Painting wildlife? Here are a few tried and trusted tips.

Painting animals can be a daunting task for an artist. I avoided painting animals because I assumed it would be too difficult, however, I am always beset by a challenge. I knew that to be a complete artist I had to include animals in my profile. Beneath are some tips that will be helpful.  I have added a few of my wildlife paintings for your enjoyment. All the paintings were created in oils. 

  • STUDY ANIMALS – How they walk, the movement of their legs, their shape, size and angles – for example, where the feet are in relation to the tip of the nose, the ears to the slant of the neck, the eyes in relation to the nose and ears, the curve of the back, the roundness of the flanks, the joints of the legs, the length of the tail, the bulk in the shoulders, the rounded stomach, short or long necks, the feet, padded or hoofed – I could go on and on. Let your eye SEE (not glance) and absorb what you are looking at. When I visit the Kruger Park, I continuously study the shape and angles of animals, and draw mental pictures in my mind which I recall in the studio as the images come back to assist me.
Giraffes Courting Small
Giraffe’s Courting. Oils.
  • Paint animals in their NATURAL HABITAT. A study of the landscape is necessary! For example, it would be unrealistic to paint an elephant on rolling green hills or a bear in a desert. Place animals in natural settings, the places they were INTENDED to be when they were created, i.e. African wildlife in the savannah, the tiger in a jungle, bears in the forests, snow leopards in the snow, the polar bear in Antarctica etc.
A Colourful Character.Small
A Colourful Character. Oils.
  • If you are painting a detailed picture of an animal, the direction of the FUR is important. Note the direction of the fur from the neck down to the legs – on the face and in the ears. When painting animals with long hair, note the textures of the fur – is it springy, soft, matted or like the warthog, stiff and coarse. I always try a number of brushes when painting fur. Sometimes short, hard strokes are needed for the body fur, and the older worn brushes seem to do the job. A flat long brush is effective for longer, softer fur. In this regard experimenting with brushes is effective.
  • Animals with MARKINGS – spots, for example, form a pattern and are not random, (nothing in nature is random, if you look close enough you will see that there is always order). Placement of markings is important.
  • Fur is difficult to paint and requires study, practice and patience.
Queen of the Africn Savanna.Small
Queen of the African Savanna. Oils.
  • Last but not least is the SOUL of the animal –  it is necessary to portray an animal in its true light. When I paint an animal I try to think how the animal thinks – get into the animal’s brain, so to speak. Each animal type is individual – for example, rhino, buffalo, and elephant do not have the same emotion in the eyes as a hunter (cats) would. They are peaceful and move slowly, their bodies are strong and bulky – a hunter is powerful, muscular, and ferocious – swift and gracious in movement. Even when a hunter rests, the eyes are bright and alert. Buck are gracious and seemingly peaceful, however, they are constantly on the lookout for danger and ready to spring to safety at any given moment. Some animals are bold and have no fear, other animals are fearful and skittish – characteristics which make up the soul of the animal.
African Elephant Small
African Elephant.

Copyright © Caroline Street. All rights reserved.

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