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Art Masterclass - 105

How to Make a Scene with Animals by Paul Weaver

Paul Weaver - Posted on Thu 14 May 2015

Animals don’t stay still for very long but accurate scale and proportion is crucial if they are to look convincing. If they are grazing or at rest you can observe a range of poses that are often repeated as they slowly move around. I will usually have three or more sketches evolving simultaneously on a page, switching from one to the other as the animals change position. Drawing is a way of seeing and, as painting is an extension of drawing, it makes sense to gain an understanding of the subject in pencil first.

While photographs are useful to record fine details, regular sketching from life builds your understanding of the shape, proportion, stance and posture that characterise different breeds. It also helps develop ideas for composition.

How to Make a Scene with Animals by Paul Weaver
  • Animals

    I am interested in using their shapes within the landscape to convey scale and the effects of light and atmosphere, not painting animal portraits. I regard every element of the composition as a shape and evaluate each one for its tone, colour temperature and edge qualities. Animals often have a combination of edges and warm and cool tones, according to how the light falls on them and is reflected from the ground.

    It is important to establish their shape and proportions correctly, with a variety of postures and angles throughout the scene to create interest and movement.

    Cows are boxy, angular creatures. I am always amazed at how much colour can be seen in their markings – on closer scrutiny you discover a vast range of warm and cool greys within the white areas, as well as purples, blues and warm greys in the blacks. A classic case of paint what you see, not what you know!

    Sheep are softer and more rounded in contour. Their woolly coats tend to be a grubby warm grey with a lot of cool blue tones in the shadows. Curving, dragged brushstrokes are effective for describing these rounded, textured forms. I always find horses challenging, their graceful flowing lines and subtle proportions demand careful observation and drawing. Suggestion is the key, but unless the drawing is accurate it will not be convincing. It all comes back to that practice time spent with the sketch pad!

    Afternoon Sun, Normandy, acrylic on board, (18x25.5cm)

    Attracted by the light falling across the cows, I made them the focal point. The farm buildings in the background balance the composition

  • Demonstration - Hazy Light, Snowdonia

    A quick tonal sketch helped me decide the best composition for the sheep: I wanted to use them as stepping stones, leading the eye to the sunlit buildings in the middle distance and also to provide a sense of life and scale.

  • Step One

    I scrubbed a wash of burnt sienna and ultramarine blue over the primed board to kill the white surface, then roughed in the main elements with thin mixes of the same two colours.

  • Step Two

    As soon as the underpainting was dry I blocked in the main masses, establishing the sky and distant hills first with thick paint, keeping everything loose and simple.

  • Step Three

    With the main elements down I could be more objective about developing forms and details. Note how the warm underpainting is still showing through in places, unifying the landscape.

  • Step Four

    I carefully worked my way through the painting, fat-over-lean, developing the distant trees, refining the buildings and blocking in the sheep. It's very easy to overwork things at this stage – the challenge is to make each mark decisive and expressive.

  • Finished Painting

    Hazy Light, Snowdonia, acrylic on board, (25.5x35.5cm)

    Finally I developed the textures and tones of the foreground field, refining the sheep and details on the buildings. I also added a glaze of Naples yellow to the sky to soften the gradations of warm to cool.

    Paul Weaver began his creative career in graphic design and has been a full-time artist and tutor since 2003. For many years Paul has exhibited and won awards at the Patchings Art, Craft & Photography Festival, and has been a regular winner in the Bath Prize competition.

    For further examples of Paul's work and details of his teaching DVDs and painting courses, see

This feature is taken from the July 2015 issue of The Artist

Click here to purchase your copy for more practical and inspirational art features.


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