Tips and Tricks for Painting a Realistic Fox

I personally always enjoy painting foxes. I thought I would share with you my approach to painting a fox. This will include my tips for which colours to use and how to paint realistic fur.

How to paint a Fox

  • Block in your basic shapes using darker colours
  • Make sure proportions are right before adding detail
  • Use Burnt umber, Burnt sienna, Paynes grey and White
  • Choose a background that compliments your subject
  • Blend background fur to add depth
  • Leave small spaces between fur strands letting dark colours show through
  • Vary fur strokes slightly to add realism

Things to know before Starting to Paint

  • Foxes have quite broad heads with pointed muzzles -make sure that you have the proportions correct before you begin painting.
  • When facing forwards, a fox’s head will roughly fit the proportions of a square, with the eyes positioned mid-way down. (see below)
  • The ear shape of a fox is very distinctive- making sure they are the correct shape and size is key for a realistic painting.
  • Apply your brush strokes lightly – foxes have very soft fur that requires a lot of blending to achieve a realistic sense of texture.
  • Burnt Sienna is your best friend! This brown-red colour makes a great base colour for establishing the rich tones in a fox’s fur.
  • Lighter fur will need to be build on top- yellow ochre and raw sienna mixed with titanium white is a good starting point. The exact colour scheme will need to be adapted to your specific subject and the lighting in your chosen reference.

Step-by-step approach to a recent fox painting

In this painting session, I’m going to show you how I layer my paint to create a realistic looking fox and natural looking fur! Knowing which layers to apply first will make all the difference in your own paintings!

For this painting I used Oil paints. Feel free to use or adapt my methods in your own artwork.

Most of my paintings start with a layer of acrylic paint, I find the quick drying time of acrylics perfect for blocking in the basic shapes and colours to act as a guide for the actual painting.

The Initial Sketch

I started with a rough sketch using raw umber acrylic paint. I didn’t really like the composition of my first attempt so I started again once the paint had dried using a darker mix of Payne’s grey and Burnt Umber.

One of the most important things I have learnt about painting is to not get to attached to what you have just put down.

If I see something I don’t like I will always try and fix it. Sometimes that means minor adjustments, other times it means painting over hours of work and starting again.

I want to produce the highest quality work I can, so it is really important that I can completely destroy a painting that I have put a lot of work into in order to make it better.

The second time over I was much happier with the composition. I blocked in the base using dark acrylic colours, I prefer working on a toned canvas as I don’t like the original white showing through and I use acrylics because of the fast drying time.

I don’t want to be wasting any time waiting for these layers to dry as nothing here will actually be visible in the final piece.

The Background

 For this painting I wanted to take the idea of wildlife moving back into urban areas. This is pretty apt with what’s going on in the world at the minute.  I wanted to paint the fox on a dark cityscape.

I decided I would attempt to paint the background to look like the lights of buildings and cars just like you would see in the city.

My goal for this painting was to give the background a bokeh effect, which is the blurred out of focus effect that you see in the background of some photographs.

I use acrylic paints to roughly block in where I want the brightest areas of lights to appear with burnt sienna and Cobalt blue.

I then switched to the oil paints using a low odour paint thinner as a medium.

I blocked in the background with black and used varying blues, oranges and reds to fill in the basic shapes of the lights. For this step I am using a large hog hair filbert brush.

Throughout this process I am brushing and blending the background to give it that blurred look using a small house painting brush.

This is relatively cheap and effective the only thing to watch out for are the hairs that can come off the brush. Make sure to pick these off carefully before the paint dries.

I continue to build up the background lights by laying down abstract blobs of colour. I am not too worried about where everything goes at this point. I will neaten up and refine the background towards the end of the painting.

Painting the Tail

Next I move on to the tail of the fox. I’m using mixes of Payne’s grey, raw umber, burnt umber, burnt sienna and titanium white.

I’m starting with the darkest colours first to roughly map out where I want the fur to go. I then build the lighter colours on top of the darker ones.

It’s important that you change your brushes throughout this layering process otherwise the colours will mix together and go muddy.

I usually have a brush for the darker values, one for the mid values and a smaller brush for the lighter values as when I am painting fur it is usually the lighter bits of fur that require the most detail.

I blend the fur back using a fan brush and continue to add layers of fur, I don’t want the tail to be the main focus of the painting so I am keeping it blurred without any detail.

Blocking in the Face

Moving on to the face I always work dark to light, blocking in the basic shapes and colours to try to give form and structure to my painting. I’m not too concerned with details at this stage as I will go in with a smaller brush once it has dried.

This stage is again just acting as a more detailed map for the final layer.

After waiting a few days for the painting to dry I begin to add the details.

Painting the Fur

I use a small Angled brush. This is a nylon brush and is much softer than the bristle brushes I was using before and much better for detail work.

Again I start by adding the darkest hairs and build up layers of lighter fur on top. I am using a mix of white spirit and linseed oil as my medium.

This step is my favourite. I tend to get lost in the painting process and find it quite relaxing to paint all of those tiny hairs.

For the eyes and the nose I am using a small detail brush, these aren’t very expensive but I use them in almost all of my paintings. They don’t usually last more than 2 or three paintings so I usually bulk buy about 15 of these in one go.

It is really important when you want to paint fine details that your brushes are kept in great condition so these cheap detailing brushes are perfect as I just grab a new one when the other begins to fray.

The Final Touches

I use a soft flat brush to finish off the background, brightening the lights and darkening the background with more black as the first layer of oil has sunk into the canvas and lost its depth.

For the finishing touches I add some colour to the edges of the fox’s fur to give the impression of the fox being back lit by the coloured lights behind it.

I will leave this to dry for 3-6 months as I used quite thick applications of oil paint in the final background layer. Once I am sure it is completely dry I will varnish the painting in a glossy varnish.

It is really important to wait sufficient periods of time before varnishing oil paintings as the layers underneath take a long time to dry. Varnishing too soon can result in cracking of the paint ruining your artwork.

Thanks for reading!

I hope you have found this helpful, you can watch the full process of this below via the Studio Wildlife Youtube channel.

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