Step-by-Step Tips for Painting Animals in Acrylic

If you’re like me, then you probably take a lot of pictures of your pet. There are hundreds of photos of my cat, Pauline, on my phone. After a while, I wanted to translate one of the images I snapped into a work of art. Painting is a great way to do it.

Keep reading to learn more about painting animals in acrylic.

1. Select your subject.

Before you begin, figure out what you want to paint. As I mentioned before, I’m painting a portrait of my calico cat. Maybe you want to pick a beloved pet, or go for something more fierce, like a tiger. Either way, select a reference photo that’s well lit with clear detail.

I prepared a piece of paper using acrylic matte medium, and used a pencil to sketch Pauline. This part of the process is very important. You'll want to get your drawing right before painting. Otherwise, you might have to correct a flaw with paint, which is always harder.

Pauline has a lot of variation in her coat - colors blend together and black and brown are often intertwined. I’m ignoring that for the moment and focusing on the larger overall shapes. I’ll deal with the details later.

2. Paint the first layer of colors.

I love working in layers — it helps make overwhelming things (like painting animals) feel less complicated. It also creates a richer color base and is more forgiving if you paint the wrong color or need to adjust something.

To begin, I mixed all of my paint and applied a thin layer of fur color and background to the paper.  I paid attention to the shapes I drew and confined some colors to that. This gives me an idea of color relationships and a starting point for adding more hues.

3. Add a second layer of colors.

Once everything is dry, I added a second round of color to Pauline. I’m still not adding any texture to my painting. Instead, I’m going over everything with a second layer of color. This will deepen the first coating of hues and allow me to mix colors. It’s also an opportunity to blend the shapes that I drew so the picture doesn’t look like a “paint by number.”

4. Start painting the fur (or other texture).

Here’s the part you’ve been waiting for! It’s the most tedious step of the entire painting, but an important one that brings your animal to life.

Fur, if they have it, is a defining feature of an animal. So, it’s important to study the characteristics of the fur (or other texture) to better understand how to paint it. Looking at Pauline, she has short hair that’s thinner on the top of her head. I can almost see individual strands. On her neck and body, however, the fur is fluffier and harder to distinguish.

With this in mind, I used my liner brush to create texture fur on her head. I’m not going to draw every single hair (that’d take forever!), but I am going to feign the appearance of it. I do this by creating areas where there’s a lot of detail and then areas where it’s less defined.

To give your painting depth, layer different colors of fur. This will also add a realistic touch to your work. Pauline’s hair doesn’t evenly change colors. There are bits of black interspersed with brown and white.

5. Refine other details and finish with the background.

Fur isn’t everything, but it is a large part of the painting process. Once you have that complete, you’re almost done. Refine the eyes and nose by adding shading to them. Create more depth by shading the background, and you’re done!

Have you ever painted an animal before?

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May 27, 2015
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Step-by-Step Tips for Painting Animals in Acrylic