Have a pet or animal you want to paint, but no idea where to start? Then it’s Dena Marshall to the rescue with some easy and quick techniques you can use to paint your fluffy friend! And while Dena usually just uses colour pencils, she shows a way to incorporate watercolours to add more depth, and speed up the process.
Step 1: Prep Work
To prepare yourself, you’ll need to gather a few tools: a mixed media paper pad (265gsm, A4 size), round paintbrushes in sizes 3 and 10, a ½” flat brush, Etchr’s watercolour paints (or equivalent), coloured pencils, a container of water, a pencil, a palette, and paper towels.
Tip: You can always swap out the mixed media paper for watercolour paper, or something that can hold watercolour paint without buckling too much. You can also tape down the edges with artist’s or washi tape if you’re worried about the paper warping.
Next, draw 6 circles using the pencil and a compass or circular object, and label each one from left to right, top to bottom: fur 1, fur 2, fur 3, eye, ear, and nose. These will be the different techniques you’ll need to paint an animal.
Step 2: First Washes (Part 1)
The first few layers of each part will be done in watercolour, so make sure to give your paints a light spray of water before using.
Note: I will be using Etchr’s watercolour paints, so the paint names will also match their paint set, but if you don’t have them, just find the closest watercolour paint you have.
Starting with “fur 1”, paint a light wash of Power Black using the size 10 brush. While it’s still wet, drop in a more saturated black in half of the circle.
Next, paint the eye using a wash of Lemon Yellow, then Lime Green around the edge. Don’t forget to leave a window of white for the eye’s highlight.
For the ear, mix Mighty Ochre and Pretty Pink for a fleshy pink, then paint the left side of the circle. Flick your brush towards the right for hairs coming out of the ear, then darken the left side of the circle with a more saturated paint mixture.
Step 3: First Washes (Part 2)
Move to “fur 2”, and switch to the size 3 brush to paint some short strokes of fur inside the circle. Use a diluted black for this, and leave a gap of white near the bottom. This is to represent parts of the animal that may have patches of different-coloured fur.
For “fur 3”, do the same, only without the white gap and with a bigger variation in the length of each strand of fur.
Tip: For more natural-looking fur, try to overlap your brushstrokes in random places, and vary their length. Try to curve your fur as well so that they follow the curvature of the circle, but flare outwards towards the bottom.
Lastly, for the nose, use the ochre and pink mixture again, but with more pink in it. Paint a light layer first, leaving the top quarter of the circle white. Then, drop in a saturated pink for a line down the middle, then dilute it a little before adding some mid-tones along the top and bottom of the nose.
When you’re done, let these layers dry before moving on.
Step 4: Adding Depth to Fur
Go back to the top row of circles using the smaller brush and black paint again, and add some darker strands of fur. For “fur 1”, make the strands of fur longer, but more subtle. Dena keeps stressing that “less is more”, so don’t overdo the amount of fur! You’ll also be adding a layer in coloured pencils later, so don’t worry if there’s not enough depth.
For “fur 2”, paint another layer of fur on top, this time with a black that’s less diluted than before. Try to overlap some of the areas where there’s a division between the fur, but keep the white stripe relatively white.
Do the same for “fur 3”, but with a denser fur pattern that lessens near the bottom.
Finish the painting portion of these 3 circles by painting a light wash of black over the fur areas, adding a slightly darker shadow near the top of “fur 2” and “fur 3”.
Step 5: Adding Depth to Body Parts
For the eye, use Emerald Green to paint around the left edge of the circle, and smooth the hard edges by running a clean wet brush along the edge of this new layer of paint.
For the ear, use Dark Brown to again paint along the left and bottom edge of the circle, then flick some fur strands upwards starting from the bottom. Smooth out the left edge of the paint with the same method as before, then flick some brown strands starting from the right to the left of the ear.
Add depth to the nose by using Pretty Pink to darken the line in the middle, and a diluted version of this to paint a fat “T” shape over the nose.
Step 6: Details in Paint
When the previous layers have dried, go back to the eye, and use a saturated Ocean Turquoise to paint the pupil. Dena goes for a cat’s eye here, which means the pupil is in a slitted shape. Then, while the paint is still wet, flick some of the edges of the pupil outwards to the left and right to represent the pattern found in a cat’s cornea.
Next, work on the nose by deepening the line down the middle using Royal Purple. You can spread and soften the edges of the line. Then, use Dark Brown to paint the nostrils. You can leave the very outer edges of them pink. Add a final layer of pink over the “T” shape of the nose, leaving two edges of lighter pink on the outside of the nostrils and fading the top part of the nose so it transitions better into the white.
Step 7: Adding Fur With Coloured Pencils
It’s time to switch gears to draw! So after your paint has completely dried, use a black coloured pencil to flick in some fur in the “fur 1” circle. Press harder near the top for a darker colour, and gradually lessen the pressure (or just draw faster) near the bottom. You can also switch to a light grey colour if you’re worried about the lines being too dark.
For “fur 2”, do the same thing with a dark grey coloured pencil, only make your lines much shorter. Dena also shows a special technique where you grip the pencil like a vacuum cleaner, and then make tufts of arrow-shaped fur, which I’ve demonstrated to the right of the circle. Again, vary the length and size of the lines, and press harder for the shadowed areas.
Bonus tip: Use a synthetic flat brush to brush over the bottom half of the circle. This smooths out the pencil lines so they don’t look as harsh.
Do the same for “fur 3”, only press a lot harder and make the fur much denser by doing a second layer in coloured pencil. Try to go as fast as you can without losing control, as this will add to the randomness of the fur, thus making it look more natural. The general direction of the fur should still be the same, though.
Step 8: Colouring the Eye
To add some life to that eye, add a black edge along the outside of the circle, with the top left area being a little thicker than the rest. Then, add a line next to the black using dark green.
Switch to a light green colour, then add in some extra lines around the middle area of the eye. Make it so the lines follow the lines coming from the pupil, and feel free to lightly shade in some of the areas.
Add some random scribbles for veins, and patches of light green here and there for flecks of colour. Switch to a light yellow colour, and add back some yellow to the lighter areas of the eye.
To smooth out the whole eye, use a wax-based white coloured pencil, and go over the whole eye (minus the pupil and black areas). This will give the eye a “glossier” look, which is what you want! You should also add a little light blue and grey in the highlight as well since the highlight inside an eye is rarely pure white.
Step 9: Colouring the Ear
To finish off the ear, use a blue-grey coloured pencil to shade the bottom hairs, then a light pink to shade the left side of the ear and to highlight a few of the strands of hair going to the right.
Add some light yellow and skin colour towards the top of the circle to create this peach-coloured blend, which will represent the thinner, almost translucent part of an animal’s ear.
Lastly, use a dark brown coloured pencil to add more strands of hair along the bottom, then add some short but fluffy fur along the left edge of the circle.
Step 10: Nosing Around
The nose may seem the most complicated, but it’s pretty easy when broken down into these steps! First, use black, then dark brown to darken the inside of the nostrils. Make the darkest edge right next to the “T” shape of the nose.
Next, use a mid-pink to scribble in small circles for texture along the nose’s “T”, shading in the outer edge of the circle and down the middle of the nose.
Darken the line in the nose using a purple coloured pencil, and lightly shade in the bottom area of the nose. Add some scribbles in light pink where the nose meets the fur at the top, then finish it off with the white coloured pencil again, this time to smooth out the nose’s highlighted areas (or wherever you feel needs smoothing out).
Take a step back to check if any of the different areas need touching up, but if not, then you’re done! You can take what you've learned, and apply it to almost any animal. And as always, happy painting!
If you’d like to follow along with Dena herself, you can watch the 30-minute class recording. She shares even more art tips there, so watch for the full experience!
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