Bears are animals that we feel we know very well. Many of us have owned our own teddy bears as children, and such is our familiarity with toy bears and cartoon bears, that we are fairly comfortable drawing our fluffy childhood companions using simple shapes.

Real bears come in all shapes, sizes and colours. The family Ursidae contains several species, including the black bear, brown bear and polar bear, among others. Bears are mostly found in forests in the northern hemisphere, with some species living in South America and Asia; the latter being the home of the giant panda. The polar bear is a notable exception, being found near the Arctic Circle.

The giant panda (Ailuropoda melanoleuca) is one of those iconic animals that everyone immediately recognises. It is a symbol for animal conservation worldwide and has been a popular subject in wildlife art for many years. Unfortunately the giant panda remains on the endangered list. This is partly due to the destruction of its habitat, and also its low birth rate, both in the wild and in captivity.

There has always been some debate as to whether the giant panda is actually a bear, even though it has often been called a ‘panda bear’. For a long time, the panda had been thought to be related to the raccoon, but recent DNA studies have shown that it does in fact belong to the bear family.

Even if you are not a landscape artist, adding a simple, effective background will add a lot to your animal paintings, as I hope to show you in this project. I have quite a number of photographs of pandas lounging in the tops of trees in zoos. In order to create a natural-looking painting from these references, a little research will provide you with information on the panda’s environment, mountain shapes, appropriate colours and so forth.

Demonstration: Paint a Panda in Acrylics