Hello! Here is my very own tutorial in which I share my secrets for painting realistic fur in watercolour. The animal we’ll be painting today is an adorable round muskrat, and we’ll be using Etchr watercolours on 100% cotton cold press paper.

If you’re using a different set of watercolours, I won’t use specific colour names in this tutorial and will describe the type of colour it is to use the equivalent in your set. 

Step 1: The Sketch

I very lightly sketch the muskrat, indicating where the fur is and where the shadows are. The darkest area is his nose, so I draw more marks indicating fur there. The lighter the area, the more fur is just a suggestion.

Don’t press hard on any of these lines because the paper is fragile, and the pencil isn’t what we’ll be wanting to see in the end.

Step 2: The Masking Fluid

Next, I protect the paper’s white with some masking fluid so that the stick can be a different colour than the muskrat. My masking fluid is blue, and yours might be white or another colour. Just use whatever brand you like. I like this blue stuff.

Step 3: First Wash

I took some warm brown, diluted it heavily, and created the first smooth wash over the whole furry part of the muskrat. By doing this, you wet the paper for the next step and knock out the intimidating white page all in one step.

I diluted the brown with some yellowish colour for the left side of the muskrat, but that might not have been crucial. I just liked the variation across the picture.

Step 4: Introducing Dry Brush

You’ll want to leave the edges of the muskrat’s body and head light to show that the light is coming through the fur. It’s most realistic this way.

For parts away from the edges, start a wet into the wet wash in the centre and then spread the paint with a dry brush outwards. Make sure your brush isn’t that wet to start.

Use your intuition. Think of the brush as more of a paint spreader than a paint applier once you have enough pigment on the centre to begin working outward.

Step 5: Individual Fur

You don’t want to overdo this part. The fur mainly needs to be suggested, but because there are parts of this animal where the fur is visible as individual strands, you will want to show that somewhat.

With a dry brush and a light touch, take some darker brown and gently add some fur. Don’t go over the same area twice, and be sure to vary the direction of your strokes while keeping the grain of the fur consistent.

Leave a little bit of the previous layer at the edges like you did with the layer before that so that there’s a gradient as the light hits the fur at the edges.

Step 6: Defining the Shadows

As you add these darker strands of fur, allow some of them to blend into a mass because you don’t want the eye to be drawn to the fur strands more than they are to the animal as a whole. And remember lighting as you do this too.

Define the darker fur more on the areas of the animal that appear darker, leaving the previous layer alone because that orangey layer represents the local colour of most of the muskrat. He’s camouflaged.

From above, he’s a dark colour to blend with the soil. From the sides, he’s brown to match grass stalks. From below, he is a cream colour, like a cloudy sky. Remember this as your colour.

Step 7: The Non-Furry Bits

Use a greyed-out deep brown mix to render the tail and the feet. Sharpen any edges and deepen any shadows with this colour that you need to.

Too little is better than too much, but you can probably do more than you think you can if you’re overly cautious like me.

Step 8: Removing the Masking Fluid

Gently remove the masking fluid using your finger or the implement of your choice. Just remember not to scratch the paper or rub too aggressively. If the paper is damaged, your painting will not turn out as well.

Step 9: Painting the Stick

The stick here is probably less of a stick and more of a cattail stalk, but it’s a stick for our purposes. Mix some yellow with the brown, and you have a good stick colour.

Step 10: Bringing it All Together

Here is the point where your little muskrat comes to life. Once the paint has thoroughly dried, take a black pen of your choice (I recommend a fine and firm felt-tip pen) and add little black lines wherever it’s necessary.

Don’t do an unbroken outline of anything because that ruins the realism. Just suggest whiskers, edge definition, and darker fur when necessary for contrast. The fun part is adding those dear little sparkly eyes.

The personality of an animal character is all in the eyes and the hands, so do those with utmost love, and it will show. That sounds cheesy, but it’s true.

Lastly, I took some contrasting leftover colours on my palette and splattered them gently by tapping the loaded brush over the paper.

I like to use this trick to liven up a white background. It makes a picture look so much more professional with not that much effort. This is the same trick I used in the blog post on realistic desserts in watercolour.

Want to try some other painting techniques? Here are another 3 ways to paint fur textures!

I hope you enjoyed my tutorial and learned something from it! I certainly enjoyed making it. I have been painting animals for many years. Remember to show us your creations on social media and subscribe to the Etchr email newsletter

Elsa Wahlstrom is an illustrator and graphic novelist based in Minnesota. She specializes in all things cozy and calm, but adds humor where she can. When she isn’t drawing, she enjoys playing musical instruments, but you’re more likely to see her staring at some silly tree or something. 


  • Rita Wilson said:

    Really enjoyed this
    Etchr Studio replied:
    We’re happy you enjoyed this blog, Rita! Have fun making more art! :)

    April 02, 2022

  • Page Traynor said:

    Such a clear and useful workshop. I’m going to use the techniques for hedgehogs first. Thank you
    Etchr Studio replied:
    We’re glad to hear that you found this helpful! We hope to see your hedgehog paintings soon! 🧡

    November 04, 2021

  • Sarah Vipond said:

    A fun tutorial, thank you 🙏
    Etchr Studio replied:
    It’s our pleasure, Sarah! 🧡

    November 03, 2021

  • June Smith said:

    I cant wait to try this cutie! I may even teach my granddaughters (ages 8 & 12) this one…they will love it! Thank you for this freebie>
    Etchr Studio replied:
    We’re so happy to hear that, June! Hope you and your granddaughters enjoy doing this together! 🧡

    November 03, 2021

  • mary weatherford said:

    thank you very much for your tutorial. It will be very helpful as I begin to do animals
    Etchr Studio replied:
    We’re so happy to hear that, Mary! 🧡

    November 02, 2021

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