Rick Lovell Fur Texture Wolf: Part 1

For this texture tutorial I wanted to paint an animal with interesting colors and textures, and a snarling wolf fit the bill nicely; the face and head have short, mostly white fur that grows in a very particular pattern, the back and sides have long flowing fur that grows in layers of beige, tan and black that cascades back and down, and the undersides have medium length white fur with lots of subtle color shifts depending upon the ambient and reflected light.



The photos I used were from several sources. The internet (Flickr) is where I found the main image of the snarling wolf, which was shot by Simon Leech: www.SimonLeechPhotography.com. Thanks to Simon for allowing me to use his incredible photo! I also used books and a couple of old calendars which are a great source for excellent photographic reference; the reproductions are big and very crisp.



Since I was cobbling together several photos for my painting, I did a black-andwhite value study using Prismacolor pencils and ink on gray charcoal paper. It helped me resolve tonal transitions and the lighting scheme before I executed the piece in paint.



Once I was happy with the drawing, I traced an outline on parchment paper. Using graphite transfer paper (I make it myself with graphite powder and rubber cement thinner on tracing paper, but it is available commercially in different colors under the brand name Saral Transfer Paper), I use a red ball point pen to transfer the image to the Frisk CS-10 Illustration Board; the ball point pen is more visible than pencil and helps me see what has been transferred and what hasn’t.



I cover the entire image with .003 mil acetate and tape it along the top and bottom edges to keep it from shifting. Using a new #11 X-Acto blade, I cut along the outside edge of the wolf with a saw-tooth like pattern to define the edges of the fur. The loose acetate will flutter a bit when I airbrush the background, creating a much softer edge than adhesive frisket would create, but more defined than free hand painting would allow.



The reflection in this photo shows the shape of the cut. I’m being careful to score and not cut through the acetate; cut marks will show in the finished artwork, especially on plate-finished illustration board. Once the acetate is scored all the way around, I loosen the tape along one edge and bend the acetate to break it along the scored lines. Once it snaps, I carefully separate the pieces, taking care not to tear the fragile film.



Here you can see the entire wolf shape is masked off, ready to paint the background a solid black. I could have waited until later to paint the background, but I want to establish the dark value key early on so I will be better able to judge the values of the wolf’s fur against the dark background; if I were to wait until the wolf was near completion to paint the background, the likelihood is that I would have painted the wolf too light in comparison with the dark background.


The Holbein Black ink makes a nice, uniform velvety black for the background. Notice the dark patches on the acetate - they are indications of a buildup of static electricity in the acetate as the air and pigment hit it.

8. The static can be problematic if the desired result is a pristine, clean masked area because the static pulls paint underneath and it collects in dark patches on the surface of the artwork as well as on the acetate; note the dark areas along the wolf’s back. Luckily, this piece isn’t affected by variations in value. In fact, the variation makes the fur look even more convincing.


The edges of the fur are nice and soft, but with a defined shape. At this point, I remove the acetate mask and spray freehand along the edge to darken and soften the edges of the fur.


Frisk Film Matte Frisket is cut to fit over the features of the wolf’s face. I want to establish the values in the fur and head before painting the details of the mouth and eyes; if I paint these areas too soon without having the darker surrounding areas as visual reference to accurately assess the values, I would probably end up making the mouth too light.


A window is cut out of a sheet of Canary tracing paper, and the paper is glued to the frisket with rubber cement. The tracing paper is to keep any overspray from fouling the artwork when the details of the mouth are painted later. An X-Acto knife with a fresh #11 blade is used to cut the mouth and eye shapes out of the frisket film.


The frisket is in place protecting the mouth and eye before the color is airbrushed on the wolf’s fur. The frisket and tracing paper that was removed is carefully set aside to be used later when it’s time to paint the mouth and eye.


A large piece of .003 mil acetate is cut as a floating mask to protect the white areas of the wolf’s face and neck. The acetate is taped to the frisket to keep it from shifting, but it is allowed to float free and flutter a bit when the colored fur is painted around it. Notice that none of the acetate has been completely removed, just hinged with tape so the various areas can be lifted or replaced depending on the area to be painted.


The tan tones go on first to establish the general color key of the fur. The tan is a mix of three colors; Com-Art’s transparent Smoke, Bright Red and Ochre. The color is rich and warm, and it is intense enough to reach the deep hues of the fur with just a few glazes of color. There is no need to be super-careful here, so the paint is sprayed in pretty quickly.


For soft edges, it’s hard to beat a French curve as a masking device. The precise curves of stiff, transparent plastic are easy to hold exactly where you need to in order to create convincing form shadows.


The underpainting is pretty much complete at this point. The upper fur is warm with shades of yellows, tans and oranges, and the underside and muzzle are cooler with blues and violets providing the shadows. From this point on it will be a case of adding darker tones and then scraping away the thin paint with an X-Acto knife to create the lighter hairs in the fur.


The “chip” brush is a cheap, disposable brush that works great for creating the illusion of fur. The sparse bristles move aside when the airbrush blast hits them, allowing the color to penetrate the spaces between them.


The technique is to press down gently on the body of the brushes bristles so the bristles don’t vibrate too much. Spray very lightly along the tips of the bristles and a bit further down where the bristles are tighter together. Be careful not to release too much paint or it will pool up and spread under the bristles creating a big blob… go slowly and check the bristles every few seconds to make sure they aren’t getting saturated with paint. If the bristles begin to stick together or get stiff, wash the brush thoroughly and dry it before resuming spraying. (I use rubbing alcohol to remove all the acrylic paint and binder from the brush.)


This is what the chip brush fur should look like; the actual hairs are light in value whereas the spaces between are dark. I spray along the edge to create a band of fur, then move the brush down a bit and spray another band, and so on. The effect is a multi-layered thickness of fur, not just a superficial series of light lines on a uniformly dark field.


Be sure to move the chip brush often, and manipulate the bristles as you go to prevent any repeated patterns from appearing. You also want to pay close attention to the lay of the fur in your reference; angle the chip brush so that the edge is perpendicular to the direction of the fur’s growth pattern.


The fan brush is a good way to paint dark hairs on a light background. Here, I’m working some dark hairs into the predominantly white cheek and neck fur. The fur in this area grows in radiating, concentric arcs away from the cheek area, so I’m careful to aim my brushstrokes at that area, just below the eye. If you pay careful attention to the direction that the fur grows, even imperfect brushstrokes read correctly. Conversely, brushstrokes that go the wrong direction can ruin the believability of your painted fur.


The fan brush can also be used, like the chip brush, as an airbrush mask to create radial dark shapes between strands of fur.

23. The round sable watercolor brush is the most versatile brush for fur. Its typical use is to keep its natural fine point and paint one strand at a time. But it is much more efficient to splay out the bristles of the brush in a gentle arc creating several very fine points. This image shows the effect of short, choppy strokes to impart more of a textural effect, good for the short fur on the wolf’s snout.


Longer, flowing strokes quickly create the effect of longer fur, such as that on the wolf’s back and flanks. These strokes, in combination with the airbrush effects and scraping with the knife create the layers of fur that become convincing.


The shorter, coarser fur is being laid in with dark tones of brown and gray using the fan brush and the watercolor brush, again being careful to replicate the direction that the fur grows on the animal.

Click here to read Part 2

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  1. Rick Lovell Fur Texture Wolf_part 2 « Airbrush Action Magazine Airbrush Action Magazine - May 20, 2014

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