Wildlife artists, landscape painters and even portrait artists (thanks to subjects who don mink stoles or want the family pooch included) face a particular challenge when it comes to fur. If the pelt is at relatively close range, the details of the fur will be visible. But you certainly can?t paint every single hair. Nor would you want to.
Instead, you have to get across the effect of fur—the observer?s eye is willing to accept a few lines as the representation of many countless hairs. This is an optical phenomenon that can work to your advantage. If you?re just developing your fur-painting skills, keep it simple. It?s better to develop less detail and do a good job of it than to overdo it and ruin your painting. As your skill improves with experience, you can try a more meticulous approach.
Between the Lines
The most common way to paint fur is to use lines, either brushed on or etched into dried, dark paint to expose the surface underneath. These lines suggest the nature of the hairs (coarse and stout; fine and wispy) and their directional quality, as well as whether they?re straight, curly, long or so on.
A typical brush choice is a small watercolor round, with which you can accumulate brushstrokes that simulate the texture of hair. Brushes specifically designed for painting lines, called liners or riggers (so named because they were designed to render the rigging lines in paintings of boats), are also useful. I used a small rigger, for example, to paint the whiskers on the kitten?s face.
Sample Strokes: I use four specialized brushes most often to paint fur, and their strokes are shown here. The first three are Loew-Cornell rakes. The one on the far left is a ?-inch regular rake with a flat end. Next to it is a filbert rake (also ? inch), which has a rounded end. The third is a small bristle fan rake, which looks like a regular fan blender, except that it has stiff and widely divided bristles. I painted the two lines on the far right with a Daniel Smith 5/0 rigger.
Rakes—sometimes called combs—are brushes with hairs that separate into small groups. These handy brushes (which, by the way, can also be used to paint grass) save time because they allow you to do several lines in one stroke. You can also use a fan blender brush to paint some effects of fur.
Finally, you can customize a brush yourself. Try flattening a round brush by squeezing the ferrule with a pair of pliers, causing the hairs to separate and splay. Alternatively, you can reshape a brush by trimming or thinning the bristles.
Fundamentals of Fur
There are no real secrets to painting convincing fur, but keep in mind these three basic elements. The first is observation: Study the kind of fur that you want to paint and learn its characteristics. Then you must experiment: Testing your tools and techniques will tell you the best ways to produce the effects that you want. The third element, perhaps the most important of all, is your personal style. With a little practice and experience, your own unique approach will just come to you naturally.
A Less Linear Approach: To paint the furry-looking coat collar in this demonstration portrait from my book Watercolor Basics: People (North Light Books), I used Winsor and Newton?s granulation medium. This additive causes the pigment particles to separate from the liquid wash and drift to the bottom of the puddle. As pigment settles on the surface of the watercolor board, it creates a randomly textured appearance. As you can see, it can be very effective for simulating the look of fur.