Painters of lively and realistic watercolor animals share their tips.
Animal magnetism is just a watercolor, sketchbook and few brushstrokes away! Painting watercolor animals is fun and invigorating for any artist and here three artists share their tips for painting the wildest of creatures!
David Bellamy’s Bears
Artist David Bellamy enjoys traveling to the world’s wildest places, and his expeditions to the Arctic inspired him with sensational scenery and wildlife—in particular, the antics of that perennial Arctic favorite—the polar bear. Painting in the Arctic has its share of unique moments (he has to add gin to his water to keep it from freezing in the sub-zero temperatures), but Bellamy has found the payoff to be well worth the effort.
Tip from David for capturing arctic antics
“Take photos to use, when needed, for the details. My main aim is to sketch the animal in the act of movement, but I use a camera as backup for the detail. At times, my polar bear subject would pose statuesquely for ages, and sometimes, after a lot of activity, she would fall asleep.”
“This huge bear was wandering around as though looking for mischief. I did many drawings, sometimes using binoculars for the more distant views and details. As the creature moved into a different position, I abandoned the drawing and started a new one, trying to catch the movement with gestural marks, and then elaborating on these if the bear kept the pose long enough. I added topographical details while the bear was out of sight, to capture the subtleties in snow and ice.”
“Here, a female bear dived into the fjord, swam to a small islet and then produced an amazing performance of drying herself by rubbing her chin, her back and various other parts in the snow. We were quite close, on a small boat, so I was able to capture much detail and work this montage up from several original sketches. Once dry, the bear began chasing birds and eating their eggs, all against a dramatic backdrop of mountains and glacier scenery.”
Grab your sketchbook and watercolors and get in touch with your wild side! Share the results with us: @ArtistsNetwork on Instagram and tag it with #everywatercolor.
Hazel Sloan’s African Treks
For artist Hazel Soan, the beauty of strong light and shadow—and a preference for a palette of yellows, reds, blues and browns—takes her to the African Bush to paint. There, with a shoulder bag containing brushes, an enamel palette, 5-ml tube colors, three lightweight water pots, a kitchen towel, a pencil, a blade, an eraser, water and paper (100 percent cotton paper, mainly Saunders Waterford, Arches and Khadi), she captures the beauty of the land, the people, and the incredible wildlife.
“”Plays of contrast bring paintings to life. Here there is a contrast in the narrative — between the eyes being alert and open in one lioness and sleepily closed in the other — and a contrast in color temperature, between the cool coloring of the white bellies (Prussian Blue) and the warm coloring of the topsides (Yellow Ochre, Burnt Siena and Violet) creating a vibrant exchange.
Hazel’s top tip for painting watercolor animals
“I carry about 35 tube colors, but use very few in any one painting. Sometimes I’ll go out with just three to six colors and a couple of brushes carried in my pockets. I can paint anything if I have a cool and warm version of the three primary colors.”
No Need to Go Far — Cathy Johnson
Traveling the world to paint is a great adventure, but—as artist Cathy Johnson proves—you don’t have to travel to faraway places to find a way to draw and paint exotic animals. Her friendship with her veterinarian, who also happens to be a wildlife rehabilitator, has provided her access to a range of wild things, which are the perfect models for the sketches Cathy makes of watercolor animals.
Cathy’s wildlife tip
Zoos and wildlife sanctuaries offer wonderful sketching opportunities, of course, as do national and state natural areas, though there you most likely have to rely on cameras or binoculars.
“I have been fortunate to have a great relationship with Pete Rucker, my veterinarian for the past 30 years; he is also a licensed wildlife rehabilitator. When the clinic has a rescued creature in to heal, before releasing it back into the wild, I often get word and race out to capture this rare close-up opportunity in my sketchbook. It’s an honor and a privilege, and surprisingly calming. I’ve sketched a bald eagle, a young grey fox, a great horned owl, a turkey vulture, a nocturnal whip-poor-will, baby deer as well as full-grown ones, young coyotes, and more. Most recently, I was introduced to this rufus phase screech owl and now I’m looking forward to sketching the 4-week-old red fox kit that just came in.”
Keep your sketchbook at the ready, and look for your next opportunity to catch exciting animal behavior! Share the results with us: @ArtistsNetwork on Instagram and tag it with #everywatercolor.
And if you are looking for more guidance and instruction on how to incorporate more animals into your art, but don’t feel super comfortable with your drawing skills, we’ve got the workshop for you: Art Journal Animals — download it now! Scroll down for a demo straight from the workshop.
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More Capturing Critters in Your Art
Enjoy this demo on drawing and painting animals (pretty birds in this case!) to further your comfort level for depicting that “animal side.” Enjoy!