One of the largest animals on the planet, these gentle giants are one of Lore's favourite creatures to paint! In this workshop, she shows how she likes to paint humpback whales in watercolour, with a bit of ink and splatter to finish it off. 

Step 1: Quick Sketch

To paint these wonderful whales, you'll need a cold press A4 watercolour sketchbook, watercolour paints, a palette, a size 3, 6, and 8 round brush, 2 containers of water, paper towels, an HB pencil, an eraser, a 0.1 and 0.3 black waterproof fine liner, and a white gel pen.

It will also help if you have a copy of the reference photo in front of you.

For paint colours, you'll need: cobalt turquoise, viridian, indigo, and ivory black.

Tip: You can also use whatever blues and blue greens you have! These are just the ones recommended by Lore. 

When you have everything, you can start by sketching the whale's movement line in pencil. The "movement line" is how the whale is curved while swimming and helps give a static image the illusion of activity. It also helps with gauging how big your whale should be, so try to utilise as much space on your paper as possible while keeping things in proportion.

From the tail to the snout, draw the larger whale's main shape before adding some details to the head and fin. Try to focus more on the main shapes, though, and don't get caught up in adding all the little details.

Add a line that separates the white underjaw from the blue-grey colour of the whale, and then draw the baby whale as well. The whole sketch should take at most 15 minutes! Try to draw lightly as well, so your lines are easy to adjust if they need tweaking.

Step 2: Base Colours

When you're happy with the sketch, erase any lines you don't want, and prep your paints by spraying them with water. You can also mix some colours on your palette for easy access! 

Starting with the size 8 round brush, mix a very diluted indigo with a touch of ivory black. Then, paint the whale, making the belly darker than the top by gradually adding more paint as you move upwards. Drop in hints of cobalt turquoise here and there, but this first layer should still be very light.

Leave the white areas alone for now, and when you're done painting the parent whale, paint the baby whale the same way. Then, while the paint is still wet, you can drop in a slightly darker paint mix in the shadowed areas of both whales.

Step 3: Building Layers

Next, mix a more saturated version of indigo, and darken the shadows even more. If your painting is dry, you can rewet the whole whale with clean water before painting to get a softer blend. Alternatively, you can paint directly on the paper before softening the edge of the paint using a clean wet brush.

Tip: If your paints begin to bleed too much or become too wet, use a paper towel or tissue to dab out the paint gently. On the flip side, if your painting looks flat, dab in more colours into your painting for more texture (the paper should still be damp for this to work well). 

Continue adjusting your tones to have good contrast and depth. Dot in areas of viridian and blue for a pop of colour, and remember to paint your brushstrokes in the same direction as the whale for the right contouring.

Also, do use the reference photo to help out in terms of where your tones should go! If you're ever unsure of the tones, try squinting at the reference photo; this will help you see the highlights and shadows clearer.

Paint around the fin, as the fin is a bit lighter than the body. Don't forget the whale's mouth as well! To get the transition from a hard to a soft edge, wet the top half of the mouth, then drop in paint along the mouth's opening. The paint should bleed into the wet area only and not to the underside of the jaw. 

When you're done with the bigger whale, do the same for the baby whale. 

Step 4: Enhancing Contrasts

Next, switch to the smaller size 6 round brush, and add another layer of paint for a greater contrast. You're basically repeating the previous step, only with more saturated paint. Keep softening the edges, though, to get that curved feeling for the whale's body!

Add the patchy darker colour of the fins as well, and drop in pops of colour here and there using turquoise and blue. Finally, add the shadows you may have missed for the humps and tail, and use a very light blue-grey colour for the shadow in the white patches.

Step 5: Textured Details

Switch to a size 3 round brush, and mix a fairly dark blue using indigo, cobalt turquoise, and viridian. With this paint, dot in some of the bumps around the whale's mouth and head. You can dilute the paint a little if you think they're too dark.

Use the saturated mixture to darken the whales' bellies even more, being careful to paint around the fin and eye. If the edge of the paint is too hard, you can soften it by dabbing a paper towel along the border.

You can add more texture with the paper towel by touching it along the main area of paint! This creates a patchy look, which is perfect for these whales.

Enhance the fins as well, but don't make them as dark as the belly, otherwise, they won't stand out. Then for a little more detail, use a diluted mixture of indigo and ivory black to paint lines that curve around the white underside of the parent whale.

These curved lines continue to the mouth and around the area where the fin connects to the body, so you can add these details! You can also add some jagged scars along the whale's snout.

Step 6: Inked Outlines

Before inking, make sure that your whole painting is dry, otherwise, your lines will bleed. You can also add a little linework in coloured pencils if you wish, though Lore just does it to pass the time as she's waiting for her work to dry.

Inking your whales is pretty simple. Start with the 0.1 pen, and outline the main features of the baby whale. You can add some light shading lines under the tail and along the belly, but otherwise, keep most of them to the main lines of the whale, including the fin and the head. You can also circle in some of the bumpy textures along the jawline and around the body. 

Add some of the lines along the belly, then switch to the 0.3 pen for thicker outlines. Restrict these lines to the parts of the whale that should stand out the most, such as the fin, the hump, and the mouth and head. Lastly, outline the eye to make it come to life!

Do the same for the parent whale, though since it's bigger, you can add more details along the body (in the 0.1 pen). Add the bumpy texture along the fin as well, and anywhere you feel needs more emphasis.

Step 7: White Highlights

If you used fineliners with waterproof ink, you could add even more contrast and texture in areas you feel need them. Lore uses a scumbling technique along the belly of the whales to add this texture and to make the transition look more natural. She also darkens the mouth and hump of the larger whale, to give it even more contrast.

Once these extra paint details have dried, you can pull out your white gel pen and add some white highlights to your whales. This helps brighten the entire painting, so don't skip this step! If you don't have a white gel pen, a white paint marker or white gouache paint works too.

Lore uses the white pen mostly to highlight some of the edges of the mouth, tail, and hump, and also dots some bumps along the mouth and body. She also adds some small circle shapes for the bumps, so they're not all dots.

For the parent whale, she includes the scars on the jawline and belly, which are just some random crisscrosses of lines. The baby whale doesn't have scars but do add the movement lines for both whales, which should be the same as when you were sketching them.

Add the bumpy texture along the fins as well, wherever you feel needs more highlights. Try not to overdo them, though!

Step 8: Splashing Around

Lastly, add some paint splatters as a background using a diluted version of your cobalt turquoise mixture and the size 8 brush. Just load it with a lot of watery paint, and flick it above the paper. You can tap the brush against your finger or another brush, letting the paint splatter naturally on your painting.

Again, don't overdo the splatters. You want the focus to still be on the whales! Once you're satisfied with your painting, leave it to dry, and feel free to sign it. In any case, you're done! 

I hope you found this workshop helpful, especially for painting other aquatic creatures. If you want to watch the video version, you can head over to our website here, and check out Lore's lovely lesson.

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Nicola Tsoi is a practicing graphic designer and illustrator based in Hong Kong. During her downtime, she likes to watch birds do funny things, search for stories, and bake up a storm. She keeps a pet sourdough starter named Doughy. 


  • Dawn Reaume said:

    Thank you for a terrific article!
    I loved it so much I purchased Lore’s tutorial!

    November 01, 2022

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