Watercolor Painting Techniques for Wildlife

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    Get Going with Graphite

    • For close-ups of fur or feathers, start by drawing out your composition with a graphite pencil. Tracing these lines with a small brush and minimal water provides a level of control over details that the paint alone does not. Choose a medium-soft lead, such as a 2B or a standard No. 2 writing pencil. This will help avoid mixing of the paint and graphite, which can muddy your art. The more details you sketch, the more exact your painting can be. Conversely, if you give yourself just a hint of where things belong, you leave plenty of room for spontaneous play with the paint.

    Value: The Dark Side

    • Start with the dark lines around the eye and leave the lightest parts unpainted.BananaStock/BananaStock/Getty Images

      Remember that your paper will always be lighter than your paint. Start with the darker areas of your painting, but be careful not to fill in the lighter areas as you do so. For instance, when painting an animal's eye, know where the light will reflect before you touch paint to paper. Use a small, round brush and fill in the darkest portions. Slowly work lighter until only the reflections are left as raw paper. The contrast of the white paper and the darker pigments will create a glassy effect. This concept also works with larger areas like fur, feathers and water.

    A Pinch of Salt

    • For a dappled look on fur, fins or background scenery, try a pinch of salt. While the paint is still wet, sprinkle salt in the areas that require irregular texture, patterns or reflections. The salt will absorb the water beneath it, leaving behind spotted lighter areas. Experiment with this technique on practice paper first, especially if you like more control. Salting your watercolors in areas of light can make the scales of underwater fish seem to shimmer or suggest the organic patterns of a leopard's coat.

    Bleeding: Water for Water

    • Bleeding creates a spontaneous blend of colors.Comstock Images/Comstock/Getty Images

      Bleeding is a spontaneous and somewhat unpredictable watercolor technique. It involves painting wet paint into wet surfaces. This is useful for underwater scenes as with sea life. To bleed the paint, lay down a wet layer of color. Then, quickly paint right beside it with another wet layer of color. For extreme bleeding, wet down the paper first and then add color. You can also use bleeding to create clouds behind your land animal subjects. For this situation, first mask your unpainted animals with liquid frisket. Then bleed in your sky. When the sky is dry, remove the frisket mask.

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