Snakes, lizards, crocodiles, alligators, and… dragons, they all have one thing in common—they’re covered with a natural armor. There are many types of scales, but they all follow a special pattern that makes them so strong and protective. Once you learn how to create such a pattern, you’ll be able to draw realistic scales on any animal!
How to Draw Scales
What You Will Need
- HB pencil
- 2B pencil
- 5B pencil
- 8B pencil
- Pencil sharpener
- Eraser (optionally)
Before you start, take a look at what we’re going to draw. It’s very important to draw things as they really are, not how we think they are!
1. How to Draw Snake and Lizard Scales
The scales of snakes and lizards are very similar in construction, so I will show you them side by side. Feel free to choose the one you like better!
Start by drawing the boundaries of the body, with a line in the center. Use the HB pencil and the ruler for this, and don’t press too hard—these lines must be easy to cover later.
On the top, draw the first scale. Its shape and size will define the rest of the pattern. Snakes tend to have longer and smoother scales than lizards.
Take the ruler again and draw a line across the “body”, right under the scale.
Divide the body into identical segments. You can use the ruler to measure the height of the scales if you want, but it’s not necessary—just make sure they look similar enough.
Draw a curve across four segments.
Copy this curve all along the body. Be very careful—these curves must have the same shape, otherwise you’ll get a chaotic pattern of scales of different sizes.
Draw the same curve upside down…
… and again copy it all over the body. A pattern should appear!
Draw a row of scales confined within the boundaries of the guide lines. Beware the catch: don’t outline each rhombus in the pattern, but rather draw a rounded scale inside it, going out of it on the top.
Depending on the species, scales can have various shapes. Some snakes have them rounded and convex, but they get flatter towards their base. If the scales are not placed very tight, that flat base can be visible. Lizards, on the other hand, often have their scales keeled, with a “spike” on the end.
The pattern of the scales is done! Before we start shading, it’s good to consider the color scheme first. Dark colors are shaded differently than bright ones. The pattern on a snake’s body usually follows the pattern of scales. In lizards, the colors are often spread all around the body regardless of the individual scales. The scales can be also colored individually.
Use the HB pencil for a base of bright colors, and 2B for the dark ones. Tilt the pencil and draw quite lightly.
Use the same pencils and press somewhat harder to make the sides darker, giving the texture a rounder look.
Shade the individual scales now, keeping their 3D form in mind. Check the reference if you have problems imagining it.
Take a pencil one step softer for each shade to create a higher contrast. Follow the pattern of the light.
Take a good look at your drawing and decide what else needs work. Take your time—this last phase should take the longest!
2. How to Draw Crocodile, Alligator, and Dinosaur Scales
Crocodiles and alligators have a very characteristic pattern of scales, but dinosaur scales are similar to them in one aspect: they’re not overlapping, but they’re rather “calluses” on the skin, as if it was so hard it had to break to stay flexible (imagine cracked earth). To create dinosaur scales using this tutorial, just avoid the pattern characteristic for crocodilians and go for something more like this.
Again, start with the boundaries of the body using the ruler and the HB pencil.
Create the rows of scales along the body—in the crocodilians they’re rather even, especially in the big scale area (the more flexible the area must be, the smaller the scales). Adjust the width to the perspective of a rounded surface if you need.
Cross the rows with more lines to create the actual pattern. Don’t make them too even—imagine they’re running across the wrinkles on skin.
Draw a roughly rounded shape inside each cell. They should touch each other with only a part of their side.
Fill the areas in between with little “scales”. The more space, the more scale-shaped these structures may be.
The bigger scales can also be thicker and keeled. In dinosaurs you can even turn them into spikes!
The pattern is done, so we can shade it now. Take the 2B pencil and accentuate the “cracks” between the scales—it’s important to not lose them during the shading. Notice how some of the tiny scales seem to merge with the big ones, changing their perceived shape to a more elongated one.
Take the HB pencil and shade the sides of the texture to create a 3D look.
Press harder to shade one side even more.
Use the 2B pencil to shade the flat scales in a very specific way: draw a tilted “O” inside them, creating two bright edges on opposite sides. This will make them look slightly concave.
The bigger scales may be more or less convex, with bumps and keels, so make sure that light hits these structures.
Take the 5B pencil and add more contrast to the picture by shading the scales some more. Use this darker shade to add more detail to each scale.
Use the same pencil to accentuate the cracks one more time. The thicker the scales, the darker these cracks should be.
Finally, use all the pencils to add the finishing touches to the drawing.
Now you know how to draw beautiful, realistic scale textures for your creatures, real and imagined. If you enjoyed this tutorial, you may also like the others from this series:
TexturesHow to Draw Stone and Rock TexturesMonika Zagrobelna
TexturesHow to Draw Fabric: Silk and WoolMonika Zagrobelna
TexturesHow to Draw FurMonika Zagrobelna