Answering the Call of the Animal Kingdom

In This Chapter

^ Getting ready to record Fido ^ Looking for pets at home ^ Going for larger game ^ Crowing about barnyard birds

/love animals. The big dewy eyes. The unconditional love. The hair on the couch. I've had almost every type of animal as a pet: cats, dogs, horses, peacocks, skunks, chickens, mice, rabbits, cows, geese, pheasants, quail, fish, and Shetland ponies. I still live on a farm, only now the domestic animals have been replaced by plenty of wild critters: foxes, raccoons, owls, deer, hawks, snakes, birds, and bunnies.

Time doesn't allow me to care for pets now. But don't feel sorry for me — or for yourself if you don't have critters running underfoot. If you long for animal companionship, the solution is here. As an artist, you can paint your pets and immortalize them forever. You can own exotic animals without department of wildlife permits. Just paint whatever your heart desires. Easy maintenance, no stray hair, no vet bills.

Animals can be a metaphor for human activity. Your paintings will become that much more interesting if you can incorporate symbols, stories, and depth into them. In this chapter, you paint several animals that are furry, slick, or feathered. You also handle values from black to white in animals, and you can apply this knowledge to other paintings with or without animals.

Finding the Leash: Preparing to Paint Animals

Sometimes animals cooperate and pose for you without asking, but unless you're a quick sketch artist and live in an animal sanctuary where you have access to any animal you want anytime you want, you probably need a camera to help you capture the details on your furry, scaly, feathered, or hidebound subject.

And then there's the issue of black and white. Of course, animals — especially fish — come in an amazing array and combination of colors, but they're also sometimes mostly black or mostly white. The following sections talk about the best ways to capture the details of your subject for your project and painting in black and white.

Painting from life and photos

Working from live models is the best practice. There's nothing better than to see real subjects in all their detail. But painting live is not without its frustrations. Because these models don't stay in one pose for long, as an artist you need to work quickly. Animals move just when you need to observe something most closely.

So work with the best of both worlds: Keep a camera handy for taking a snapshot, and sketch from the live model while the animal will pose for you. Later you can work from your photograph when you no longer have the luxury of the live model. When you're sketching, also called making a study, you're becoming experienced with the subject. Familiarizing yourself by sketching is much more educational than just snapping a photo. You may just work on a part of the animal like an eye or foot — the details that often are hard to see in photographs.

Movement is difficult to capture without reference material to look at muscles and positions while drawing the shapes. So sketch with your camera. It's a wonderful tool to explore composition by trying shots and collecting reference materials for later use. Still, take time to sketch with a pen or brush. Quick on-site sketches collect even more information, such as details, personality, and attitudes, that you can use in a painting back in the studio (even if the studio is only your kitchen table).

Working from flat photos often leads to flat paintings. Gather as much information, such as light and shadow (which help define the critter's size and shape), as your subject will allow when working from a live model.

If you're painting animals from life, you're smart to limit your palette to just a few colors, say three, and work with an economy of detail. Use a light color to define the shape of the creature. After that dries a little, apply a second, darker color to capture volume and shadows. Use a still darker color to put in details like eyes, nose, and ears. By that time, your model has usually moved, and it's time to make another quick sketch.

Figure 12-1 shows what you can do with just a few colors and some quick brushwork.

Coloring with black and white

Black and white animals present some interesting watercolor opportunities. (It's up to you to take problems and change them into opportunities.)

Achieving a lively black color

Painting black animals is one of those situations where working from life is so much better than working from a photograph. I have wasted a ton of film taking pictures of black animals. Black usually gets underexposed, and the animal ends up as a silhouette with no details. But in real life, these animals have wonderful detail. Use other colors to make blacks come to life; for example, purple and blue make interesting highlights within black.

Avoid using black paint, which looks lifeless. Mix colors to create your own blacks instead. See Chapter 5 for some black recipes.

To make the color darker, use less water and add more pigment. For lighter areas, add water so the paint becomes a gray.

Wonderful whites

A polar bear raises the question: How do you paint a white animal? It's easy! Because the white is the white of the paper, you're almost done before you start. But keep in mind that there's a lot of color in white and that white can reflect many colors as well. When I paint something white, I look for the opportunity to subtly place as many colors around as I can fit.

In the polar bear in Figure 12-2, I chose to add some unexpected and fun colors to the white of the fur and produce a pronounced cool and warm to the light. (This painting project is included in Chapter 13, so you can paint your own furry friend if you want.)

When it comes to the background, you can make the animal look whiter and stand out more distinctly by using dark colors next to the body and for the background.

Make sure the paper is dry before you use a liner brush to add dark eyes and whiskers to any animal. Otherwise, the paint will travel into damp areas when you least expect it. Look for opportunities to have a whisker be white against the dark face and become a dark whisker as it goes past the face. This transposition of value technique is described in Chapter 7.

Presenting Domestic Pets

Some folks stretch the definition of a house pet, but for this section I'm thinking of animals commonly found indoors.

Going to the dogs — and cats and bunnies and other furry creatures

Most furry, small animals fall into the "cute" category. I see nothing wrong with cute when painting furry animals.

You can paint fur several ways. Some artists paint every hair with much detail. I prefer to simplify the fur into a soft texture that defines the shape and shadows of the body. You can make curly hair especially look more free and loose by drawing it with quick, similar lines instead of laboring to slowly duplicate each line exactly. Short, choppy lines are more interesting than heavy, labored outlines anyway.

When painting fur, it's important to know which direction it grows. Look at a cat's face up close sometime. The hair doesn't grow all in the same direction. If you put in this much detail, make sure it's accurate.

My advice is to simplify the detail. It will make your entire life easier. Notice that in the paintings in this section, I don't follow every hair in the drawings perfectly.

To make a rough hair texture, use a round brush and push the tip away from you while the paint is a little dry. Some artists like to use a specialty brush like a rake or fan. The hairs on these brushes are spread out so each hair paints an individual line, like fur texture.

Be a copycat and transfer an outline of the cat on a mat shown in Figure 12-3 onto some paper. Then paint a feline portrait.

1. Choose a 5-x-7-inch piece of horizontal watercolor paper and trace Figure 12-3. (See Chapter 7 for more on tracing.)

2. Activate your paints.

For this exercise, you use ultramarine blue, burnt sienna, lemon yellow, brilliant pink (or alizarin crimson with some white), cadmium orange, and a color of your choosing, if you want a different color for the rug.

Mix a puddle of ultramarine blue and a bit of burnt sienna to make a pleasing blue-gray with a lot of water in it so it's transparent.

3. Paint the pale blue-gray shadows and markings (see Figure 12-4a) using a pointed round brush.

The Cat The Mat Sketch

Follow the dark areas of your tracing and refer to Figure 12-4a to paint these: The paw farther away gets a shadow. The nearer paw gets a shadow defining the shoulder. Paint a shadow under the chin. A little shadow goes under the mouth. The eye sockets get a shadow that defines the nose. The edges of the body get a shadow that defines the roundness of the cat.

Use the same color to make a layer for the cat's markings on the face above the eyes, on the side, and on the tail.

Soften some of the shadows in the body by adding water to fade out the edge instead of leaving it hard.

Watercolor Painting Cat Tails

Figure 12-4:

Adding color for fur, shadows, and more.

Figure 12-4:

Adding color for fur, shadows, and more.

4. Let the shadows and markings dry.

Use a blow-dryer, or check the stock market prices while you wait.

5. Paint the eyes.

I used lemon yellow to color the cat's eyes (see Figure 12-4a). Shadows come in another layer later, as does the black pupil.

6. Paint some pink in the ears and nose.

Dilute brilliant pink with water and put some at the base of the ear (see Figure 12-4b). If you don't have brilliant pink, dilute alizarin crimson or add some white to it for a pink.

Leave some white, hair-like spaces around the ears.

7. Let everything dry.

Use a blow-dryer for speedier drying, or go change the oil in your car.

8. Paint the rug.

Use whatever color you want on your rug. In Figure 12-4b, I used cadmium orange mixed with burnt sienna with a lot of water in it to keep the paint transparent.

Let the paint be darker by the cat by sweeping the pigment with your brush toward the cat. I made the outside edges lighter by adding water with less pigment near the edge.

9. Paint the gray markings on the cat.

I used a gray mixed from ultramarine blue and burnt sienna. This is the same as the shadow color used in Step 3, only with less water, so you get a darker color. You can see the results in Figure 12-4b.

10. Shadow the ears, eyes, and nose.

Add a little cadmium orange at the center base of the ear for more depth and interest. Using the same color, create a shadow under the top eyelid and at the top of the nose as shown in Figure 12-4b.

11. Finish the details (see Figure 12-5).

Use the tip of your brush to add all the little gray hairs you want. A liner brush makes nice whiskers. Paint the dark parts of the eyes, nose, and mouth using the dark mix from ultramarine blue and burnt sienna.

Placing orange in several places — rug, eyes, ears, and nose — balances the color around the painting. If you made the rug another color, you may want to echo that color in other places within the painting — perhaps in the background or fur or whatever you think works.

Man's best friend can also be an artist's best model. Pet parents love to have portraits done of their dogs. Some artists specialize in dogs in general, while others stick to painting one breed. There are national art shows that only have dogs as subject matter. If you love dogs, you might find this to be a lucrative and rewarding topic too.

Artist That Specializes Stick Figures

Weighing in on scaly sorts

Not every pet in the house is furry. You may be lucky enough to have reptiles (lucky?) or fish.

The shiny scales of a colorful goldfish make for a great watercolor topic. You may have koi outdoors in a pond, but I keep the fish in this section in a bowl and put it under the indoor category for the following exercise. You can use the same painting techniques for lizards, snakes, reptiles, and other types of fish.

1. Trace and transfer the fish at the end of this activity (Figure 12-7) onto a 5-x-7-inch piece of watercolor paper.

I outlined this fish with a waterproof pen. I find this a successful way to work. If you use this method, you can use the pen first or last. The drawing outlines the finished piece, and the watercolor can almost do anything and still work. You can also paint the watercolor first and draw on top. You can certainly skip the pen and ink altogether and make the paint do all the work.

2. Activate your paints.

I used antique red ochre (burnt sienna is similar) and ultramarine blue in the fish's body. Don't mix them together; make separate puddles of each color.

You may also want to use purple, yellow, red, hot pink, and orange to make the fish shimmer. Choose whatever shades suit your fancy.

3. Wet the body of the fish with clear water to make it damp.

4. Using a pointed round brush, drop and paint color on your fish.

Using antique red ochre or burnt sienna, let the paint diffuse into the dampness (wet-into-wet as discussed in Chapter 3). Create a round body by putting darker blue paint toward the edges and leaving the middle lighter, as I did in Figure 12-6a.

If the color travels into the area you want to be left light, pick it up or blot it with a damp brush or paper towel.

5. Let the paint dry.

Use a blow-dryer, or relax and read the newspaper.

6. Paint the scales.

Make a scalloped line using the tip of your round brush and a color that shows up (I used several, but mostly burnt sienna) vertically across the body of the fish, using Figure 12-6b as your guide.

Make the next line so that the point touches the round part of the previous line. Paint two or three lines. While the lines are still wet, pick up some other colors with your brush and touch the damp scale lines at random to release the color into the line. Rinse your brush between colors. I dropped purple, yellow, red, hot pink, and orange into the scalloped lines.

7. Let your fish friend dry.

Use a blow-dryer to speed up drying time, or dust the house.

8. If you don't want all the scales so detailed, soften some with a stiff brush by nudging clear water over the scales you want to disappear.

9. Paint the fins.

Paint all the fins with the orange color. I left the top tailfin white paper. Drop in a bit of blue as a shadow near the fish's body. Figure 12-6c shows an example of a colored fin.

10. Paint the eye.

I gave Goldie a yellow eye since he didn't have much gold anywhere else. The eye and the iris with highlight are shown in Figure 12-6d.

All the black is done with the ink pen. If you didn't leave the white highlight or it got filled in, not to worry. When the eye is bone-dry, take a razor blade corner and pick out the white. One flick will make a highlight.

You should end up with something resembling Figure 12-7.

Wildlife sanctuaries, zoos, and animal parks are great places to study animals. If you're well-to-do, you may be able to afford safaris and expeditions, but for most of us, the zoo is a good bet.

This section focuses on tips and techniques you can use when painting larger animals, including the following tips to keep in mind when you're painting a single animal:

1 Paint around the edges, including the underside, of the animal with a darker color to indicate roundness. Paint shadows where the light doesn't reach as easily.

i Make the eyes your focal point or center of interest. People are connected by eye contact. Pay extra attention to the eyes, which is where the audience looks first.

i Divide the background into smaller areas and do each area separately so you have less real estate to manage. If you have a natural break in the picture where the animal breaks up the background, this is a good place to stop and start background areas.

Figure 12-7:

A colorful goldfish is the perfect watercolor subject.

Figure 12-7:

A colorful goldfish is the perfect watercolor subject.

Hunting Big Game t Practice continuity. If a color goes behind the leg in the front, make the same color reappear on the other side of the leg as well.

t Ground the animal with a shadow. Painting a cast shadow anchors the animal on the ground; otherwise, it floats in the air.

When painting on-site, people love to share information with you because you share their interest. You can discover so much and make new friends by painting on location.

In painting the giraffe in Figure 12-8, I painted a blue-gray color first to shape the body of the animal, as if no spots existed. This is sometimes called modeling — like a sculptor models the shape of clay. Next I masked the white areas between the spots using the masking fluid and let it dry. After the mask was completely dry, I painted the spots using burnt sienna. The variation of light to dark is simply the amount of water added to the burnt sienna. After time to dry, I peeled off the mask and painted the background. Some leaf shapes are painted, and some are lifted out of the dark green by applying water and blotting. Some leaves were painted around with background outlining the leaf. (This technique uses positive and negative painting as described in Chapter 5.) I painted the grass last to cover the giraffe's legs. While the foreground was still wet, I used a liner brush to pull paint up in long thin lines to make blades of grass.

Negative Painting Technique

Project: Looking into the Backyard and the Barnyard

My backyard is a constant source of inspiration. Maybe one of the reasons I don't need domestic pets right now is because I have so many wild ones. All kinds of birds, squirrels, and several bunnies are hopping about the yard. I laugh when I think about going outside and pretending to be Snow White.

Bird watching is a huge national pastime. With so many species, colors, shapes, and varieties, you can't run out of subjects to paint. You can employ every color on the artist's palette when painting birds.

Birds are so fast that you want to work from photographs. I keep my camera near anytime I think the opportunity to snap a feathered friend's portrait will arise.

Everything in my mother's kitchen included roosters: dishes, towels, rugs, and wind chimes. They have always been a family favorite. I laughed when I attended a marketing trends program and heard the new cool motif was roosters. Mom would say they've been cool for the last 80 years.

This painting project is in honor of Mom's favorite bird. Follow the steps, and you'll end up with a fun and colorful painting that you just may want to display in your own kitchen.

Make sure that adjacent areas are dry before painting next to them in this picture. I bounce around the painting hoping to allow time for each area to dry before going next to it with another wet color. I don't want any colors to bleed accidentally. But if you're a fast painter, you need to be aware that each area should be dry if you want separate colors without mingling them.

1. Trace the drawing in Figure 12-9 and transfer it to a horizontal 5-x-7-inch piece of watercolor paper and activate your paints.

Use tracing paper to copy the drawing. Then place a piece of graphite paper beneath the drawing and on top of the watercolor paper. Retrace the drawing so it transfers to the watercolor paper.

The colors you need to have at the ready are greens (mix your greens from blue and yellow or have hookers green, leaf green, and shadow green), lemon yellow, burnt sienna, ultramarine blue, cadmium red, alizarin crimson, purple, and cadmium yellow.

Figure 12-9:

Trace this outline to get started.

Figure 12-9:

Trace this

Paint Trace Models

2. Paint the shadows on mama hen, outlining her body to make it round, as shown in Figure 12-10a.

Mix burnt sienna with ultramarine blue to make a black, and add a little water to some of it to make a puddle of gray. My gray is a bit on the blue side, meaning that more blue is in it than burnt sienna.

Figure 12-10:

Underpaint-ing poultry.

Figure 12-10:

Underpaint-ing poultry.

Chartreuse Watercolor Feather

3. Paint the light yellows. I used lemon yellow, but you can use whichever color you have.

Refer to Figure 12-10b to see how to put yellow on the beaks of mama hen and papa rooster, paint the chicks, and put a few patches on the rooster's neck and rear hip.

4. Paint the light green.

Add lemon yellow to hookers green for a chartreuse color. Refer to Figure 12-10b to see how to paint some tail feathers on the rooster and a patch on his chest.

5. Paint the rooster and hen's feet.

Use cadmium yellow on the legs and feet, referring to Figure 12-10b.

6. Paint the rooster's body, as shown in Figure 12-11a.

Use burnt sienna to define some feathers over the yellow on the neck, wing, and rear. Paint hookers green around the light green you painted in Step 4. Mix hookers green and alizarin crimson for a dark green, and make another layer of feathers.

Green Ground Paint

7. Paint the ground.

Use burnt sienna with a lot of water for a pale sand color and paint around the chicks' bodies and the birds' feet (refer to Figure 12-11a for guidance). While the ground is still damp, put a cast shadow under the hen, rooster, and chicks using the blue-gray color from Step 2.

8. Paint the red.

Save the red for the end because it runs if water gets next to it. Use the cadmium red to paint the waddles and eye patches. See Figure 12-11b for guidance.

Add shadows in the red patches by using a darker red like alizarin crimson. Do some lifting in the red patches for some highlights, if desired, where light touches the waddles (Chapter 3 tells you how to lift paint). And add a few feather details for a little bright impact. I painted a few cadmium red lines to represent feathers in the rooster's back.

9. Put in burnt sienna details, as shown in Figure 12-12a.

Outline the rooster's beak, the stripes on his and the hen's legs, and the chicks' wings, beaks, legs, and feet.

10. Add the black details.

Use the black you made in Step 2 from burnt sienna and ultramarine blue to paint the birds' eyes and the hen's tail and wings. Outline the hen's beak, referring to Figure 12-12b for guidance. Dot in some chicken feed for the chicks to peck at on the ground. Now you're done!

Mama, papa, baby — or small, medium, large — is a good composition rule. The concept is simple and effective: Include one of each size in your painting. By varying the size of items in your painting, you avoid monotony and make your painting more interesting to the viewer. Any shapes will work with the small, medium, and large variation technique. More information on using size as an element of design is in Chapter 1.

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