Digital Art, How-To

How to draw simple, cute animals using basic shapes

Drawing cute animals is easy and fun! In this step-by-step guide, I’ll show you how to simplify complex critters into cute characters using basic shapes.

Grab your iPad and your favorite drawing app. Today I’ll be using Procreate, but you can recreate this process in any digital or traditional medium. Let’s get started!

Step 1: Choose an animal reference photo

Find a reference photo of any animal you’d like to draw. Today I’ll be drawing a cat.

Open a new file in Procreate or Photoshop. Place the reference photo off to the side of the canvas so you can easily refer to it. You might also want to trace over the reference photo.

a photo of a cat in drawing software

Step 2: Decide what “cute” means to you

The definition of “cute” will be very different for everybody. If you’ve seen my work, you know that I draw most of my kitties with big heads and big eyes.

I recommend checking out the work of other “cute” artists to see how they are drawing animals. Keep in mind that you aren’t copying their work, just using them as inspiration!

You’ll develop your own style over time as you spend more time drawing.

Step 3: Outline your animal with simple shapes

If you’re new to drawing, tracing over images can help you get an idea of the shapes you see. Start by lowering the opacity on your reference photo, and draw over it using very simple shapes.

Lower the opacity on your reference photo
Lower the opacity on your reference photo

I drew a very round oval for the head of my cat. Since my “cute” style is to draw big heads, the head of this kitty will be a lot bigger than its body.

After I drew the cat’s round head and face, I resized it relative to the cat in the photo. Don’t worry, we’ll enlarge it later!

Next, I drew the bottom part of the cat’s body. I used a round oval for the body and cylindrical shapes for the front legs.

You might be wondering why I drew the head and body of the cat separately. Most cute characters are small and very round. Although the reference photo of this cat is cute, he is not round, and is more of a triangle shape from this angle. Since I want a round cat, I didn’t trace around the torso, and I will leave the torso out of the final drawing. I know this looks funny for now, but I’ll show you how to put the cat together!

Step 4: Put your shapes together

For this step, I enlarged the head to the “cute” proportion that I would normally draw an animal’s head, and moved it down on top of the body.

An outline of a cat's head and body in Procreate
Combine your shapes

👉 Use the Liquify tool to adjust your lines: If you aren’t happy with the shape of the body, you can use the Liquify tool in Procreate to “push” out the edges of your lines. We want to make the lines straighter at the bottom of the body, since the cat is sitting on the ground.

You can also use the Liquify tool to make the bottom right and left edges of the kitty’s face fuller!

Use the Liquify tool in Procreate
Use the Liquify tool in Procreate to adjust edges

Step 5: Refine your lines

Now that we are done with the sketch, it’s time to go back over the drawing and refine the lines to look more like our cat in the photo. Since our cat is a bit fluffy, I made the face with rounded edges for a more furry look.

A line drawing of a cat in Procreate
Refine your lines to add more dimension to the animal

Step 6: Use color to add fur markings

Now we will be coloring our kitty to match his counterpart from the reference photo. I started by painting the whole cat orange, then went over the parts with white to try to match his fur markings.

You don’t need to be accurate — remember, this is just a cute drawing!

A colored drawing of a cat in Procreate
Add a base color, then use a second color to show fur markings

Step 7: Add the finishing touches

Once you finish up the fur markings, we can complete the piece by shading and adding the last details.

A drawing of a cat next to a photo of a cat
The finishing touches on my kitty!

Ready to create a whole scene for your cute critter? Check out my guide for adding ambient light in Procreate using ‘Multiply Blend Mode.’ →

Use basic shapes to draw all sorts of cute animals

Using the same technique I demonstrated above, I drew other animals in this cute style! I shared the reference photos below so you can see how I made their shapes simpler.

An illustration of an owl, a squirrel, and a kitty

Thanks for following along! I hope you get to make a cute little creature that makes you smile and inspires your day. Feel free to tag me on social media if you made anything following this post! 🙂

Kristen Newton is a designer and illustrator who primarily works on her iPad. She loves to draw cute and magical (and mostly cat-inspired) art. @made.bykitty