How to Paint an Amazing Panda in Oils

In this blog I’m going to be sharing some of my tips when painting a panda or any animal with black and white fur. For this piece I am using oils- I am still fairly new to this medium, this is only the third oil painting I have worked on.

I’m usually an acrylic painter but I’m really enjoying seeing what I can create using a new medium! Those who have seen me paint in acrylics before have said that I use them in a very similar same way that you would use oils, so my process is pretty much the same.

How to Paint a Panda in Oils

  • Block in basic structure with acrylics
  • Paint a background that compliments the colours in your panda
  • Create an under-painting in oils to add the simple shapes of the fur
  • Leave to dry then add the details
  • Add some blue/grey highlights to the black fur

For this painting I am using Daler Rowney Georgian oil paints and Winsdor and Newton Sansodor low odor solvent. Remember if you are using oil paints it is best to do so in a well-ventilated space.

I have found that personally I am quite sensitive to the oil paints and oil mediums, but I have found that the low-odor solvent from Windsor and Newton doesn’t give me headaches. But, I always make sure to keep the window in my studio open whenever I am using oil paints.

Step 1 – The Block-in

Before I start with the oils, I did a quick block in with acrylics to build a base layer. This helps me to figure out where to position the main colours and it also speeds up the process.

I like to work in quite thin layers, so having an acrylic block in underneath helps me to put down quite a thin layer of oils without it appearing translucent and showing the white canvas underneath.  

Step 2- The Background

I decided I wanted a blurred background in this painting to keep the main focus on the panda. If you want a background that complements the colours in your main subject it can be a good idea to pick out some of the more subtle colours you can find there.

For this painting I have chosen to combine some of the greens and of the bamboo with the blues and greys that can be found in the black fur.

When I start with the oils I just begin by applying the colours very loosely and without blending. The beauty of oils is the longer drying time in comparison to the acrylics, so once I have blocked in all of the background colours I then start blending them together.

For the blend I used a clean and dry flat brush and basically swirled the edges of each colour to blend them together. It helps to have a soft bristled brush for this job if you want a very even blend to your background, as harder bristles will leave too many brushstrokes.

Step 3- The Underpainting

I am not too bothered about colour matching at this stage, it’s just about building basic but accurate shapes that can be refined later. For the first layer of colour on the panda I am making this darker than on my reference photo. This is because I like to build the lighter fur on top.

To do this I pick out the colours of the darkest shadows that I can see and start from there. There were quite a lot of reflected yellows and browns in the shadows of the fur in my reference which was a reflection of the surroundings the panda was in.

Step 4- Painting the Fur

Moving onto the fur detail, I use a size 4 angle brush and mix an off-white colour for the lighter fur. I don’t want to make the whites too bright as they would end up looking artificial, so I mix a small amount off buff titanium into the white paint to tone them down.

I initially use an angle brush to start building the layers following the direction of the fur. I make sure that each fur strand is a little different from the last- adding some variation will help the fur look less uniform and more realistic.

I also ensure to leave some of the darker colours of the block in show through to give the fur some depth. Particularly around the jaw line, you can see that I have left the yellows and the browns of the underpainting show through the top layer of white fur.

One of the main things to keep in mind when painting black fur is the texture. The smoother the fur the more colours will be reflected by the light and vice versa.

The thick and coarse fur of a panda will absorb much more light than smooth fur, so the reflected colours will be quite subtle. They are still there though- you just might have to look a bit closer.

To add some dimension to the black fur I added some grey highlights using a combination of titanium white and ivory black.

I picked up on the slightly blue hint to some of the shadowed areas by adding a small amount of cerulean and ultramarine blue to the grey that I have mixed.  Particularly on the paw there were also some slight sun-bleaching of the fur, which I have picked out using some browns and purples.

Step 5- The Finishing Touches

For the finer details I used a size 2 round brush to add some slightly brighter highlights around the eye and muzzle areas. When finishing off the eyes I like to add a little blue to the highlights to give the impression of the sky being reflected in the eyes, which makes them more interesting than just being pure white. 

By making these areas of the painting a little sharper in comparison to the rest of the fur I’m hoping the eye will be more naturally drawn to these areas of the painting.  

I also made sure to blend some of the black fur of the body into the white fur of the face, trying to make sure that head doesn’t look like it’s just been ‘dropped’ onto the body. I did this by making sure there are some overlapping white hairs between the two sections.

I’m still waiting for this painting to dry so I haven’t applied any varnish yet. But when I come to this stage the varnish will help to pick out some of the more subtle highlights and texture within the black areas that have almost been lost as the oils have dried.

For black animals especially, I find that a gloss varnish works best as it really pulls out the colours and makes them appear just as rich as they were when the paint was wet.

Thank you for reading and I hope you’ve found this helpful. If you’d like to know more about my process why not check out the full video of this painting being created on Youtube!

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