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Article: Painting lifelike fur

Painting lifelike fur

Painting lifelike fur

I enjoy painting animals, most of the time they appear in my landscape paintings, rabbits, sheep, cattle etc a smaller element in a bigger scene, but I find a stand alone piece, can be striking as well as challenging, which is fantastic for your creative and artistic development. 

Many artists know creating the array of textures in an animals coat can be tricky!  Finding and developing techniques to truly represent fine, soft, thick, silky, woolly, textures in various animals, is something I've been working on for many years. I've included individual animal portrait lessons in my Art School, for the beginner through to advanced painter, to help you hone these skills.

I use various brushes for this subject, the Professional brush set which includes 17 essential brushes is available in my store website through this link.





I have expanded my brush collection, to include new sets, new brushes and new size of original brushes. You will find them here


First, apply the grid to the reference image and panel, this is an important element to ensure your painting is as accurate as possible and in proportion.  When the sketching diagram is completed, you can then add a mid-tone block in.  Use the block-in guide which is included in my lessons, to get the colours accurate. It helps to keep the paint as smooth as possible and follow the direction of the fur growth with your brushstrokes, soften the edges so there isn't a harsh transition between light and dark areas, you can use the Blender fan brush to achieve this.

Lightly cover the block-in layer with a thin coat of darker tones, this adds depth and makes it easier for the delicate highlights to cover those areas.

Ensure you follow the direction of the fur growth with your brushstrokes, and pay attention to where the lighter tones of the fur are in particular.

Watch my tutorial 'Tabby Cat' to see the various stages in more detail here 

Using the finer Rigger brush and thinning the paint slightly will enable you to create tiny strands of delicate fur, building up the individual hairs gradually. 

Being observant is key at this stage, pay particular attention to the photograph to ensure not only a true colour representation but also the length and thickness of the brush marks and the direction the fur is growing in. All of these things are going to mean your painting looks more realistic.

Watch my tutorial 'How to paint a sheep' here

Replicating the wavy texture of the sheep's woolly fleece in my painting was a challenge, trickier than painting fur but it was great fun developing the brush techniques and I found it highly rewarding! 

As in all my paintings the block-in comes first, then you have to apply darker tones but it is important not to go too dark too soon in this instance as it will make it difficult to get the lightness that you need in the fleece. To start with add minimal amounts of mid-tones, onto the areas where they are most obvious, you don't need to do a blanket cover, use light brush marks in a slightly wavy motion, following that you can then add in darker tones using a rigger brush which will enable you to add the brighter colours afterwards, by doing this it gives you a nice depth of texture. 

I tried a couple of different ways to achieve the wavy effect of the fleece, with the brighter tones, don't be afraid to experiment to find the best brush for you. I tried the Dagger and the Rigger brush at this stage.  I found using the Rigger brush made it easier to create the fine and very delicate wavy texture, flattening the brush as I do when painting grass and gently using the very tip of the brush. The difficulty is getting the shaggy look, but the trick is to gradually add layers, adjusting and experimenting with the thickness of the paint that you put on your brush and the way you apply the brush strokes. 

I have other tutorials available to watch, which will help you hone your skills in creating lifelike fur. 

Watch my YouTube time lapse painting, Young Bess, below. Also available as a lesson on MJS tv.


You can buy my brushes here

Why don’t you give this a try, it may seem like a challenge, but with the right equipment and techniques your painting will definitely improve!

Happy painting!

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