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

My Blog Begins… with Archer

For a while now I’ve had a dream of a fancy website with detailed tutorials for miniature painting and information on related topics. That’s going to stay a dream for the foreseeable future due to lack of time for such an ambitious plan. Then I realized that two of my favourite artists offer up lots of useful information in bite-size bits on their blogs. So I decided to take inspiration from James Gurney and James Wappel and try sharing my thoughts on a blog. I’m hoping that even though my name isn’t James, this might work out okay. :->

I’ve been meaning to start the blog for a few weeks, and just never quite got there. But then Darksword Miniatures came out with a release that I’ve long been waiting for, and it seemed like the perfect thing to start off this new venture. So without further ado, I’d like to introduce you to Archer the Grumpy Cat. If you’d like to get at Twice the Attitude pack of your own, you’ll find it here: https://www.darkswordminiatures.com/shop/index.php/featured/archer-the-grumpy-cat.html

Archers b front

These sculpts are based on one of my three cats. Archer is somewhat legendary amongst our friends for his cranky and demanding personality. Jim Ludwig of Darksword Miniatures is a big fan of his regal attitude, and commissioned the very talented Andy Pieper to sculpt not just one, but two versions of our furry majesty. These two versions of Archer are heroically scaled, as you can see from the picture below where they are standing next to some lovely Dark Sword ladies that I’ve painted. So he’s large enough to act as an animal companion for a role-playing character. Provided that character can explain to him that he is the companion and not the other way around…

Archers scale darksword

Here’s a view of the figures from the back. This is a view we see pretty often around our house, as Archer turns his back on us when he just can’t handle our human stupidity anymore.

Archers a back

It was amazing to have the opportunity to work with Andy and Jim to bring our favourite curmudgeon to life. Though I’m not sure I can say the painting process was entirely fun. Maybe you can guess why from a look at the implacable stare on the reference photo I was using. I’m pretty happy with how I captured his markings, but Archer would be quick to point out my many failings on that score, I’m sure.

Arch oversees1 edit

I took some WIP shots of painting some of the tabby stripes, and in a few days I hope to make another post with some tips on how to paint convincing looking animal markings on miniature figures. Until then I will leave you with some more of the reference photos that Andy and I used. Thank you for stopping by to check out my new adventure! It is my intention that many of the future posts will be more informative and less self-indulgent. :-> Oh, on that note, before I get to the photos I’d like to point you to the other blogs I mentioned that have found to be very helpful and inspiring.

James Wappel – http://wappellious.blogspot.com

James Gurney – http://jamesgurney.com/site/

Archer overlord edit

Archer 2 21 edit

Archer profile1 edit

Archer2 edit