1) The finished piece is a 16"x20" tiger study in oils. The support is my own hand-stretched linen, my favorite surface to paint on. I prepare the plain stretched linen with rabbitskin glue and alkyd primer.
This tiger is a rescued "pet" now living out his life in retirement at the Wild Animal Sanctuary in Keensburg, CO. And yes, part of his left ear is missing.
2) After I prepare the stretched linen, I give the whole thing a very thin wash of burnt sienna and let that dry overnight. I then come in and transfer my drawing to the surface of the canvas.
3) I typically like to start by a rough block-in of the background. Here I used burnt umber, burnt sienna, and some ivory black to give a loose treatment to the background. I leave it loose at this stage to give me options for later...I can leave the background loose if it works as the painting progresses, or I can add more details and tighten it up if the painting "needs" it. My whole goal is to create a painting that "works" - not necessarily to recreate a scene down to the last detail. In my mind, that's best left to a photographer, not a painter. In short, I use reference material (drawings, photos, etc) as just that - reference - and attempt to create a painting.
4) Now I start blocking in the stripes with a constantly varying mixture of ivory black, burnt umber, and burnt sienna. I was conscious of NOT making the stripes straight black because a tiger's stripes actually vary in color and tone quite a bit. The best way to see this is to observe tigers for several hours at a zoo or a rehab facility like this one. Patient observation is the real key to painting believable animals! And variety of tone and color is the key to this guy's stripe pattern!
5) Once the stripes were blocked in and before they dried, I came in with a base color for the orange areas of his coat. This is a mix of burnt sienna, cad yellow light, permanent red medium, and Permalba white. Again, I kept varying the mixture as the colors and tones in his coat called for it.
6) I continued blocking in the orange areas. This is key for tigers...once an area was blocked in with orange, I made sure to soften the edges between the black stripe and the orange background fur. Again, if you look closely at the stripes on a tiger, their edges "fuzz" into the orange background - that transition is rarely hard-edged. So take a clean, dry brush and blend the transition a bit. Mastery of edges and transitions sets an experienced artist apart from the crowd. Learn to use edges and transitions powerfully and i guarantee your paintings will be stronger and more professional-looking!
7) Now I am starting to add warm, light grays to the "white" areas of the fur. These will be the shadowed areas. No, the whites of his fur are not pure white! They consist of subtle gradations of warm and cool grays. Again, observe, don't assume. One of the Four Agreements (don Miguel Ruiz) is to never make assumptions - that applies to paintings as much as it does to living a wonderful life :)
8) At this point I decided to go back into the background and punch it up a bit. I brought in some brighter reds and oranges behind his back, and darkened the area around his face. I'm also starting to add a bit of warmed-up white to his face. This is white mixed just a bit with gray and orange. I don't want it to be stark white, but I DO want it to be brighter and warmer than the gray shadows.
9) Here I'm continuing to develop the white and gray areas further, again blending the edges and transitions as I go.
10) Continuing development of the white areas...
11) Almost done...I've darkened some of the gray areas, especially on his belly and back legs. This pushes them back into the background a bit, but also helps them look more "rounded" (ie, develops their form). I really darkened the light areas of the tail because I didn't want that to come too far "forward" in the painting, as it was threatening to do in the previous step.
12) I finished by adding his eye and some of the details on his muzzle. From start to finish, this painting took about 8 hours of work. As you can see it doesn't look like a photograph - because I don't want it to look like a photo. I have a lot of reasons for painting loosely but mostly it comes down to wanting my paintings to look like paintings. For myself and my work, I see no reason to try to reproduce a highly detailed photographic look - that's what a camera is for. With my paintings I try to reproduce how I see with my own eyes (which is a bit blurry, I'll admit), and with a layer of artistic interpretation placed over that. I strive to highlight the essence of the subject and leave out extraneous details that don't contribute anything substantial to the final piece.