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10 Painting Tips from Wildlife Artist Katie Lee

Learn from a Professional Wildlife Artist


These 10 painting tips were all gleaned from conversations and teaching sessions I've had with Katie Lee, a botanical and zoological artist who works in gouache, watercolor, and graphite. I met Katie a few years back on a Sketchbook Safari in Botswana. Katie mostly teaches in a workshop setting (and mostly in the USA) on a range of subjects, focusing on practical technique, observation, and trying it for yourself. If you're wondering why I enjoy workshops, well, the answer is simple: there's always something new to learn and it's a great way to renew my inspiration.

Katie Lee’s Painting Tip No 1: Most Westerners read from left to right and this also applies to how we read a painting. So make your light source 45 degrees to the left and 45 degrees up from the subject.

Katie Lee’s Painting Tip No 2: Use only one size and type of brush rather than a range of brushes. That way you get to know exactly what it’ll do and how to get the same effects or results repeatedly. It becomes intuitive, instinctive, rather than something you have to think about while using it. (Katie uses a Raphael Series 8404 #2 for almost everything, including detailed work, and a Raphael Series 8404 #4 for large washes.)

Katie Lee’s Painting Tip No 3: Pick up paint with the tip of the brush only, don’t dip the whole brush into the paint so you’ve paint up to the ferrule (metal part of the brush). If you overload a brush with paint, soak up the excess water by wrapping a tissue or cloth around the bristles close to the ferrule, not by wiping the tip on a cloth.

Katie Lee’s Painting Tip No 4: You can erase graphite (pencil) through red and blue watercolours, but not through yellow.

Katie Lee’s Painting Tip No 5: Let the paper dry between glazes. If you don’t, you’ll get muddy results because the wet pigments will mix on the paper.

Katie Lee’s Painting Tip No 6: Always paint in the direction of growth, whether it’s fur on an animal or a stalk on a plant.

Katie Lee’s Painting Tip No 7: When you want to accurately paint a bird flying, the key is how straight the wing is and the angle of the wing’s edge.

Katie Lee’s Painting Tip No 8: Knowing the bone count in a bird’s foot, and how many toes face forward or back, enables you to position its foot correctly in any position when painting it.

Katie Lee’s Painting Tip No 9: When looking at an animal’s legs, remember to think about what you’re looking at. Is it an ankle, knee, or hip? Legs have three joints: hip, knee, and ankle. The knee a lot higher than what you think -- at stomach level -- and the ankle where you’d expect a knee.

Katie Lee’s Painting Tip No 10: Get to know how many colors you can create using three primaries by glazing. The fewer primary colors you use in a painting, the more ‘harmonious’ the result.

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