7 Proven Techniques for Realistic Wildlife Paintings
Written by  Daisie Team
Published on 7 min read


  1. Observe wildlife in their natural habitat
  2. Use references for accuracy
  3. Create depth with light and shadow
  4. Use colors to create realism
  5. Pay attention to details
  6. Use the right brush strokes
  7. Practice makes perfect

Art and nature lovers alike will find immense joy and satisfaction in mastering wildlife painting techniques. Wildlife painting brings together the beauty of the natural world and the creative expression of art. This blog post presents seven proven techniques that can help you improve your wildlife painting skills, make your artwork more realistic, and ultimately, bring the essence of the wild onto your canvas. Let's delve into these techniques, starting with the first one: observing wildlife in their natural habitat.

Observe wildlife in their natural habitat

One of the most valuable wildlife painting techniques is spending time observing animals in their natural surroundings. This allows you to understand their behavior, movements, and anatomy, which are all critical elements in creating realistic wildlife paintings.

  • Observe wildlife in different settings: Whether it's a local park, a national reserve, or even your own backyard, observing wildlife in different environments helps you understand how animals interact with their surroundings. This knowledge is valuable when you want to create a realistic habitat in your paintings.
  • Study animal behavior: Animals have unique behaviors and habits. By observing these, you can capture their true essence in your artwork. For instance, watching how a deer bends to graze or how a bird perches on a branch can provide you with the details you need to make your paintings come to life.
  • Note physical characteristics: Pay close attention to the animal's physical characteristics such as the texture of their fur, the shape of their eyes, and the pattern on their skin or feathers. These details will make your wildlife paintings more realistic and engaging.

Observing wildlife in their natural habitat requires patience and time, but it's a rewarding process that significantly improves your wildlife painting techniques. So, grab your sketchbook, head outdoors, and start observing!

Use references for accuracy

While observing wildlife in their natural habitat is invaluable, it's not always possible to capture every detail in real-time. That's where references come in. Using references is a reliable wildlife painting technique to ensure accuracy in your art.

  • Photographs: High-quality photographs can be an artist's best friend. They capture intricate details that you might miss in real-time observations. You can use them to study and replicate textures, patterns, and colors accurately. Just remember, if you're using someone else's photos, make sure to get permission first.
  • Sketches: Quick sketches made during your wildlife observations can serve as valuable references. They capture the motion and behavior of the animal, which you can later refine and detail in your painting.
  • Anatomy Books: Understanding the anatomy of the animal you're painting is key to creating a realistic representation. Anatomy books offer detailed insights into an animal's bone structure, muscle arrangement, and other physical attributes that can help you paint more accurately.

Using references isn't about copying every detail exactly, but about understanding the subject better. They provide the information you need to bring authenticity and precision to your wildlife painting techniques. So, gather your references and let them guide you towards creating an accurate and realistic wildlife painting.

Create depth with light and shadow

Mastering the interplay of light and shadow is a critical wildlife painting technique for creating depth and realism in your artwork. It adds a three-dimensional effect, making your subjects appear lifelike on a two-dimensional canvas. So, how do we do that?

First, you need to understand the source of light in your scene. Is it a bright midday sun or the soft glow of a setting sun? The direction and intensity of light will determine the highlights and shadows on your subject.

  • Highlights: These are the areas where light is hitting directly. They should be the lightest parts of your painting. Be cautious not to overdo it though— too much light might make your subject appear flat and washed out.
  • Mid-tones: Mid-tones represent the color of the subject in its natural state, unaffected by direct light or shadow. They typically occupy the largest area in your painting.
  • Shadows: These are the areas hidden from the light source. Shadows should be the darkest parts of your painting. But remember, shadows are not just darker versions of the mid-tone color. They often have a color of their own, influenced by the environment and the color of the light source.

Playing with light and shadow can be challenging, but it's an exciting part of wildlife painting techniques that can dramatically improve your artwork. So, take your time and don't be afraid to experiment with different lighting scenarios. It can make the difference between a flat image and a wildlife painting that seems to leap off the canvas.

Use colors to create realism

A key element in creating realistic wildlife paintings is knowing how to use colors effectively. Color brings life to your paintings and captures the unique hues of nature.

The first step to mastering color is understanding the color wheel. It's a tool that shows how different colors relate to each other. You've probably seen it in your art class. It's that circle with different colors around it, remember? Knowing how to mix primary colors (red, blue, yellow) to create secondary colors (green, orange, purple) is fundamental in wildlife painting techniques.

But there's more to color than just mixing. Let's look at a few points:

  • Saturation: This refers to the intensity of a color. Highly saturated colors are vivid and bright, while desaturated colors are duller. In wildlife painting, it's important to balance saturation. Too much can make your painting look cartoonish, while too little can make it appear washed-out.
  • Temperature: Colors can be warm (reds, oranges, yellows) or cool (blues, greens, purples). Warm colors tend to come forward in a painting, while cool colors recede. You can use this to your advantage in creating depth and perspective in your wildlife painting.
  • Value: This is the lightness or darkness of a color. By varying the value of a color, you can create a sense of volume and form. This is especially important in wildlife painting where you want your animals to look three-dimensional.

Understanding color might seem a bit technical at first, but it's a fundamental part of wildlife painting techniques. Don't worry if you don't get it right the first time. Like any other skill, it takes practice. But once you've got the hang of it, you'll see a significant improvement in your wildlife paintings.

Pay attention to details

Have you ever noticed how every wildlife creature has its unique features? The pattern on a leopard's fur, the texture of an elephant's skin, or the delicate veins on a butterfly's wings. These details are what make wildlife painting techniques stand out. Capturing these details might seem challenging, but with a few tips, you can master this skill.

First, take your time. Remember, Rome wasn't built in a day. It's easy to rush into painting the big picture, but pause for a moment. Look closely at your subject. Notice the little things that make it unique. The more you observe, the better you'll get at capturing details.

  • Texture: This is how the surface of something feels or looks like it would feel. For example, fur and feathers have different textures. By capturing these textures accurately, you can make your wildlife paintings more realistic.
  • Patterns: Many animals have patterns on their bodies, like the stripes on a zebra or the spots on a leopard. When painting these patterns, pay attention to their size, shape, and distribution. Even slight variations can make a big difference.
  • Eyes: They say that the eyes are the window to the soul. This is especially true in wildlife painting. The expression in an animal's eyes can bring your painting to life. So, don't forget to give special attention to the eyes.

Remember, it's the little details that can make your painting come alive. So, take your time, observe closely, and use these wildlife painting techniques to capture the beauty of nature in your artwork.

Use the right brush strokes

Just as a writer uses words to tell a story, painters use brush strokes to do the same. The way you handle your brush can dramatically change the mood, texture, and overall feel of your wildlife painting. So, let's talk about some techniques you can use to get those brush strokes just right.

Firstly, understand that different brushes create different effects. A flat brush is great for blocking in large areas and creating hard edges. A round brush, on the other hand, is perfect for detailing and controlled strokes. And then, there's the fan brush, ideal for creating fur and feather textures.

  • Variety is the spice of life: Don't stick to one type of brush stroke. Mix it up. Use different sizes and types of brushes, and experiment with different stroke techniques. Variety adds interest and depth to your painting.
  • Direction matters: The direction of your brush strokes can suggest movement and form. For example, if you're painting a bird, the direction of your strokes for the feathers should follow the direction of their growth.
  • Pressure: Varying the pressure you apply on your brush can also create different effects. Light pressure can give a soft, blurred effect, while heavy pressure can create a more textured, bold look.

So, the next time you pick up that brush, remember these tips. It's not just about the colors you use, but also how you apply them. It's these small details that make a big difference in wildlife painting techniques.

Practice makes perfect

The path to mastering any skill, including wildlife painting, is paved with consistent practice. While it might be a well-worn saying, it carries a hefty dose of truth. So, let's delve into why practice is a cornerstone of improving your wildlife painting techniques.

Starting a new painting can be daunting, especially when your goal is to capture the intricate beauty of wildlife. However, understand that it's perfectly okay to make mistakes. In fact, it's through these errors that you learn the most. Therefore, don't be afraid to experiment. Try different techniques, play with colors, and don't shy away from challenges.

  • Set a routine: Regularity is key. Even if you can only spare fifteen minutes a day, use that time to practice. Over time, you'll notice steady improvement.
  • Break it down: If a subject seems too complex, break it down into smaller, manageable parts. Focus on mastering one element at a time, be it fur texture, eye details, or shadow effects.
  • Keep a sketchbook: A sketchbook is a fantastic tool for practice. It allows you to experiment, capture ideas, and track your progress over time.

In conclusion, remember that every master was once a beginner. The journey to perfecting wildlife painting techniques is not a sprint, but a marathon. So, keep practicing, stay patient, and enjoy the process.

If you enjoyed learning about techniques for realistic wildlife paintings and want to further enhance your skills, check out the workshop 'How to Paint Water' by Jauni (tofublock). This workshop will teach you valuable techniques for painting water, which is an essential element in many wildlife paintings. Combine your newfound knowledge of wildlife painting techniques with Jauni's guidance on painting water to create stunning and realistic wildlife masterpieces.