Why Painting Fur in Dog Art Isn't About Texture
The fur in an oil dog painting can do a remarkable thing. From far away, it looks like every hair is meticulously plotted out. But zoom in, and you discover one or two brushstrokes creating that remarkable effect.
In this post, we’ll take a deep dive into one piece of dog art to really explore what’s going on.
Hint: it’s not about texture or “hairs”.
The Dog Oil Painting
This is a 24″ x 30″ oil portrait of Coco the chocolate lab. Below, you can use me for reference to see how big it is.
The key to the realism in this piece isn’t actually the texture— it’s the big areas of light and dark that make your eyes believe that this dog, as a whole, is real.
Creating Realism with Light and Dark
Let’s take another look at the light and dark areas, this time with some lines to help. Now it’s easier to see that the dog in the painting is effectively split into two zones.
Everything on the left of the red line is darker, with less saturated colour. On the right, there’s bright sunlight and warmth.
(for tips on taking reference photos for portraits like this one, check out this post)
Lose the Texture
Even if I blur the painting completely, you can still clearly see those shapes. And with the texture obliterated, you can still see a dog (if you’re having trouble, try standing back or squinting).
Doing Fur the Right Way in an Oil Dog Painting
So now that you can see how much of the painting is still there without the texture of the fur, where does texture come in when you’re working in oils?
Well, the simple answer is… after the shapes!
Once the dog’s areas of light and dark are established, you don’t need to add every single hair to make the painting feel realistic. In fact, that can be distracting! Take a look at a couple closeups below and see if you can spot any “hair”. Most of it is just, well, brushstrokes.
Here’s a video on how I paint, if you’d like to see how this effect is achieved.
It’s only near the focal point—the eyes—and around the edges that I add a few extra strokes to indicate actual fur.
So there you have it! You can achieve realistic fur in dog art without going overboard with every single hair. The flipside though, is that now you have to render lighting accurately, and that can be even more of a challenge 😉
Looking for More Dog Art?
See more of my work in the Paws by Zann Dog Portrait Art Gallery
Or, take a peek inside the painting process with this Chocolate Lab Portrait (also incidentally named Coco)
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To get your own dog painted on canvas, send me an email at [email protected]. I’d love to bring your art vision to life!
Thanks for reading.