How to Paint Fur – Quick Guide for Realistic Results [+ video]

How to paint fur golden retriever dog

Focus on Form, not Detail

If you want to learn how to paint fur realistically, you’re probably thinking about rendering every single hair. But focusing on fine details won’t actually help you make your artwork more realistic! And it especially won’t help you make realistic fur.

Take a look at the image below. Does the fur look realistic?

Sunny Dog painting fur

Look ma, no hairs

If I zoom in on this painting, you can see there isn’t actually any detail there at all! I haven’t painted a single hair.

Why don’t details make art look realistic?

It’s because of the way our eyes and brain work together to produce images of the world.

Your brain is wired to first “read” big areas of light and dark, then to care about colour. Lastly, it might focus on one or two details. Brains are efficient, and they know the big scary mass of a tiger bearing down on you is waaay more important than how his fur looks.

Because of this, painting every hair is not only unnecessary, it’s counterproductive! Details distract you from what your brain interprets as “real”. In this post, I’ll show you how to paint fur the brain-friendly way.

Form = Value = Light and Dark

Take a look at these three images. On the left, I’ve removed the texture and colour. On the right, I’ve removed the value. In other words, every pixel in the image on the right is the same brightness.

Which is easier to see?

Believe it or not, the image on the right has just as much detail as the one in the middle. But does detail help you see a dog there? No.

So when you’re painting fur, what do you want to focus on to make your fur realistic? Painting details, or painting value?

Golden Retriever Dog painting

How to Paint Fur Using Value

In a nutshell, here are the only three things you need to do to learn how to paint realistic fur.

  1. Start with a brush that’s no less than 1/10th as big as your canvas
  2. Paint fast
  3. Squint

If you’re struggling with any of these, try printing off your reference as a thumbnail, about an inch and a half on its longer side. Paint that.

Fur Painting Demo

In this video, I’ll show you how I paint fur using big areas of light and dark, only adding details as a last step.

Looking for more painting tutorials?

Check out more painting tutorials on my blog, or subscribe to my newsletter below for new paintings, videos, and articles straight to your inbox.

Thanks for reading!


Picture of Zann Hemphill

Zann Hemphill

Zann Hemphill is a practising pet portrait artist, writer, and video producer.

All Posts

get News

golden retriever dog memorial
custom cat portrait art
Pet Portrait art of a dog and kitten by Zann Hemphill

Pet Portrait Inquiries

Join my pet painting newsletter!

Get new tutorials, videos, and portraits fresh from the studio. Enjoy :)