Wednesday, 9 May 2012

The Leopard in my Painting Looks Wrong

Leopard spots create great opportunities for pattern and colour exploration in animal art. But what if the leopard looks more in keeping with a taxidermist’s collection? The leopard fur looks dull, the spots, dark blobs. How can the artist recreate the vibrancy of the leopard in painting?

Painting Vibrant Leopards in Animal Art

How to Paint Leopards
Rachel Shirley
The leopard provides the ideal subject matter for exploring colour juxtaposition, which often gets passed over. As can be seen in my painting of a leopard’s face, colour contrast has been heightened to increase vitality. But when it comes to painting the leopard in general, the following practices may lie at the heart of why a leopard lacks life, realism and dynamism in painting.

Expressing the leopard’s coat as one flat colour which might be cadmium yellow, yellow ochre or a similar pale, beige-brown.

Lightening this colour with white and darkening it with black for shadows will only create dull colours and bland highlights.
  • Expressing the leopard’s spots with black and only black.
  • Impressing spots all over the leopard with similar marks, shape and size, giving the leopard an artificial quality.
  • Failing to add highlights to the eyes, causing the leopard to have a dull look.
Painting A Leopard with Realism

Poor visual resources will force the artist to guesswork vital detail, such as the facial features, the under-fur and how the spots shift in appearance throughout the body of the big cat. Guesswork can also force the artist to rely on memory, which could result in an unconvincing portrayal of a big cat.

The Colour of a Leopard’s Fur

Markings on any animal’s coat including the leopard’s spots will exhibit tonal and chromatic variations throughout the body. Spots may appear black on the leopard’s haunches, yet almost china blue on its spine if the light hits it. Observing such shifts in the spots’ hues is key to recreating a leopard with form.


Observe how the base colour of the leopard’s coat shifts around areas of muscle, bone and tendons. This main colour is seldom just one colour. In the case of a yellow leopard, don’t introduce black to obtain shadows for this will result in dirty mixes. Darken yellow with any colour in the violet spectrum such as ultramarine or midnight-blue instead. A little burnt umber will tone down colours without making it dull. Add the dark colour into the lighter colour rather than the other way round.

Useful pigments to use in the yellow parts of the leopard are: cadmium yellow (pale), lemon yellow, burnt umber, cadmium red, permanent rose, burnt sienna, ultramarine and white.

The Colour of a Snow Leopard

If painting a snow leopard, look out for definite hues within the fur. In certain lighting conditions, the fur may appear blue, indigo or cream. The following pigments would come in useful for the snow leopard: burnt sienna, burnt umber, ultramarine, pthalo blue, permanent rose and white.

Getting the base colour right, whether an Arctic leopard or the African variety will provide a firm foundation on which to paint the spots.

Art Technique for Painting Leopards

If painting the leopard in one go, don’t paint the spots first, as this dark colour will sully the surrounding colour. Begin with the bright colours and the highlights. Work towards the shaded areas as the painting progresses. Blend out the pale areas with fine sables into the direction of the fur, working around the spotted areas (don’t worry if you go over the edges).

Blur the vision to get an overall impression of how this base colour varies in tone. Pay special attention to the face. The eyes, snout and mouth will possess a fair amount of pale colours. Blues and creams will often be perceived within these shaded areas of pale fur.

The Colour of Leopard’s Spots

Allow the paint to dry over several day if working in oils, or work straight onto the spots afterwards if using acrylics. Don’t rush this part as the spots are key to making the leopard eye-catching for the right reasons.

Observe how the markings form chains in various areas of the leopard and how the spots shift in form from spine, haunches and legs. Some spots will echo the shape of the neighbouring spots; others will change abruptly.

The markings on the face will melt into abstract formations around the eyes. The markings on either side of the leopard’s face will not always be truly symmetrical.

How to Paint the Leopard’s Face

Make note of how the features on the leopard differs from humans. Like many big cats, the eyes will be overshadowed by the furry brows; the eye will exhibit mostly the iris with little white and a soupcon of highlights around the pupil.

Leopard’s nuzzle and gums (if visible) will exhibit a variety of dark crimsons and sometimes black. For these areas, I will use permanent rose, ultramarine, burnt umber, (sometimes) pthalo blue and white for highlights.

Always work on the leopard’s face when feeling most up to the challenge, as the face will form the focal point. Put the painting away for another day if things aren’t working out.

PaintingTechniques for Leopards

Glazing and impasto are two contrasting but ideal techniques to use for the leopard. Impasto is the application of thick paint via a bristle or palette knife to emulate the texture of the fur. Glazing by contrast is the application of successive layers of paint to deepen hues.

Apply the first coat with acrylics, alkyds or a thin layer of oil paint. The overlying glaze will eradicate flaws, sharpen detail and deepen colours.

Painting Leopards for Animal Art

Use the background to bring out the form of the leopard. Dark blue foliage will add contrast to the leopard’s warm colours. Deep bronze of a parched landscape can be used to echo the colours of the leopard’s coat, as can snow for a snow leopard. Always look for opportunities to bring out contrast to the leopard’s colours and/or tone. This will help bring the leopard into life in painting.

Articles on Oil Painting

Basics on the Colour Theory
My blog on teaching art
How to paint tigers
Demonstration on painting Kilimanjaro

Wednesday, 2 May 2012

The Colours in my Tiger Paintings are Never Vibrant Enough

Mixing bright, vibrant colours for an oil painting featuring tigers or other big cats might not create the effect desired. The artist might be disappointed if garish or dull colour mixes result. What is the best way of achieving vibrant colour mixes for tigers?

Mixing the Best Colours for Tiger Art

How to Paint the Tiger
 Junglerealm Rachel Shirley
As can be seen from my painting, I have used bright colours to express the ferocity of the tiger rather than portray realism. But bringing out bright colours for such fierce creatures will help create focal points to the tiger. Firstly, the artist needs to highlight colour mixing practices at fault, which could be any of the following.
  • Making generalized assumptions about the colour of the tiger. For instance, all tigers are yellow and black with alternating stripes that appear perpendicular to the tiger’s spine.
  • Applying a premixed pigment straight onto a white art surface in alla prima fashion and spreading it over in uniform brushmarks, resulting in a poster-paint effect to the oil painting which lacks depth.
  • Mixing white with a translucent pigment such as lemon yellow to increase its opacity, resulting in an insipid yellow.
  • Darkening a bright colour with black or dark brown. For instance, expressing shadows on a tiger’s fur as yellow mixed with black.
  • Mixing any red and yellow in the hope it will result in a vibrant orange. Not all red is a primary colour and neither is any yellow. Read my article on colour theory for clarification. But if attempting to obtain a warm orange in the tiger’s fur, cadmium red (deep) would not be ideal, as it contains a lot of violet. In effect, cadmium red (deep) and yellow would be like mixing red, yellow and a little violet, which will result in a cool orange (but which can also be found in tiger’s fur). Cadmium red or vermillion might be better choices as these are more biased towards orange.
Covering Power of Oil Pigments

Some pigments are more translucent than others by nature. This means various amounts of linseed oil (the vehicle in which the ground pigment is coated) is needed to make the pigment flow. Permanent rose, lemon yellow and burnt sienna tend to be rather translucent. Cadmium yellow, cadmium red and cerulean are more opaque. Apply a layer of neat alizarin crimson onto a white surface and it appears to be almost blood-red. Mix a little white into it, and it appears more brownish-red.

In order to create vibrant colours, a little knowledge of pigment translucency is required.

Glazing Colours for Vibrant Painting

Glazing is one of the best ways to create visually eye catching animal art as it reinforces subsequent layers. For achieving bright yellows for tiger’s fur, the following steps might help.

Rather than paint the final colour mix straight onto a white art surface, apply a layer of underpaint. This will bring depth to the overlying colours of the tiger. I use a slightly darker colour than the final colour of the tiger’s fur. I can than work into the highlights with progressively vibrant yellows. In this instance, I will mix a little burnt umber into cadmium yellow and apply this sullen-yellow onto the yellow areas of the tiger.

Apply this colour thinly, so that detail can be worked on top. I will then work a dark colour onto the stripes. Burnt umber and pthalo blue or permanent rose and pthalo blue will create interesting and variegated darks. Don’t worry about detail at this stage.

How to Paint Tiger’s Fur

Watch out for the pale underbelly of the tiger that contains any yellow. For this, I will mix a variety of china blues and greys, which might consist of a little pthalo blue, permanent rose and burnt umber with lots of white. Good visual resources are vital for these areas, as these subtle colours will bring out the bright colours. Tiger’s fur often contains tufts, which can take a regular pattern on certain areas of the tiger. Look out for these patterns and simplify them by blurring the vision.

Painting the Tiger’s Face

Beware of impressing human features onto the tiger, a common error. Observe the tiger’s face sensitively. The eyes will often be overshadowed by the brow-fur. The tear ducts will often appear prominent and seldom exhibit the whiteness of the eyeball. The irises will often possess a dark tidemark on the outer edge.

Take every opportunity to express highlights in the eyes, which will bring the tiger to life. Be equally sensitive of the tiger’s snout, which though does not form the focal point can easily ruin the painting if portrayed inaccurately.

Look out for moist areas around the nostrils and mouth and also look out for blues and violets within any soft tissue exhibited. The tiger’s face will also possess a surprising amount of blues, greys and white around the main features.

Painting Detail on the Tiger

Allow the paint to dry over 2 or 3 days and then work into a little detail. To achieve bright yellows, I will use predominantly cadmium yellow with varying amounts of burnt sienna or burnt umber for the base colour of the fur and then lemon yellow with white for the highlights.

In certain lighting, the tiger’s colours may appear sullen – more brown. In such cases, burnt umber might be introduced into the colour mix. With a fine sable, reinforce the detail over the tiger’s face, sharpening up highlights in the eyes and increasing the crispness to dark outlines.

Further elaborate on shadows or contours on the tiger. This is the beauty of glazing, it does not matter if the first layer is imperfect.

Oil Painting the Tiger

A third glaze may be applied by allowing this colour to dry and then applying a more opaque colour mix consisting of cadmium yellow and white for the fur. Introduce a little linseed oil into the colour mix to create sharp lines around the tiger’s eyes and markings on the face. Move the paint in the direction of the fur. As the paint is dragged from the sable, the paint will grow progressively fine, the ideal effect for expressing stray fur from the tiger’s ears, tail and whiskers.

Links on Colour Mixing and Oil Painting

Tips on painting leopards
How to paint sunflowers
Build confidence in oil painting
All about alkyd paints and Liquin
Paint a landscape in 100 strokes

Tuesday, 1 May 2012

Kindle Picture Book for Children: Katie’s Magic Teapot Omnibus Edition

My kindle ebook for children up to the age of 8 contains 76 pages of detailed illustrations completed in oils. This picture kindle book is in fact a combination of 2 stories: Katie’s Magic Teapot & the Cosmic Pandas and Katie & the Cosmic Pandas’ Deep Sea Voyage. I have made this omnibus edition cheaper than the two stories purchased individually.

Which Picture Book on Kindle for Kids

Katie’s Magic Teapot Omnibus Edition is a highly-illustrated educational book that informs on the cosmos and the oceans. A young girl, Katie, in her magic flying teapot meets her friends, the cosmic pandas along the way. In the first story, she learns about the galaxies, comets, nebulae and our own solar system. But the question poses itself, what does cosmic dust have to do with rainbows?

The second story follows Katie as she journeys beneath the oceans within her magic teapot and with her panda friends. On the way, she encounters a host of strange creatures, including a manta ray, dolphins, a whale, a turtle, penguins and reef creatures. But will she find any treasure to bring back to her mummy and daddy? Incidentally, my other picture story book Ben's Little Big Adventure might be ideal for young boys.

Preview into Katie's Teapot Picture Book

Katie's Magic Teapot Picture Book
Rachel Shirley
The image above shows a preview of the pages within the print version and and Kindle version of my book. The opening paragraph to the first story is:

"Katie loved her mummy’s teapot. Her mummy told Katie that it was older than Gran and Gran was very old – and yet the painted flowers had hardly faded at all. Katie thought this odd, but then, there was something very odd about Mummy’s teapot."

The opening paragraph to the second story is:

"Katie has a secret. Mummy’s teapot is no ordinary teapot. Not only has its spout poured rivers of tea, the teapot can also fly.
   One day, Katie took the teapot with her to the seaside. Shells and teapots were alike, she noticed. Both were hollow and made a ‘chink’ sound when you tapped them. If you held a shell to your ear, a hushing sound like the sea could be heard."

There are plenty of colour illustrations on each page to provide visual stimulation for kids to read on any ereader as they learn about our universe and our oceans. With 70 pages within the main story part of the ebook, there is plenty to keep kids occupied as they follow Katie’s journey into space and beneath the waves.

Katie’s Magic Teapot Omnibus Ebook

This fabulous picture kindle book has 70 pages within the main stories. Each story comprises approximately 1000 words and each page contains colour images in high detail. Thirty-six large oil paintings have been completed for the book, of which most contain such detail, some close ups are necessary so that young readers may view various portions of the paintings on some of the pages.

Picture Kindle Book for Girls

You can view a sample of this children’s picture book adventure on the image above, or on Amazon. Compared with other picture kindle books, Katie’s Magic Teapot Omnibus Edition is competitively priced. The stories can be purchased separately or the print version is available on Createspace.

Read more about Katie's Magic Teapot & the Cosmic Pandas
Or Katie & the Cosmic Pandas' Deep Sea Voyage
Read more about my other books
Purchase these books on my Amazon estore