7 Techniques for Wildlife Art to Enhance Paintings
Written by  Daisie Team
Published on 7 min read


  1. Paint with layers
  2. Use reference photos
  3. Highlight the subject
  4. Incorporate the light source
  5. Add textures
  6. Depict movement
  7. Showcase the environment

Painting is a journey of exploration and expression, and when it comes to wildlife art, the joy is in the details. Capturing the grace of a gazelle or the majesty of a mountain lion in their natural habitat requires a specific set of skills. But fear not, fellow artist! Here are seven easy-to-follow wildlife art painting techniques that can take your artwork from good to great. Whether you're a seasoned professional or just starting to dip your brushes into the world of wildlife art, these techniques will add depth, realism, and a touch of magic to your paintings.

Paint with Layers

One of the most effective wildlife art painting techniques to enhance your work is painting with layers. Just like a cake is built layer by layer, starting with the base and ending with the frosting, your painting too should be constructed layer by layer. This technique will not only give your work depth, but it will also make the colors pop and add a sense of realism that's hard to beat.

Start with a base layer to set the mood of the painting. This could include the sky, the grass, or any other part of the background. Next, add the middle layer, which can include the more detailed parts of the background like trees or hills. Finally, it's time for the top layer. This is where you paint the main subject of your art — the wildlife. Whether it's a bird in flight or a lion lounging in the sun, this top layer requires the most focus and detail.

Tip: Use thin layers of paint and let each layer dry before you start with the next. This will prevent the colors from smudging and will also give you more control over the details. Remember: patience is key when it comes to layering!

So, next time you pick up your brush, remember to paint with layers and watch as your wildlife art transforms into a breathtaking scene right before your eyes. Happy painting!

Use Reference Photos

As a wildlife artist, you may not always have the chance to observe your subjects in their natural environment. This is where reference photos come in handy. They can serve as a valuable tool in your art creation process, providing you with accurate details and inspiration. Using reference photos is one of the key wildlife art painting techniques that will guide your brush strokes and add lifelike details to your work.

When selecting a reference photo, look for clear images that showcase the animal's unique features and characteristics. Pay attention to the color of its fur or feathers, the shape of its eyes, the pattern on its skin, and its posture. These are the details that will make your painting come alive.

And remember, reference photos are just that — references. They're there to guide you, not dictate your artwork. Feel free to add your personal touch and creative flair to the painting. After all, it's your interpretation that makes the artwork unique.

Tip: If possible, use your own photos. Nothing beats the satisfaction of painting from an image you captured yourself. Plus, it allows you to get familiar with your subject and environment, adding an extra layer of authenticity to your work.

So, next time you're planning a wildlife art painting, make sure to gather some good quality reference photos. They'll be your best friends and guides on this artistic adventure!

Highlight the Subject

Painting wildlife art is not just about getting the animal's features right, it's also about making them stand out. Highlighting your subject is a crucial wildlife art painting technique that can turn an ordinary painting into an extraordinary one.

Now, you might be wondering: How do I highlight my subject? Well, there are several ways to do so. For starters, you can use contrast. You can create contrast not only with colors but also with values (light and dark).

Imagine you're painting a tiger. If you paint the tiger's stripes with a strong contrast between the orange and black, it will naturally draw the viewer's eye. Contrast creates visual interest and brings your subject into the spotlight.

Another way to highlight your subject is by using a technique called selective focus. This involves making your subject sharp and detailed, while keeping the background soft and blurry. This technique mimics how our eyes see the world and creates a realistic feeling of depth in your painting.

Remember: The goal is to make your subject the star of the show. So, use these techniques to guide the viewer's eye towards your animal and make it stand out. Happy painting!

Incorporate the Light Source

An often overlooked but vital aspect of wildlife art painting techniques is the incorporation of light. Light can bring your painting to life, giving it depth and dimension. It can make the difference between a flat, two-dimensional painting and one that leaps off the canvas.

Think of light as the magic ingredient that makes everything in your painting pop. It's what gives your subject's fur or feathers their shine, and it's what makes their eyes glimmer with life. It's also what can make your painting look realistic and three-dimensional.

So, how do you incorporate light into your painting? First, you need to decide where your light source is. Is it coming from the sun? From a lamp? From the moon? The direction of your light source will affect how you paint the shadows and highlights on your subject.

Next, observe how the light interacts with your subject. If you're painting a bird, for example, notice how the light hits the feathers, creating a mix of bright highlights and deep shadows. Then, replicate this effect in your painting to give the bird a sense of volume and depth.

Remember, mastering light can take some practice, but it's well worth the effort. So, don't be afraid to experiment with different light effects in your wildlife art. You might be surprised at how much it can enhance your paintings!

Add Textures

Adding texture is a key element of wildlife art painting techniques. It can bring life to your subjects and make them appear more realistic. Whether you're painting a furry bear, a scaly lizard, or a feathered bird, getting the texture right can make all the difference.

So, how can you add texture to your wildlife art? One way is by using different brush strokes. For example, short, quick strokes can mimic the look of fur, while longer, smoother strokes can create the illusion of feathers. You can also layer different colors to give your subject more depth and dimension.

Another way to add texture is by using different painting tools. For instance, a palette knife can be used to create thick, textured strokes that add a sense of dimension to your painting. You can also use sponges, rags, or even your fingers to create unique textures.

Remember, the key is to observe your subject carefully and try to replicate the textures you see. It might take some practice, but with time, you'll be able to bring a whole new level of realism to your wildlife art.

Depict Movement

Have you ever felt your heart race at the sight of a predator chasing its prey in a wildlife documentary? Or admired the grace of a bird in flight? Capturing movement in your wildlife art painting can evoke similar emotions, creating a dynamic and engaging piece.

But how do you portray movement in a static painting? The secret lies in the details. Consider the position of the subject's body, the direction of their gaze, and the arrangement of their limbs. Even the illusion of wind rustling through fur or feathers can suggest motion.

An easy way to start is by sketching out your subject in different poses, from various angles. If you're painting a running cheetah, for example, try to capture the lean of its body, the stretch of its muscles, and the dust kicked up by its paws. These small details can add a sense of dynamism and speed to your painting.

Another technique is to use blurred lines or strokes in the background or around the subject. This can create a sense of motion and speed, making your subject appear as if they're moving within the frame.

Remember: the aim is not to create a perfect replica, but to convey the energy and life of the subject. So don't be afraid to experiment with different techniques and trust your instincts. After all, the best wildlife art painting techniques are the ones that help you express your unique vision.

Showcase the Environment

Wildlife is not just about the animals, right? It's also about where they live, how they interact with their surroundings, and how they adapt to their environments. That's why showcasing the environment is a critical component of wildlife art painting techniques.

How often have you marveled at a painting where the forest seems to come alive, or the ocean seems to ripple right in front of your eyes? That's the magic of a well-depicted environment!

Begin by deciding what kind of environment your subject inhabits. Is it a hummingbird flitting around a vibrant tropical forest, a lone wolf prowling the icy tundra, or a herd of wildebeests thundering across the African savannah?

Once you've decided on the environment, it's all about details. Pay attention to the color palette of the environment as it can help set the mood of your painting. A bright, colorful palette can suggest a lively, tropical ecosystem, while a subdued, cool palette can convey the stark beauty of a winter landscape.

Textures play a crucial role too. The rough bark of a tree, the smooth pebbles of a stream, the soft petals of a flower—each texture adds a layer of realism to your painting. So don't hold back on using different brush strokes to bring these textures to life.

Remember, the environment is not just a backdrop but an integral part of your subject's story. So let your environment shine, and you'll find your wildlife art painting coming to life in ways you never imagined!

If you enjoyed learning about the techniques for enhancing your wildlife art and want to explore more ways to improve your paintings, check out the workshop 'How to Paint Water' by Jauni (tofublock). This workshop will teach you valuable skills on how to create realistic water effects in your artwork, adding depth and dimension to your wildlife paintings.