Painting fur can be one of the most challenging subjects that artists will face.
It’s pretty much impossible to paint animals without knowing how to paint fur, If you want to paint animals that look real, at some point you’ll need to deal with the fear of painting fur.
It can be intimidating at first but once you learn the correct techniques and how to apply texture (which is one of the most challenging things to paint, and that goes double for fur, whether it’s long, short, fluffy or straight.) You will be just fine.
If you’re like me and find fur daunting, it helps to break down the process into a few easy steps.
I tend to use a large round head brush when working on bigger animal paintings and a smaller filbert brush (flat head) when working on smaller canvases.
I use what’s know in my world as the two-tone technique. This is simply one colour on one side of the brush and another colour on the other. In the case of the wolf, it may be white on one side and black on the other.
This is a painting I’ve been working on over the years and was completed in 2017. The medium for this piece was acrylic on canvas.
However, you can easily adapt these techniques to any medium. Just keep in mind that for the particular technique I used in the wolf painting, it’s important to let the paint dry thoroughly between each new layer of fur.
Here are some simple tips for creating realistic fur.
- Begin with the Base
Start with the underlying shadows first. This helps to create a solid base you can build layers on and adds depth and realism to your subject. Only go as dark as your darkest tone.
- Add in the Layers of Fur
Begin layering individual strands of fur over the base colour, gradually lightening the tones with each new layer. The idea is to end with the lightest highlight colour on the top layer. It helps to imagine each layer of fur sitting on top of the one before it, like shingles on a house, each one overlapping the other slightly.
Make sure to pay attention to your values as you paint. Areas that are more shadowed won’t need as many layers. Again, it’s important to let each layer dry completely before starting the next. If the paint isn’t dry enough, the colours will muddy, and you’ll lose the definition between the strands of fur.
- Break Down Your Work Into Sections
It helps to work in small sections, paying attention to the direction of the fur. If you look closely at the fur you’re painting, you’ll notice that it doesn’t just grow in one direction, especially in the areas around the face. Take note of your reference and try to work from area to area: around the muzzle, above the eye, the cheek, etc. This lets you focus on each of the shapes that make up the face , and adds depth and realism to the features.
I tend to start with the outlying areas and gradually paint my way inward, following the direction of the fur.
- Practice and Refine as You Go
Look over your work one last time, focusing on the details. Subtly touch up your shadows and highlights, until everything looks just right to you.
Be patient with yourself as you learn. Painting fur can be a tricky, hair-pulling experience (um, pun intended). It usually comes down to your precision with the brush. As you paint, it’s helpful to keep a scrap sheet of paper or canvas nearby so you can practice as you go and avoid certain kinds of mistakes.
When you’re painting something as fine as individual strands of fur, the fluidity of your paint is crucial. If the paint isn’t wet enough, you won’t get the proper flow. If it’s too wet, the strands will lose their definition, and you risk creating puddles or blobs. Use the scrap sheet to test the fluidity of your paint until it feels right.
On your scrap sheet, you can also practice making long motions with your brush, starting with more pressure at the beginning of the stroke and gradually releasing pressure at the end of the stroke to create the tapered look of fur.
As with any technique, experimenting is key. Remember that with art, there’s no wrong way. When I started painting, I used to avoid anything I didn’t think I could paint “correctly,” like hands, or fur of course. It took hours and hours of practice to realize that some of the imperfections in my work gave my paintings character.
Sure, practice does make perfect. As long as you are practicing good techniques for your style. It also allows us to fix problems and improve our technique, but it also lets us discover the kinds of “mistakes” or quirks that actually make our art better.
Now, it’s your turn to practice these techniques and come up with your own unique, perfect-in-their-own-way animal drawings!
See the full painting course at https://www.johnmorrisartfromtheheart.com/product/the-wolf-dvd/