From Newsletter 157

Painting Animals

By ANTHEA CROZIER

Anthea has had no formal art training but has learnt from practice, from reading books and from workshops with great tutors: Bob Wade, David Taylor, Charles Reid, Jacky Pearson and Bernadette Parsons. She paints in watercolours exclusively as they are “exciting, infuriating, challenging and a real pleasure.” Anthea lives in the Wairarapa, surrounded by fantastic painting subjects.

This is about painting animals in a natural setting, not animal portraiture. There are no inflexible rules but, hopefully, these are useful guidelines.

Use 300gsm paper. The slight roughness of NOT helps suggest textures of hide or fur. A synthetic dagger brush is a good choice: the point is useful for cutting round tight angles, dropping spots of colour into fur and for painting long, thin legs; the long side of the brush is used for sweeping colour along the body and the firm edge for lifting out highlights.

Drawing needs to be fairly accurate as the head shape, angle that the head meets the body, the nose and ear shapes and length of the legs are particularly important to distinguish, say, a horse from a cow. Distant animals, however, can be vague. Practise drawing animals. Use reference photos or, better still, go out and draw them live. Drawing skill is helpful early in the process. Once I reach the painting stage, I work more freely. You can draw animals in at the planning stage or add them in at a later stage to improve the composition. Remember these compositional guidelines: group several animals, link them into the painting by overlapping with another feature, ensure negative spaces are interesting. Draw animals in different stances.

We are accustomed to superb animal photography where every whisker is shown. I prefer to paint as if I am looking at the animal myself, slightly obscured, with some blurring to suggest movement. I don’t leave a white space for animals as they can look ‘pasted‘ in.

Leave extreme white highlights on a very light-toned animal or in a scene with very strong overhead light. However, few animals are totally white. Paint in an underwash of non-staining colours such as raw or burnt sienna, covering all the paper. Animals are always grubby with some of the earth of their surroundings on their fur and they therefore look natural if some of that underwash shows through.

If the underwash is a non-staining pigment highlights are easy to lift out and corrections easy to make.

Lifting out highlights will make them slightly blurred, suggesting fur, hair or movement. Grass painted with raw sienna and ultramarine can also be both painted over or lifted out.

When the underwash is dry, paint the animal shapes: use raw sienna for light coloured animals and burnt sienna for darker ones. This will allow you to check the shape before proceeding. Paint into this damp base colour with stronger colours and tones. Continue to paint all the animal/s wet-in-wet with each addition being more concentrated, letting the paint run into adjacent animals and even into some of the rest of the painting to link the composition.

Granulating watercolours are ideally suited to animal painting because they suggest the irregularities and textures of fur and hides.

For light coloured animals use raw sienna greyed with touches of ultramarine or cerulean. For grey animals use ultramarine and burnt sienna, with a more concentrated mix of the same pigments for shading.

Red animals can be painted with burnt sienna, adding burnt umber for shadow areas.

Sepia and indigo together make a wonderful black if required, but ultramarine and burnt sienna can usually be used for darks.

As the paint dries continue adding stronger colours wet-in-wet so they blend together. Scribble into the drying paint with a fingernail to suggest hairs or wiry wool.

Lighter stripes need to be painted with the edges blurred slightly using a thirsty (damp) brush.

A pale belly can have wonderful reflected light - use quinacridone gold or new gamboge for this. The greys on bellies can be purplish - use ultramarine and a little light red.

Don’t paint feet too carefully; blend them into dust or grass. Similarly if one set of legs or even a whole animal is well represented the rest can just be suggested. Don’t state everything.

Finally link all the animals by connecting their shadows, ensuring the shadow makes an interesting irregular shape to suggest movement.



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