One of the most deceptively hard things to paint when using wildlife as a subject are animals with white fur. It may seem easy at first glance, but when you get stuck into painting you realise just how difficult it is to get white fur to look realistic and natural. In this blog I am going to share my tips with you so that you can get your white fur looking real every time.
5 Quick Tips For Painting White Fur
- Use white sparingly
- Save your brightest white for the end of the painting
- Don’t be afraid to use dark colours
- White is made up of lots of blue and grey colours
- The colours of the environment reflect in the white fur
For this blog I thought I would create a brand new piece focussing on painting white fur in acrylics. What better subject than a white tiger cub.
Choosing Your Colours
To start let’s have a look at the photo I am using. Now It is worth mentioning that I have paid for the use of this photo and if you would like to use it as a reference for your own paintings you must download the licensing from www.wildlifereferencephotos.com .
Before we start with the paint let’s use a bit of technology to view all of the colours in the fur more clearly. I use Photoshop and the colour picker tool to take colour swaps from the image to give myself a better idea of the colours hidden in the white fur.
You can see in the image below how I have created a colour palette based on the colours in the image. I can now use this as a guide when mixing my paint colours.
As a general guide the colours hidden within white fur are usually mixes of blues and cool greys. Warmer colours can also be visible as they are reflected from the environment.
No matter how tempting you should never just use black and white when trying to paint the fur of a white animal. The result just looks lifeless and drab.
Using Your Reference
We can also use technology to edit the photos slightly. When painting white fur it is useful to have a few different reference images to work from.
The first is your basic image, this is the one you will rely on most. You could also edit some copies of the photo using an editing app or even Microsoft powerpoint.
I edit a second image by increasing the saturation, I use this to really emphasise where those more saturated colours are hidden within the fur.
The third image is one in which I increase the contrast this is so that I can easily visualise the darker areas of the fur and to make sure that I can see the direction in which the fur flows.
I use all three as reference when I am painting animals with white fur.
As with all of my paintings I start by sketching out a basic line drawing using a graphite pencil or charcoal. I then seal the drawing with some pastel fixative. I will then choose a colour and create a wash over the top of my drawing.
The colour doesn’t really matter I mostly do it to remove the white from the canvas. However I do try to use a blue/green colour when I want a cooler looking painting and a red/brown colour when I want a warmer looking painting.
For this one I decided to use a blue/green wash for the cooler effect.
Once this is done as I am painting a tiger I block in the stripes using a mix of black and burnt umber. I try to avoid pure black on its own as it can make paintings look flat and lifeless.
Next I start to block in the basic shapes and structures. I always paint this layer much darker than I want the final painting to be so that I can add lighter layers on top to give the impression of depth to the fur.
When blocking in the white fur I rely heavily on the saturated image. I mix a dark to mid toned grey paint with the relevant saturated colour. I want muted dark grey tinted with the saturated colours from the image. I use this paint to block in the shapes of the fur.
At this stage I don’t focus on details just form and shapes.
Painting the details
I won’t go into how I paint the eyes and nose as I have detailed Youtube videos going through my process for painting tigers.
I’m just going to focus on how I paint the fur.
Start with darker colours first. One of the biggest mistakes beginners make when painting white fur is that they don’t go dark enough. Don’t be afraid to start with dark base layers and build up your brighter colours over the top.
I use a small round brush to build up layers of paint. When painting fur it is important to study your reference photo closely. You need to look at the direction of the fur and match it as closely as possible. This doesn’t mean painting every individual strand but rather clumps of fur.
Make sure to vary the clumps slightly. They should all go in relatively the same direction but you should curl them at the ends in random directions.
You should also make sure that the clumps are varied shapes and lengths. Biological things have lots of natural variation so it is important that we show this in our painting for a realistic effect.
Adding reflected colours
The final stage is to add in some reflected colours. These are the colours that would be reflected from the background that your subject is in.
The background here is green so I would add some very subtle green washes over the top of certain areas of the fur.
You can do this with any colour but I think it adds a little bit extra to the painting and makes it feel like the subject is a part of the background and belongs to the finished environment.
Then it’s just about finalising the details.
THANK YOU FOR READING
To see this in practice and when using oils see our Guide to Painting a Panda which goes through a similar process on a larger painting.
I have a full video of this process on my Patreon channel that goes through the entire process of painting white fur in detail.
I hope the information about my process is useful and you can use it as a starting point on your way to creating incredible drawings in your own style.
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