How to bring an animal to life – Painting with watercolour

Painting with watercolour

Today I’m going to share with you my step by step process of painting with watercolour . I enjoy painting animals in portrait style as I feel it helps me capture their personality. The up close and personal style helps connect the viewer to the painting.

Winsor and Newton Palette
Here are the supplies for painting with watercolour; I believe the best watercolour paper on the market is Arches watercolour paper 140 lb. I use it for its smoothness and the way it holds water and colour very well. The brushes I used for this painting are; No 10 watercolour sable -round by Winsor and Newton (for larger areas), a Series 16 sable brush (this comes with the pocket box Winsor and Newton Artists’ Water Colour I use (see image above)) and 0 Miniature Pure Kolinsky for finer details.

For this painting I cut 11″ x 9″ from my Arches paper (paper comes in A1 size). I work from a series of photographs I take myself and select the best angle/expression of the animal.This is the photograph I decided to use to create my watercolour…

Photograph of goat from Sunview Farm

I start by lightly, but accurately, sketching the goat on the paper with a 2B Derwent pencil. When you are painting with watercolour you must always paint from light to dark. Watercolour is an unforgiving medium, unlike oil where you can layer over layer to cover a mistake, the same isn’t true for painting with watercolour. I started with blocking in the pinky/peach of the ears and nose. Taking the lightest pink colour I build it up slowly, rubbing out the pencil lines as I go.
Early steps of a watercolor painting of goat
I also like to work on the eyes early on in the painting as these are the most important details to get right. People connect with the eyes (the windows of the soul). It helps me relax into the painting when I get the eyes right! It’s also a good idea to block in the smaller darker areas like the nostrils at this point too as it helps you to judge the tones of the other colours in between.

Small gentle brush strokes are used to create the goat hair, again, light at first and darker and darker until you have built up the coat of the animal. Midway through painting of goat

Painting with watercolour is really rewarding but can be really frustrating.

When you paint from photographs it’s really important not to paint everything you see. Go back and look at the photograph again, can you see the lightest area on the face of the goat, it looks really white and all details of the hair have been washed out? I ignore the photo in this instance as it is not giving me the correct information. I have learned to take notes about the animal and its’ colours while I’m photographing so that when I go back to the studio to work on a painting, I can ignore the information the photograph is giving me and use my own notes to get the colours correct.

Painting with watercolour is really rewarding but can be really frustrating. I go through stages of loving it – to threatening to throw it in the bin! It’s worth persevering with it though as you can produce some beautiful results. The way I paint is quite detailed and takes a lot of time (sometimes up to 20hours to complete a small painting). But when you see and hear the reactions of someone seeing a finished piece for the first time, it’s all worthwhile. Here are the final stages of the painting; I’ve added more detail to the goat and the wooden fence that surrounds her.Final stages of painting

For all the goat lovers out there, I can’t end the blog without telling you a little bit about April. April is an 18 month old Alpine, Toggenburg, Saanen, Anglo-Nubian. She lives on Sunview Farm owned by Anne and Brian Bond in Terelton near Macroom in County Cork. Although born on April 1st, let me tell you, she is by no means a fool, as she answers to her name with a little bleat every time! (no joke). This year she won 2 reserve championships from Cork Summer Show and Dunmanway Show and won best in show at Bantry, beating her mother Maisy into second place. Maisy didn’t talk to April for 2 weeks!!! 😉 (only kidding!!!) Apologies for the goat pun, I couldn’t help myself!

By the way, Anne and Brian make delicious goats cheese; Sunview Goats Cheese

Here I am with the finished painting of April which I have titled “I’m All Ears!”.
Siobhán Duggan Irish artist holding one of her paintings
I also include the link to the print on my website for a closer look.

Thank you for reading and I’d really appreciate it if you could share this post with friends who love animals (especially goats!) or if you think they would enjoy reading my tips on painting with watercolour.

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7 thoughts on “How to bring an animal to life – Painting with watercolour

  1. Hi. This was very clear instruction. Thanks so much. I’m a senior who is just now learning watercolor painting. So great! For me, a form of meditation. I really like your work!

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