Painting Fur Patterns

Inspired by painting the figures of my cat that I spoke about in my last post, I thought I would make a post discussing some tips for painting fur on animal figures. (Which is also applicable to painting animal fur patterns on fur cloaks and similar equipment for characters.)

My first tip is to study real world animals or photos of your intended fur patterns. Very often we think we know what something familiar looks like, but discover it is a little different than we thought when we really study it. Look for whether the pattern is clustered in certain areas or randomly distributed, the distance between elements of the patterning, how colouration changes on various parts of the body, all kinds of things. Because we’re painting figures that are quite a bit smaller than life, we may also need to look at areas we can simplify or exaggerate. For example, when I painted the figures of Archer, I tried to put key stripes in areas that match his tabby patterning, but there are fewer stripes on the painted figures than the real Archer because it would be difficult to see the actual number of stripes on a miniature – assuming I could even paint them!

So let’s look at some photos of real animals that I took at the local zoo.

Red panda tail

Red panda face

Tiger stripes2

Often when people paint animal patterns that don’t look very convincing, the issue is that they look like they’ve painted on rather than being part of the creature. This occurs when the edges of the painted patterns are defined with fairly sharp lines. Fur is not a solid surface. Even in short fur, each hair lies at a slightly different angle, and this creates the appearance of a softer line. You can see way the line is broken easily on the fluffy tail of the red panda in the first picture above, but if you look closely, you’ll see that the same kind of thing is happening with the stripes on the short fur of the tiger in the picture directly above.

So how can we make an animal pattern that is actually painted on look more like the way it does in reality? Here are some techniques that I’ve used, some of which can be combined. I hope you’ll give some of these a try and find something that makes painting animals a little easier for you!

Glazes:
This is probably the easiest method, particularly for small patterns or when painting onto smaller sculpts like familiars. Paint one colour of your pattern over the entire area. Since lighter colours are often poorer coverage, I tend to paint the light colour as the base coat. You may also find it easier to do some highlighting and shading at this stage, or other value or colour transitions like going from the darker orange to the light cream on the tiger above. Paint on the darker pattern stripes or spots without worrying about the edges. Mix a glaze (heavily thinned down paint) of your original base coat color. Apply this over the entire area of the pattern. This will soften the appearance of the edges. Unfortunately it also softens the entire pattern. So if you can, reapply a thinned layer of your darker pattern color over the central areas of your stripes or spots.

I used this technique on these two tabby cats.

Waiting cat2 cu

Waiting cat1 cu

Thinned Paint:
Another option is to thin down the paint for your pattern so it is somewhat transluscent. Then when you paint a stripe/spot onto your figure, some of the underlying base coat colour will show through and diffuse the edge a little. Then you will need to apply additional coats of the thinned paint in the centers of your stripes or spots to build up the full intensity of colour that they should have. That is the technique that I used on this harp seal. (For the reference picture of seal stripes that I used when painting this figure, see this site: http://www.rcinet.ca/en/2014/04/01/dont-pet-the-baby-seals/)

Xseal fade back full

Go Between:
A third option is to paint your main coat colour, and then paint your patterning colour with fairly opaque paint. Then mix the two together to create a colour between them. Using the tip of your brush, paint that colour along the edges of your stripes/spots. Or dot the colour along the edges to break up the smooth edge. That is the technique that I used on this cat tail. This is a larger anthropomorphic figure, not a familiar size figure.

Ella tail cu

Jagged Little Edge:
The last option (that I’ve figured out so far!) is to use a dotting motion or move the tip of the brush back and forth a little as you paint to create a line that is a little broken rather than even. This requires a decent amount of brush control, and may be most feasible on larger figures.

Figures shown on this page:

Two of the cats from Edna the Crazy Cat Lady pack: http://www.reapermini.com/OnlineStore/edna/latest/50235#detail/50235_g_1
The seal from the Christmas familiars pack. Not currently available, sometimes available in December: http://www.reapermini.com/Miniatures/Special%20Edition%20Figures/latest/01553
Ella the Cat Rogue: https://www.darkswordminiatures.com/shop/index.php/miniatures/visions-in-fantasy-critters/ella-cat-rogue.html

2 thoughts on “Painting Fur Patterns”

  1. Excellent, Rhonda. I was planning on talking with you at ReaperCon about how you approach animal fur patterns; now I know. I love your blog so far. It is now bookmarked an on my daily check rotation. Thanks!

    Like

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