Sometimes, drawing buildings or cars over and over again can get a bit tedious. So why not throw a dinosaur into the mix? Lee Bates shows us how to add a surreal touch to reality while keeping it easy and fun!
Step 1: Ink Sketch
Lee is an illustrator based in Jurassic Coast, England, so it makes sense for him to add dinosaurs to his urban sketches.
The subject in this particular demo is a dilophosaurus model near a petrol station, which you can find a reference photo of here. Feel free to print it out if you need, or just have it pulled up on your internet browser.
Other tools you'll need are:
- A sheet of A5 watercolour paper (cold press)
- A wooden board for support
- A dip pen
- A bottle of waterproof black ink
- Watercolour paint
- A palette
- Two water containers
- A size 8 round brush
- Paper towels
- A pencil (optional)
Note: You're welcome to use a watercolour sketchbook or block instead. As for the dip pen, I recommend installing a G-nib as it offers a good balance between flexibility and control. If you don't have a dip pen, you can use a fountain pen or a waterproof brush pen instead.
You should also prep your paper by clipping it to a wooden board, though you don't have to do this if you're using a sketchbook or watercolour paper block.
When you're all set, start with the sketch. You can go straight to inking if you're confident or if you don't mind the possibility of a few mistakes here and there. If not, you can do a light pencil sketch before inking.
Either way, start drawing the dinosaur's head. Your lines can be cleaner or messier, depending on your preference! Just note that you can quickly draw lines of varied thicknesses because you're using a dip pen, so keep in mind the areas you want to use thin lines and where you want thicker lines.
Tip: A general rule of thumb is to have things in the foreground and your subject(s) of focus to have thicker lines, while the background or more minor details like the dinosaur's pattern can be drawn with thin lines.
If you're unsure where the thicker lines should go, just draw everything with a thin line, then go over the critical areas with a thicker line afterwards.
There will also be elements hidden behind bushes like the dinosaur's claws, feet, and tail, so leave them out until you've drawn the bushes.
Next, draw the van in the background. You can roughly sketch it in, using broken lines to indicate that it’s in the background. You’ll also notice that the bottom half of its wheels are hidden behind another bush, so don’t draw the full wheels.
Add the bushes in even more jagged and broken lines, and try not to make the edges look too even or “perfect”. Nature is always more random and chaotic, so making these lines too smooth will lead to fake-looking plants.
The bushes have transparent “layers” to them, so starting from the back, work your way towards the front, making sure to include the logs and the rocks on the ground.
When you’re done, you’re welcome to add a few ink splashes to your drawing! You can do this by dipping your pen into more ink, then tapping it against your finger and allowing ink droplets to splatter onto your paper. And to make sure you don’t add too much splatter on the main subject, cover the dinosaur with a rag or tissue before your first set of ink splatter, then remove it for your last set of ink splatter.
Tip: If it’s not working, you can try dipping the paintbrush into your ink instead. Just make sure to clean it well after using it! You may also want to cover your work surface and your clothes with scrap paper, just in case you get unwanted splatters.
Let the ink dry once you’re satisfied with the splatter before moving on. If your splatter is too wet, you can dry it faster by gently laying tissue on top, then picking it up by “peeling” it away from the surface. If you shift the tissue, you will smudge the ink, so be careful!
Step 2: Earth Colours
Lee prefers mixing most of his colours for paint, so he has a limited palette. It consists of cadmium yellow hue, red, ultramarine blue, burnt umber, and neutral tint.
Doing this allows for a greater variety of mixed colours, which is excellent for painting foliage! So start with mixing yellow and blue, and use this green paint to paint the bushes around the dinosaur.
While you paint, you can adjust the ratio of yellow to blue. More blue means the green will be darker, while more yellow makes it lighter. You can even throw some red into the mix to get a more earthy green or even a reddish-brown! The key is to make the foliage look natural and add more interest via hue variety.
Bonus tip: You can drop in different paint colours while your surface is still wet for a smooth bleed effect. Doing this is the “wet-in-wet” technique, which is a technique that’s been around for a very long time.
For the logs, mix in burnt umber, and dilute it, so it’s not too dark. You can add a shadow to the logs using the darker mix.
Tip: Lee’s not too concerned with adding shadows or with following the reference exactly, as his focus is more on his subject (the dinosaur). Being looser allows him to paint loosely and freely and make his own choices in terms of colour.
Step 3: The Van and Finished Foliage
Next, mix a neutral grey by adding a touch of red and blue to your green mixture. Dilute it, so it’s pretty light, then paint the van.
Tip: If your paint is ever too dark, you can “lift” some of the paint out by dabbing the wet area with a tissue.
Add a touch of red to the grey, then paint the rocky ground under the dinosaur. Try to mix a colour that won’t look too much like the surrounding colours, as you don’t want the ground to start looking like the bushes! I used more of a neutral grey-brown, while Lee used a lighter brown.
Paint the rest of the bushes, again mixing different greens and browns. For the bush in the bottom right, add more blue to your dark brown mixture to get a blue-grey, then paint it in.
Step 4: Dino Time!
Although the dilophosaurus in the photo is green, it’s going to get lost among the foliage if you keep it green, so we’re going to change the colour instead.
First, use the same blue-grey to paint the stripes on the dinosaur. Then, add red to this mixture, and paint the rest of the dinosaur, minus its crest. You can also vary this red by dropping in some burnt sienna in some areas or just adding more red.
Paint the crest any bright colour to make your dino stand out! Lee went with the bright pink of opera rose, while I went with pure blue.
Since the dinosaur is the main focus of this painting, add some shadows by mixing a dark green with blue and yellow. As green is the complementary colour to red, glazing over it will neutralise and darken the underlying colour. The shadows should be on the underside of the dinosaur’s legs, tail, body, arm, jaw, and crest.
Tip: If your shadows are forming too hard of an edge, you can smooth it out using a clean damp brush and run it across the edges you want to smooth.
Step 5: Finishing Everything
For the final stretch of this painting, paint the van’s tires and driver’s window using a dark grey mixture. You can make this by adding a neutral tint to your dark blue-brown mix. Darken this by adding a neutral tint before painting the wheels’ cap.
Tie in the red of the dinosaur to the van by painting the van’s taillight red, then mix a dark blue-purple with red, blue, and neutral tint before painting some shadows on the rocks and under the bushes.
Mix a dark green and paint the background hedges. Paint the top of these hedges with a light green for highlights, then paint the road using the same blue-grey as before.
You can then dot the dino’s eye with some yellow and stamp your painting with a personalised seal if you have one. If you don’t, you can sign it instead.
I hope you had fun with this “Jurassic” painting! Even if you didn’t paint your favourite dinosaur, you could always add one to your following urban sketch. Why not have it sip coffee along with other humans at a coffee shop? Or have it trying to play in a playground? The possibilities are endless!
If you want to paint alongside Lee himself, check out the FREE live demo recording, and follow along at your preferred pace. You can also check out Lee's 90-minute art class!
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France Labonté said:
Thanks Etchr, this is exactly what I needed to draw and paint for my grandson’s birthday (5 yrsold) card. Looking forward to doing it. You’re the best!
Etchr Studio replied:
Hi France! This is so thoughtful! We’re glad this blog has been very
helpful, and we thank you for your support. We hope your grandson loves the
painting you made for him!
April 02, 2022