-defining texture.
Draw the forehead and the eyes.
Draw the inside of the beak.
Draw the “mane”. The harpy eagle gave me a great idea for it!
The feathers can slowly transfer into thick fur.
Outline the hands and feet.
Cover the forequarters with fur.
Outline the body and add some lines suggesting the muscle masses under the skin. You can use the muscle diagram from How to Draw Big Cats: Lions, Tigers, Cheetahs, and More as a reference.
Time for the feathers!
Don’t forget about the tail.
After you’re finished, you can give the whole griffin a thicker outline to separate the body from the details.
To make the drawing even more interesting, we can turn it into a stylized old figure. Download a paper texture like this, and put it in the background.
You can shade the griffin with simple thin lines, using it to accentuate the texture of the feathers as well.
Some white lines under the main line art will give even more depth to the drawing.
Monika Zagrobelna is a Polish artist with a specialty in drawing animals and conceiving of animals that haven’t yet been invented. You can check out more of her work and follow along with her latest tutorials on her Facebook Page and HERE on the blog.