Tuesday, 5 October 2010

The Oil Painting of My White Pet Looks like a Snowball

Painting white fur may compel an almost knee-jerk reaction of titanium white overkill on a portrait of a dog, cat or horse. The result may turn out to be a two dimensional cut out impression of the animal. How can the pet portrait artist paint white fur.

Problems with Painting White Animal Hair

Painting Horses with White Fur
Rachel Shirley
The idea of using dark pigments or those of a definite hue goes against what the brain knows about the fur, which is white. This may lead the artist into faulty practices, which could be any of the following:
  • Exclusively using white paint or very pale colour mixes to illustrate pale fur, resulting in a washed-out pet painting.
  • Using poor photographic reference of the pet, particularly flash photography that results in a bleached-out image.
  • Darkening pale fur with black oil paint for shadows, resulting in dirty dead greys.
  • Illustrating contours as dark lines, creating an illustrated effect that does not convey the true softness or texture of the animal.
  • Illustrating each hair as a white linear brush mark of equal thickness and tone, resulting in a uniform and artificial appearance to the fur.
Tips on Animal Photography

Good photographic reference is crucial (for pets have a habit of moving about unless asleep). This is especially important for a pet of one colour, such as black or white. Natural daylight is best. Only use flash photography as a fill-in to soften harsh shadows. Avoid taking the photo into the light. I find side-lit effective at capturing the contours of a dog’s face, for example, which will reveal its character. Get as close up as possible and take several photos to increase the chances of obtaining one that really captures the essence of the pet.

What Pigments Should I Use for White Fur?

The artist must override the fact that a pet is white before trying to paint white fur. The following tips may help achieve a convincing portrayal of a fluffy white pet.

Depending upon the light conditions white fur can harbour many hues such as cream, eggshell, china blue, violet beige, mauve, smoky grey, indigo and blue. Just a few oil pigments are required for white fur, which are:
  • Titanium white
  • Burnt sienna
  • Burnt umber
  • Permanent rose
  • French ultramarine
  • Pthalo blue
I ban black for it deadens neutral colours, but delicate tints can be achieved with the addition of the following colours with white.

White and burnt sienna creates rich creams for warm highlights; white with a dab of pthalo blue produces arctic white; white with ultramarine and a little burnt umber creates dark indigos for cool shadows; white with a dash of pthalo blue and permanent rose creates delicate mauves, and with a little burnt umber creates rich neutrals.

Tips on Painting White Fur

Never paint a white object onto a white painting surface or its tones will be difficult to judge. Apply a mid-toned imprimatura onto the painting surface first. I would recommend a thin wash of neutral-coloured acrylic paint. This could be a mixture of blue and brown or grey. Once dry, I transfer the drawing onto the surface using a chalk pencil.

Begin with the mid tones and work outwards to the darks and pales. Take care not to contaminate pales from a neighbouring dark colour. View the areas of light and dark as abstract shapes rather than part of an animal. Turn the photo upside down to retain the abstract appearance.

Techniques for Painting Soft Fur

Glazing is a great painting technique for emulating rich soft fur. Glazing entails applying oil paint in translucent layers. Soft sables are essential; Kolinsky sable size 1 for detail, 3 for blending and 6 for smoothing larger areas. Block in large areas of tone and colour first. Don’t worry about detail at this point for the next glaze can be used to smooth imperfections.

Soft Blending for Detail on Fur

The other secret to painting soft white fur is blending. With a soft clean brush, knit together harsh colour divisions. Keep wiping the brush on a rag to avoid the paint from building up (avoid swilling it in spirits or the paint will be too runny). Using paint neat can be controlled more easily and when dragged over the painting surface with a thin brush, will appear almost like a pastel pencil, great for soft effects such as fur. Remember to move the brush in the direction of the fur’s growth.

Painting Realistic Fur

It is not necessary to apply equal detail all over the fur or it will look flat. Apply detail to focal points only, such as the highlights, the nose or fur around the eyes. Suggesting flyaway fur will create more realism. Dragging thin paint as described earlier to suggest hair around the ears or tail will make the pet look more stroke-able. Finally, not all fur has the same appearance. Some will look finer than others, and again, will follow different growth patterns.

External Links Relating to Painting Animals

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