Friday, 10 September 2010

The Fur on My Dog Painting Looks Like Straw

A first attempt into a dog painting may frustrate the artist if the fur doesn’t look realistic. Illustrating every strand could result in a harsh representation of the dog’s beloved coat making it look spiky or wiry. How does the artist make a dog’s fur look strokeable?

How Not to Paint Dog Hair in Pet Portraits

How to Paint Dog Fur
Rachel Shirley
The cases of an unsatisfactory painting of dog’s fur could be due to any of all of the following practices:

  • Using a bristle brush or harsh hog hair when trying to achieve soft brushwork. Such brushes are better suited for impasto effects and broken expressive paintwork.
  • Trying to glaze over a rough paint layer that contains impasto or paint textures, leaving unwanted marks on the upper glazes.
  • Using a thin brush of 00 or 1 size to illustrate every hair on a dog’s pelt, resulting in an over-illustrated effect.
  • Outlining every hair follicle with black or brown in an attempt to represent what the brain knows about the dog hair rather than what the eye sees.
  • Painting all the fur in the same direction over the body or head in a dog portrait rather than from the true direction of the follicles.
  • Failing to closely observe the colours of the dog fur which may contain a multitude of colours including violets or crimsons.
  • Using poor photographic reference for the painting, causing the artist to guesswork how the fur looks.
  • Using the same brown, black or cream colour all over the dog fur making it look two-dimensional.
How to Make Dog Fur Look Soft in a Painting

A great way of achieving a high finish when painting fur is the practice of glazing. The following oil painting techniques will help create a realistic impression of fur.

Use two or three paint glazes, one on top of the other will help create soft effects for fur. This involves of thin layers of oil paint, one on top of the other. Each layer must be dry before applying the next coat.

Linseed oil can be mixed with the pigment to add transparency and flow for the glazing technique. But if the artist wishes to add the next layer quickly, Liquin can be added instead, although Alkyd oil paints can be used for glazing too. Liquin behaves like linseed oil except that it increases the drying time of the oil paint. Use a soft sable brush to apply the paint. There is no need to use a thin sable in the early stages. No 6 or larger would be suitable.

Treat each glaze as though it will be the final layer. In other words, aim for perfection with each layer. Blend the paint to rid of any unwanted ridges and harsh colour divisions with a soft clean brush. Don’t worry if the glaze is not perfect. It will form the foundation for the next layer, and the effect will be culminative.

Tones in Dog Fur

Apply the pale colours prior to the darks to avoid colour contamination. Painting onto a toned ground or imprimitura will help the artist judge tones highlights more effectively. Carefully observe the colours of the fur. Highlights often contain blues or greens. Darks often contain crimsons, which add warmth and richness to the colour of fur.

Remember to periodically stand back from the painting to gain an overall impression.

Definition can be added at the finishing touches by applying the ultimate highlights and darks of the fur. Using a soft fine sable can be used to drag neat paint at selected areas to express individual hairs, but not every hair. Suggesting detail at focal points in the fur will result in a smoother finish as opposed to illustrating each hair in full.

Move the brushstrokes in the direction of the hair’s growth. In the case of a dog portrait, this is often outwards from the ridge of the nose. In the case of the body, this will be towards the dog’s flank from the length of the spine.

Art Materials for Painting Dog Fur

Winsor Newton Artists' Oil Color - Permanent Rose, 37 ml
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buy from
Liquin or linseed oil will add flow and transparency to the oil paint which will help achieve a high finish when painting dog fur. The former will accelerate the drying time, the latter will retard it. Never use both for the same painting as the varying drying rates will cause stresses in the painting.

Soft brushes such as sables are essential for painting fur. Sizes 1 for detail and 6 or bigger for blending would be ideal.

Many colours can be found in dog fur, such as blue highlights and warm darks. Burnt umber and burnt sienna are great for rich dark tones and beautiful creams. Alizarin crimson or permanent rose will add heat to blacks. Bluis highlights can be achieved by adding a little ultramarine or pthalo blue to white. But always look out for other colours in a dog’s coat. Making the dog fur look soft and realistic can be achieved by blending each paint layer.

Links on Oil Painting

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