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Painting animals in watercolour with Jake Winkle

Posted on Thu 18 Jan 2018

When I think of animals I tend to categorise them into two broad groups: those with distinct patterns or designs and those made up of textures or no design. A subject with a strong pattern like a zebra will be approached slightly differently from the highland cow because no matter how wild I go with colour and mark making, I still want the stripes to be discernible. On the other hand, because the highland cow has no distinct pattern, I don’t have to worry about expressive brushstrokes muddling it.

Working on dry paper

Hamish, watercolour on Arches Rough 140lb (300gsm), (51x71cm)
Vigorous directional brushstrokes and use of warm and cool colour formed this wonderful shaggy beast.

Hamish (above) is a ginger highland cow, very shaggy and standing proud with the sunlight catching his back. I love to paint just the essence of the subject, which in this instance was his relaxed stature and appealing rough hair. I could have painted him completely wet-into-wet but I like to have strong jagged elements of white paper to show through, so I decided to work on dry paper and, to create extra depth, I worked back into the colour while it was still wet. To create form you need light and shade and I try to exaggerate both, so the lighter hair on his back was bleached to almost white, as was the elegant fringe on his head.

I had to work briskly to keep the paint flowing and used brushstrokes that mainly followed the form of the animal; the white spaces between individual strokes imply the direction of the hair. Whilst the colours tended to be in the brown/red range I used yellows, blues and greens, too. Light against dark reveals form and warm against cool adds luminosity.



This painting was applied straight to dry paper without a pencil sketch to underpin it. My motivation was to produce the lovely shine that appears on the smooth shell of the wings, and this was achieved through the use of pale cool blue merging with the rich red of the shell. I had to paint quickly so I could merge all the different elements, leaving spaces for the black dots, which were applied immediately so they were slightly soft-edged into the wings. The negative spaces of white on the back are really important as they help with the effect of shine and would have looked contrived if they had first been plotted with a pencil. The head and legs have much thicker pigment and the legs were painted with a dry-brush technique to give them texture


Humble Ladybird, watercolour on Arches Rough 140lb (300gsm), (32x47cm).

All the hard work had been done in stage one, so all that was left was to underpin the ladybird with a shadow and have fun with some spatter.

Jake Winkle
Jake uses the Luxartis range of kolinsky sable brushes, available from His book Light and Movement in Watercolour is published by Batsford. Jake has three teaching DVDs, available from Town House Films, www.townhouse For more information about Jake and his paintings, see www.winkle

This is an extract from the March 2018 issue of The Artist

Click here to purchase yoyr copy to read more from Jake

Painting animals in watercolour with Jake Winkle


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