How I Paint Wildlife Using Watercolours

Updated: Apr 10

Written as part of the #BehindTheBusiness Challenge - Day 3: "Process"

It may look like I just nonchalantly spread paint about, but behind each of my pieces is an immense amount of thought. Watercolours are a temperamental medium and, because I’m a glutton for punishment, my style requires the most high risk techniques. To ensure I stand a chance of not having to a) start over, b) tear my hair out, or c) scream into the void, I do a heck of a lot of planning. By planning, I mainly mean thinking carefully about my colour choices, drowning myself in swatches, and then doing a mock up on my computer.


Once I’m confident in my colours and the shapes I want to create, it’s time to splash paint around! This is the stage where everything could go wrong, so I like to totally avoid the anxiety by plugging myself into my music, exiting this plane of existence, and letting the banging tunes guide my brushstrokes. It also helps to make an offering to the watercolour gods, by sprinkling salt over your work - but that is optional.

Underpainting & eyes

With the stress of painting the background behind me, it’s time to chill and get an underpainting down. I am very good at being overly enthusiastic with my brushstrokes, and painting over areas that need to be left white. With an underpainting in place, I can avoid that by blocking out fur patterning and/or tonal value, and ensure there’s a lovely glowing colour to add depth to subsequent layers.


Aka the “ugly stage”. Every single piece of art any artist ever creates goes through this – it’s that point where you’re like “well, guess I’ve forgotten how to paint”. It’s actually just the stage at which it’s starting to take shape, but because there’s no shadows in it’s not popping – yet! My main aim with this layer is to flesh the colours out, start to add some lush textures in too.

Shadows & details

I LIVE for this part of the process, this is where I drag my work from “well, that’s a thing” to “oh boy, that’s a thing”. Adding shadows and fine details is where I truly sculpt the form and atmosphere of the animal, and it’s SO satisfying; there’s nothing quite like watching those highlights pop when you balance them out with rich shadows. Once this layer is done, it's time to add the whiskers and pick out a few fine hairs in gouache, splatter a bit of colour on, and sign it!

The Finished Piece!

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