Another Lion’s Head in my Sketchbook

How to draw a sculptural lion’s head.


I had decided to work on drawing lions. As is my usual method (for drawing people and the human figure), I tried to find different works of art that inspired me, so that I could study them.

Terracotta antefixe with lion's head. East Greek, late 6th century B.C. Metropolitan Museum of Arts, New-York, gift of a friend of the museum, 1992.

This terracotta sculpture from the 6th century BCE is a very interesting representation of a lion from the Metropolitan Museum in New York. What exactly are we are looking at? It is a terracotta antefix. What is an antefix? And what is terracotta?

Antefix (plural antefixae): an ornament at the eaves of a classical building concealing the ends of the joint tiles of the roof (Merriam-Webster)


1. a glazed or unglazed fired clay used especially for statuettes and vases and architectural purposes (as for roofing, facing, and relief ornamentation); also : something made of this material

2. a brownish orange (Merriam-Webster)

So this beautiful lion’s head, which is 16.5 cm/6½ in high, was an architectural ornament made of clay. The Metropolitan Museum has several of them, They all look very much alike but are a tiny bit different from one another. Let’s draw this one!




For this project, all I needed was:

  • coloured pencils: white and black

  • blue paper (160 g/98 lb).

I also used graphite pencil briefly, but stopped as soon as I realised it was reflecting too much light.



Step 1 – Sketching a lion’s head with white pencil

I began the first sketch with white pencil. I was interested in showing the majesty of this lion, and its very geometrical rendition.

Strangely enough, one of the difficult things to draw here was the geometrical lower border. It is called a guilloche.


1. an architectural ornament formed of two or more interlaced bands with openings containing round devices

2. a pattern (as on metalwork) made by interlacing curved lines (Merriam-Webster)

I had to find a way to make a regular pattern, and you will see that after a few rounds I opted for an ‘industrialisation’ of that part of the drawing (from 00:47 to 01:33)!

In the short video above, this runs from 00:00 to 01:30. It actually took me 7 minutes.


Step 2 – Adding volume to the lion’s head with white pencil

Then I took my white pencil to draw within the outline to create volume. The interesting thing here is that the blue paper became an important part of the composition, acting as the shading medium. For example, the right side of the lion’s face (left of the drawing) is in the light, which I coloured bright white, whereas the left side of its face is in shadow, which is why I left the blue paper as it was.

By the way, you may be interested to know that there are traces of polychromy on this sculpture: it used to be painted with colours.

In the short video above, this runs from 01:30 to 02:22. It actually took me 15 minutes.


Step 3 – Adding details with black pencil

I started by drawing with a graphite pencil but soon had to give up because the contrast with the white pencil was not strong enough. I switched to a black pencil and created the details and the darker shadows. Unfortunately, this combination reflected light a lot and, when I was shooting the video or taking pictures later, I found it very difficult to see the black pencil strokes. I have taken pictures from the side and from below, at an angle that does not reflect light so directly, so that you can see it better.

In the short video above, this runs from 02:22 to 04:06. It actually took me 10 minutes.


And voilà!

And voilà, here is a new study of a lion. This terracotta sculpture from the 6th century BCE is the inspiration for a very geometrical drawing. I tried to render the volume with white pencil on blue paper, and added a few darker shades. The lion seems almost abstract, and yet his presence is strong.

I hope you enjoyed this post. As always, I do not pretend to be a teacher, a seasoned artist or an expert in anything. I am just a very motivated learner who finds a deep joy in a regular art practice. 

A new addition to my sketchbook. | Another Lion’s Head in my Sketchbook, by The Daily Atelier.

The finished drawing. | Another Lion’s Head in my Sketchbook, by The Daily Atelier.


If you liked this post, you will almost certainly like some of these other projects using sculptures. Enjoy!