Painting Demo: Alligator Scales in Acrylics

One measure of a painting’s success is the emotion it elicits from its viewers. Master artist William Silvers, shares his secrets for capturing the drama, the atmosphere and the very essence of wildlife so you can also create emotion-filled wildlife paintings. This demonstration conveys the power and primeval texture of an alligator’s scales. Be sure to check out Silvers’ new book, Painting Realistic Wildlife in Acrylic: 30 Step-by-Step Demonstrations.

When painting scales, there are many things you have to consider: relative size of the scales, the natural variation on the body, the relative perspective of the animal, the three-dimensional volume, the animal’s anatomy and the body’s position. All these things combine to determine the size relationship of the scales as they converge in perspective away from the viewer and around the body parts.

1 Blocking In the Scale Pattern
Using Payne’s Grey and Burnt Umber, block in the basic scale pattern with the 1-1/2-inch (38mm) flat.

2 Blocking In the Scales
Using white gesso mixed with Yellow Ochre, Red Oxide, Burnt Sienna, Havannah Lake, Burnt Umber, Cerulean Blue, Anthraquinone Blue, Flame Red, Diarylide Yellow and Cadmium Yellow Medium, block in the scales, mixing into the dark color from the previous step when needed. In this stage it is important to paint the color and shape of the scales as accurately as possible. Use a double-loaded brush to make it easy to go back and forth between the scale colors and the dark colors of the deep creases of the scales.

3 Washes
With Payne’s Grey and Burnt Umber, mix a thin wash and apply it to the shadow areas. Using a mixture of Burnt Sienna and Cadmium Yellow Light, apply a thin wash to the highlighted areas and blend into the shadowed areas, giving the alligator an overall warm tint.

4 Painting the Highlights
Using white gesso mixed with Yellow Ochre, Red Oxide, Flame Red, Diarylide Yellow and Cadmium Yellow Medium, paint highlight details on the scales to give them a slightly shiny appearance.

Scales Vary
Here, the scales vary considerably on the alligator, from large, thick, protruding scales on the back and upper tail to smaller, uniform underbelly scales, while the head has a large variety of shapes and sizes.

Face To Face
18" x 24" (46cm x 61cm)
Acrylic on Masonite

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