How to paint a horse in 7 steps

How to paint a horse - the final product

In my article How to draw a horse outline in 5 steps, I showed you how I draw the outline. That is, the basic shape of the horse. In this article, I show you the steps I take to paint the horse, and bring it to life with colour! In case you missed the last article, here’s the reference image I’m working from.

Wasechun tashunka [CC BY-SA 4.0], from Wikimedia Commons

Step 1 – Base colour

Using the outline I produced, I pick a mid-tone colour from the reference image. Don’t worry too much about picking the right shade, just try to pick a colour that’s neither too light nor too dark. Then, in a new layer, I fill in the outline. This is simple to do in Photoshop, by simply using the magic wand tool to select the outer region. If you’ve got a nice unbroken outline, you’ll get a nice selection. Invert the selection and then do a flood fill.

Step 2 – Shadows and highlights

The point of this step is to get down your shadows and highlights. In this stage it’s vitally important that you look at the reference image, and pick out the different colour tones. Blur or squint your eyes if it helps.

I create a new layer, and with a hard opaque brush, start creating my shadows and highlights.

You’ll notice the outline is still invisible over the top of the paint. For now, let’s leave the outline as the topmost layer, and do the painting on the layers below. I suggest creating a new layer for each step.

Step 3 – Blend

Real life object are rarely two-toned. Their shadows and highlights will blend into one another. Keep looking at your reference as you use a hard brush to blend the highlights and shadows into the mid-tones. This is easy to do in Photoshop by varying the opacity of your brush. If you have a tablet, you can set your brush to vary opacity with pen pressure. Alternatively, manually reduce the opacity of the brush.

Step 4 – Airbrush

We’re still blending here, but now we’re also using an airbrush to get the blending to be a lot smoother. In the last step, we just used a hard brush. In this step, we can start using a soft brush. Play around with the softness, opacity, size, etc., until you get a nice looking effect.

Step 5 – Refining

In this step, I got bored of having that outline hanging around and cramping my style, so I got rid of it and painted in more details. I switched back to a hard brush for the main part and tried to iron out the niggly details, such as the face, neck, tail, and musculature.

Step 6 – Details

The devil is in the details. Here, I created a new layer filled with white, and then added a mask from the original flat colour from step one, instantly and easily clearing up all those stray nasty bits. I love masks so much! If you don’t know how, learn to use them!

I also re-blended the hard brush strokes from the last step, taking care not to remove any details I added, which airbrushes are so good at.

Step 7 – Final touches

I used a few custom brushes (which you can find here if you’re an Adobe subscriber), to get a mottled effect. Again, I used a layer mask to ensure the mottling didn’t escape outside the confines of the horse’s outlines. I then applied an overlay blend effect to my layer and decreased the opacity somewhat.

So there we have it, a horse! I hope you’ve enjoyed this two part tutorial. If so, please like and share it! Thanks!

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