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How-To: The Basics of Painting Fur


“Bad Hair Day?” – The Basics of Painting Fur

by J.W. Baker


When painting most fur patterns, you want to start with an opaque background of a medium value color. This “medium value color” should be in accordance with the overall coloring of your subject. Once applied, you want to transfer the outlines for the fur pattern from your reference. This would be dependent on the species of your subject – such as, stripes for a tiger, spots for a jaguar or leopard, etc. Using a transparent wash of either a darker or lighter value, you define the basic fur texture, be it dense, long or short fur

Once the larger dark patterns are defined, you can also begin to add the smaller shadows in the lighter areas of the fur. You don’t want to use a value that is so dark as to be in direct contrast with these lighter areas, but rather just dark enough to be clearly visible. Using a still lighter value color, begin defining the lighter areas of fur. Paint these lighter shades on the upper portions to indicate the light source in the painting

Since we are using an airbrush to apply these color values in close proximity to one another, there is always the ever-present over-spray to contend with. In most cases over-spray is so minimal as to be inconsequential, and actually in some cases works to your advantage when you want to blend two sequential colors. There are times, however, where this same over-spray can “muddy” the contrasts you wish to obtain, and in these cases I’ve found the “Artool – Freehand Airbrush Templates” to be invaluable. This is especially true in the case of defining a contrast between two colors with subtle, yet different color values, such as outlined in the above steps.

At this time you want to mix up both lighter and darker color values to continue to add further detail and create the illusion of depth. Put more emphasis on your light source and shadow depth at this point. Also at this stage, you can use transparent values to make the centers of certain fur areas appear lighter, depending on the markings of the species – like the spots of the jaguar or leopards.

The last step is to make this illusion of fur really stand out. To create the feeling of thickness and depth to the fur, use your very darkest and lightest values to really accentuate the highlights and shadows. This process of “layering” the various color values is the real secret to creating the perception of fur you can “feel” without even touching. If you have done this process well, your reward will be to hear people say, “It just looks so real I want to reach right out and pet that animal.”

A note about templates:

For years I always prided myself on being a self-taught, no stencils, no templates, freehand kind of artist. I did quite well under these constraints. In the last year, it has been my pleasure to make the acquaintance of Gabe McCubbin, founder of Artool, who convinced me to try a couple of these templates just to see if it might make a difference in my art. Well it did, and I have to admit that I was mistaken with regard to my preconceptions about templates and how they would somehow dilute the purity of my art. Quite the contrary, actually – not only have they proven to be a real time-saver, but my finished product is even better than ever. It has a sharper, cleaner look to it, which translates to better presence. I believe I owe my clients the very best work I can do, and I have found these templates have helped me to fulfill that obligation – with pleasure. (My favorites are both Radu Vero templates “The Pharaoh” & “The Bird” and Gabe’s own “The Big Shield.”)

Reprinted with permission of ARTtalk.com


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Iwata Medea is the wholesale distributor of Iwata, Medea and Artool products in North and South America, and the UK, and does not sell directly to customers at this time. To purchase Iwata Medea or Artool products, please check our dealer pages for a reseller near you. Or call our customer service team at 503-253-7308 ext. 2000, and we’ll help you find a local reseller.