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Making of "Hector" - How to paint a wolf

Black backgrounds are so moody! I love the white misty backgrounds I have been going for in previous pieces, but this is something else.

I found it heightens the detail in the piece as every gap between the brush strokes became defined and obvious. Rather then having to build up and darken the paints, I was simply adding tone upon tone until it looked about right. I then furthered the detail by doing the whole process again but in a more deliberate way rather then whimsically painting hairs all over the place.

This piece in particular was really great with regards to the colours I ended up using:

Black background: Paynes Grey and Burnt Umber plus a tiny bit of Mars Black (Not too much or else you will flatten the tone and the depth will be lost)

Highlights and base white for general blocking of colours and mixing greys for fur tones:

Titanium White & Naples Yellow and Unbleached Titanium White.

Shaddows and darker greys

Paynes Grey and Raw Umber with a touch of either unbleached Titanium White, the base mix or Austrlian Ghost Gum - which light tone you use depends on the type of grey you are aiming for, and will become well known to you through out the process.

Other colours used through out process when needed

Unbleached Titanium White

Australian ghost gum

Paynes Grey

Raw Umber

The process:

1) Paint the whole canvas with your black mix

2) Outline the figure on the canvas

----> Key tip: Work from light to dark, and then once you have added your darkest tones, work light back into the fur. Making the process so layered is going to make your fur look thick and fluffy. It is so worth it.

3) Using your fine long haired paintbrush - or which ever paint brush you are confident in using to get the hairy look working for you - start painting the hundreds of hairs according to the picture. You can view a video of this process on my Facebook page or my Instagram. You can do a section at a time, or the whole thing, what ever - honestly it doesn't matter if you work in focused sections or the whole darn thing (I had a lecturer try and make me work differently to how I felt comfortable and I hated it, so do your thing and be proud).

I found that in most parts of the wolf (this is different depending on your reference photograph) there was a warm yellowish glow to the fur between the dark hairs and the light hairs. So this is the order I worked in:

1 - White mixed base

2 - Unbleached Titanium (for the brighter areas) or Australian Ghost Gum (for the grayer looking areas)

3 - A blend of Raw Umber, Paynes Grey and a light tone, either of the three lights listed in step 2 (This will make a lovely natural brownish gray. If you used very little light tone you will get a very dark version of this brownish gray, which you can use in the areas that need it)

4 - By now your hair layers will look pretty dark, so start again at step 2 and make sure you follow the reference photo more deliberately.

5 - To blend the dark gray and light tones, use a wash of pure Raw Umber. This also gives the fur a lovely warm glow that is subtle enough to be eye catching, but not enough to distract from the highlights. Be sure not to wash the Raw Umber over the whole patch of hair, use it in the same way you use the rest of the tones, this allows the tips of the highlighted areas to stand out like the tip of the hair is catching the light.

Basically repeat these steps until you have achieved the look of fur that you are aiming for. And accept that repetition is the game you are going to play for many hours.

6 - Some areas of the fur will have black hairs that are stray and all over the place. For these use your black base layer, and water it down a bit, dab off the excess liquid from your brush so that when you touch the tip of the hairs to your canvas the paint doesn't rush onto the surface in a huge blob. You will get the feel of this pretty fast :) Have a damp tissue ready to dab up any drops that you loose control of :) I just lick my finger, but that's kinda yuck when there is already paint all over my fingers - every time!



WHEN YOU FINISH you will realise that you have paid 100 times more attention to the detail in the fur then ever and feel like once again you are a superhuman who deserves a cape. Dark backgrounds are the business for sure! I feel rather inspired by them. Definitely will feature regularly.

All up, this piece took me over 60 hours, and although the detail is very focused and minimal on the scope of the black background, the overall effect is incredible. Well worth the effort :)

Good luck if you are giving it a go!

For any inquiries please feel free to pop me an email at

Lots of love

Carla Grace

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