by Jason Morgan

Above you can see the working drawing (with notes). It has been drawn to the size that I want the finished painting, approx. 24 in x 16 1/2 in. I have drawn it this size for two reasons. Firstly, it makes it much easier to transfer the drawing to the canvas. And secondly, it gives me a real sense of the impact the painting's size will make. Some paintings just don't make much impact if they are not big enough. It's like the difference between seeing a film on a TV or in the cinema.
As per my usual method, I have transferred the drawing to the canvas using tracing paper. It was then sealed with a thin coat of white acrylic paint. When this was completely dry (overnight) I toned the canvas with a very thin coat of oil paint (thinned with thinners). With the tone still wet and working very quickly (before it dried) I wiped out with a tissue the main highlights. This immediately gives the painting form and acts as a very basic tonal underpainting.
The first coats of paint are applied quite thinly, adding a little thinner and Liquin to the paint mixes. I have given the background my usual blurry finish which will emphasize the zebra more, and I have also started to block in the shadow and highlight portions of the zebra. I have blocked in the darkest darks (i.e. the eyes and nose areas) so that I can clearly judge my shading against darks.
As the zebra are black and white I had to concentrate on finding the shadow and reflected light colours. Painting the shadows a dirty colour would have lost all feeling of strong sunlight, so as you can see I have chosen more lively colours to create the form.
I selected the colours by firstly looking very closely at my reference slides, trying to ignore the black stripes and concentrating on the whites. The reference wasn't the best but I could just manage to find some purplish colour in there and raw sienna reflected up from the grasses.
If you find it difficult to see shadow colours, then you can use a simple formula to help you know what you are probably looking for. Object colour + complement is a good starting point, with reflected light bouncing into the shadow. There are no real formulas though, and close study of real lighting effects is the best bet.
Another coat or two has finished the shading. And now that it has dried, I have drawn the stripes on the canvas by transferring them from the pencil drawing. It would have been pointless drawing them until this stage as the stripes would have just disappeared under the first coats of paint.
I have deliberately darkened this photo to show you more clearly the faint stripe lines. As you can imagine I didn't want to draw these more times than I had to.
Above you can see the first layer of dark stripes. I am not concerning myself with the highlights on the stripes at this stage as it is difficult enough to just get the correct stripes coloured in. The dark mix is made from ultramarine blue and burnt umber. Notice how much the stripes appear to bring the zebra forward. The blurry background is now starting to look more realistic (although the photo is making it appear too light at the top).
Here you can see how the colourful shadows and reflected areas are starting to come in to their own, giving the zebra shape and form, even with the flat dark stripes over the top. Notice also how the direction and positioning of the stripes are following the contour of the muscles. Now you can see why I spent so much time drawing and shading the stripes on the working drawing. I had to be sure that everything gave that same statement - Form and Shape.
After about 1 1/2 hours of painting the first coat of one zebra's stripes, although I am very happy with the way things are turning out, the stripes are starting to get a bit tedious to paint. Oh well, only about another 1 1/2 hrs to go! with this in mind I am now deliberately taking a 5 minute rest every 15 to 20 minutes. It's very easy at this stage to start rushing things, and these breaks will allow me to concentrate better.
With the stripes now blocked in on both zebra a real sense of depth is starting to be achieved. Although the background (showing too light again) is nothing more than blended pigment, anyone looking at the painting will automatically assume that it is distant bushes/trees and grass. This effect will be enhanced in the later stages when I paint in just a few foreground grasses. Notice also how the zebra now appear to be white, although there is no area of pure white on them.
A close-up of the head clearly shows the importance of the stripes following the form and contours of the shape and musculature.


To get the darkness of the stripes I had to give them two coats!
With the dark coat of the stripes completed and my hand rested, it's time to add some highlights to them. These are simply lighter tones painted very lightly over the darks. Notice how the highlights add to the shape and form. The mane has been given it's first coat - following the direction of the hair growth all the time.

I wanted to add another element of depth to the painting - mid-distance, so I have lightly painted in the suggestion of a bush in the bottom left-hand corner, I think that it helps. Do you?

I have also given the mane a further coat of paint (first one dried overnight).

Above you can see the painting nearing completion. The mane is pretty much done as is most of the highlighting. I have now started to look at the finishing details, like hair under the chin, etc. (you can't really see it on the pic, sorry). I have also strengthened a few highlights by giving them a second coat of paint, and softened the tips of the mane by giving it a light glaze.
Notice here how the shading on the body creates the sense of roundness and form. Zebra are really like fat horses, so it is important to emphasize the contours. You can clearly see how the highlights on the black stripes now add to the effect of the belly area being quite round.

Click here to see the final painting.

© 2002 Jason Morgan
Jason Morgan may be reached via email at alias@onlineart.f9.co.uk.
To view more of his work, please visit his web site at http://www.onlineartdemos.co.uk

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