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Digital Subscriptions > The Artist > Summer 19 > Colour choices in painting animals

Colour choices in painting animals

Ruth Buchanan’s series continues with a look at colour. This month she advises on temperature and tone when making colour choices


Okapi, watercolour, 133⁄4x93⁄4in (35x25cm)

Iam often asked ‘what colour are you using?’ How I see colours may very well be different to how you see colours, so learning to look beyond a generalisation is a valuable lesson.

Likewise, ‘what colour is (human) skin tone?’ has no easy answer. Obviously, skin colours differ depending on race and heritage, but factors such as sun exposure or what underlies the skin (bluish where there are veins, bluishgrey where bone is close to the surface, more reddish where there is muscle immediately under the skin, or even a yellow tinge due to fat under the skin!).

Then there is the possibility of a reflected colour across the skin and the colour of the light itself, and light changes during the day and varies by season.

Colour influencers

All this is also true when painting animals, with the added factor that in most cases their skin is covered in hair, fur or feathers. One answer to colour questions is that they can be any colour that you like. Looking at the paintings of Franz Marc, we find blue horses, yellow cows, purple foxes and blue and red pigs. Birds, reptiles, amphibians and aquatic creatures often show more brilliant colours than what we traditionally regard as animal colours, but some mammals also have rich deep colours, especially in bright light. It is up to us whether we push those colours or mute them. Even so, the colours we normally see and attribute to an animal or to human hair is a generalisation.

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About The Artist

Welcome to the summer issue of The Artist packed with articles by top professional artists and tutors to inspire, inform and help develop your technical and creative skills in all media. This month James Bartholomew discusses how he seeks to create more dynamic paintings using mixed-media techniques. Watercolourists will enjoy Aine Divine's demonstration showing how to paint a side profile portrait and Trevor Waugh's focus on how to capture flowers quickly using lost-and-found edge techniques. John Threlfall explains why pastels are ideal for capturing wildlife subjects and working in the field. There are also demonstrations and practical articles on how to add interest to your landscape foregrounds, capture a seasonal field of rapeseed, paint realistic-looking strawberries in acrylics and how to select the right colours and paint big summer skies. Plus we include articles on painting self-portraits, keeping a sketchbook , working on handmade linen boards, how to protect your work online, what you can and can't do about copyright issues, and more.