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Monika Zagrobelna is a freelance artist and a tutorial author passionate about both learning and teaching. Her specialty are animals and realistic imaginary creatures.

If you have a visual idea, there’s no better way to show it to others than simply drawing it. You can do it in a fast and efficient way in Autodesk SketchBook. In this tutorial I’ll show you how to sketch, color, shade, and render the details of an imaginary feline creature as efficiently as possible. The whole drawing took me less than 50 minutes, but if you don’t need a fully rendered look, you can be done in half this time.

This method is very simple and it doesn’t require any advanced brushes. However, if you want to use the same brushes as me, I compiled a set for you here.

Step 1

Capture a basic pose of the creature by sketching its “skeleton”—torso, legs, neck, skull, and tail. The simpler it looks, the better. Feel free to create a couple of quick sketches like this and pick the one you like the most. I used the Sketching brush here.


Step 2

Once you have the proportions defined, you can add the masses of the body and details of the head. There’s no need to keep the lines overly clean, but make sure that you leave nothing to guess. If you want to create an imaginary species of a big cat, like me, it’s best to mix features of real species.

Step 3

If you’re happy with the sketch, lower the Opacity to make it less visible.

Step 4

Create a new layer and draw the final lines. Keep them simple—these lines either will disappear if you decide to render the painting, or stay visible on top of quickly sketched colors and shading. In the first case, nobody will see them, and in the latter, their refined look would contrast with the lack of details of the colored part.

Step 5

Change the background color to something more neutral than full brightness. Create a new layer under the sketch. Use a simple round brush (like my Painting brush) to paint the colors of the creature. Start with a base (brown is a safe choice), and then start adding other colors to it. Utilize pressure sensitivity to create various shades of the same color just by pressing hard or light. This will allow you to create natural, textured blending between shades.

Focus on the big patches of colors for now. If you plan to add spots, stripes, or some other detailed pattern, it’s better to keep it for later (unless you don’t plan to render it any more). At this stage your brush should stay big, unless you’re filling smaller areas like eyes or nose.

Step 6

Add a new layer and change its Blend Mode to Multiply. Now you can paint the shadows using the same brush as before. Imagine the creature as if it was a sculpture made of simple forms, like cylinders and spheres. Use low saturated colors, not too dark, and paint the areas that should be obstructed from the light.

Although blue is often recommended for shadows, for fur it’s better to use warmer shades. Remember that shadows are colorized by reflected light, so you can use different colors in different places—e.g. blue on top (when colorized by the sky), green on bottom (when colorized by the grass), orange between body parts (when colorized by the subsurface scattering of the fur), and so on.

Step 7

This was the design stage. Now, if you have time, you can render the details to make the artwork more presentable. Create a new layer over the sketch. Make the brush smaller. Use the Eyedropper Tool (Alt key) to pick the color from the area that you want to cover, and paint in a more measured way, paying attention to the from and details. Use the Eyedropper all the time to create an appealing variety of shades, all blended nicely with a textured look. Keep your brush small, and take your time. The lines should completely disappear in the process.

Step 8

Now it’s good time to add the pattern. If you’d done this earlier, you’d have to go around the spots in the previous stage, which would slow you down. Now you can add them safely, picking the colors from the image to keep a natural look.

Step 9

The creature looks very nice at this point, but if you want to render it some more, here’s the trick. Create a new layer and change its Blend Mode to Screen. Use a fur brush (I use ​this set​) to paint shine on the fur. This will help you accentuate the form, especially in the dark areas. This shine should have the color of the environment.

Step 10

Lower the Opacity of this layer and use a smudge brush (like my Texture Blender) to make the shine more subtle. If you want to erase a part of the shine, all you need to do is to paint with black.

Step 11

Finally, select all the layer and merge them. Use an eraser to clean up the outline of the creature. Then, if you want to make the edge softer and fluffier, use a “heavy” smudge brush (my Fur Maker is perfect for this!) to drag the fur outside of the outline.


At the end I added a shadow on the ground, whiskers, and some shine in the eyes. The kitty is finished!

Thank you,

– Monika



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Colin Smith

Colin is a Sr. Product Manager on the Automotive and Conceptual Design Team at Autodesk. During his 25-year career in the CAD industry he has worked in customer support, training, consulting and as a product manager for Alias and Fusion 360. Currently, he works on SketchBook Pro and Create VR and is based in Toronto, Canada.