Painting Vibrant Leopards in Animal Art
|How to Paint Leopards|
Expressing the leopard’s coat as one flat colour which might be cadmium yellow, yellow ochre or a similar pale, beige-brown.
Lightening this colour with white and darkening it with black for shadows will only create dull colours and bland highlights.
- Expressing the leopard’s spots with black and only black.
- Impressing spots all over the leopard with similar marks, shape and size, giving the leopard an artificial quality.
- Failing to add highlights to the eyes, causing the leopard to have a dull look.
Poor visual resources will force the artist to guesswork vital detail, such as the facial features, the under-fur and how the spots shift in appearance throughout the body of the big cat. Guesswork can also force the artist to rely on memory, which could result in an unconvincing portrayal of a big cat.
The Colour of a Leopard’s Fur
Markings on any animal’s coat including the leopard’s spots will exhibit tonal and chromatic variations throughout the body. Spots may appear black on the leopard’s haunches, yet almost china blue on its spine if the light hits it. Observing such shifts in the spots’ hues is key to recreating a leopard with form.
Observe how the base colour of the leopard’s coat shifts around areas of muscle, bone and tendons. This main colour is seldom just one colour. In the case of a yellow leopard, don’t introduce black to obtain shadows for this will result in dirty mixes. Darken yellow with any colour in the violet spectrum such as ultramarine or midnight-blue instead. A little burnt umber will tone down colours without making it dull. Add the dark colour into the lighter colour rather than the other way round.
Useful pigments to use in the yellow parts of the leopard are: cadmium yellow (pale), lemon yellow, burnt umber, cadmium red, permanent rose, burnt sienna, ultramarine and white.
The Colour of a Snow Leopard
If painting a snow leopard, look out for definite hues within the fur. In certain lighting conditions, the fur may appear blue, indigo or cream. The following pigments would come in useful for the snow leopard: burnt sienna, burnt umber, ultramarine, pthalo blue, permanent rose and white.
Getting the base colour right, whether an Arctic leopard or the African variety will provide a firm foundation on which to paint the spots.
Art Technique for Painting Leopards
If painting the leopard in one go, don’t paint the spots first, as this dark colour will sully the surrounding colour. Begin with the bright colours and the highlights. Work towards the shaded areas as the painting progresses. Blend out the pale areas with fine sables into the direction of the fur, working around the spotted areas (don’t worry if you go over the edges).
Blur the vision to get an overall impression of how this base colour varies in tone. Pay special attention to the face. The eyes, snout and mouth will possess a fair amount of pale colours. Blues and creams will often be perceived within these shaded areas of pale fur.
The Colour of Leopard’s Spots
Allow the paint to dry over several day if working in oils, or work straight onto the spots afterwards if using acrylics. Don’t rush this part as the spots are key to making the leopard eye-catching for the right reasons.
Observe how the markings form chains in various areas of the leopard and how the spots shift in form from spine, haunches and legs. Some spots will echo the shape of the neighbouring spots; others will change abruptly.
The markings on the face will melt into abstract formations around the eyes. The markings on either side of the leopard’s face will not always be truly symmetrical.
How to Paint the Leopard’s Face
Make note of how the features on the leopard differs from humans. Like many big cats, the eyes will be overshadowed by the furry brows; the eye will exhibit mostly the iris with little white and a soupcon of highlights around the pupil.
Leopard’s nuzzle and gums (if visible) will exhibit a variety of dark crimsons and sometimes black. For these areas, I will use permanent rose, ultramarine, burnt umber, (sometimes) pthalo blue and white for highlights.
Always work on the leopard’s face when feeling most up to the challenge, as the face will form the focal point. Put the painting away for another day if things aren’t working out.
PaintingTechniques for Leopards
Glazing and impasto are two contrasting but ideal techniques to use for the leopard. Impasto is the application of thick paint via a bristle or palette knife to emulate the texture of the fur. Glazing by contrast is the application of successive layers of paint to deepen hues.
Apply the first coat with acrylics, alkyds or a thin layer of oil paint. The overlying glaze will eradicate flaws, sharpen detail and deepen colours.
Painting Leopards for Animal Art
Use the background to bring out the form of the leopard. Dark blue foliage will add contrast to the leopard’s warm colours. Deep bronze of a parched landscape can be used to echo the colours of the leopard’s coat, as can snow for a snow leopard. Always look for opportunities to bring out contrast to the leopard’s colours and/or tone. This will help bring the leopard into life in painting.
Articles on Oil Painting
Basics on the Colour Theory
My blog on teaching art
How to paint tigers
Demonstration on painting Kilimanjaro