How To Paint A Horse in Acrylic

It’s difficult to capture the spirit of your subject when painting an animal. The Art of Painting Animals takes you through the process of painting a horse, offering tips and tricks along the way.

horse photo, The Art of Painting Animals

Horse with Kate Tugwell
This portrait is of a beautiful horse named Saffie. There were a number of fabulous photos to choose from, but I particularly like the way the eye connects with the viewer in this shot.

Color Palette
cadmium red • cadmium yellow • cerulean • blue burnt sienna • burnt umber • flesh tint • Mars black • Payne’s gray • raw sienna • raw umber • sap green • titanium white • yellow ochre

horse 1, The Art of Painting Animals

Step 1 I begin by painting the whole background with white, sap green, raw umber, cerulean blue, and Payne’s gray. I use a large hog-hair (coarse-bristled) flat brush to paint wet-into-wet, using flowing brushstrokes in all directions. I’m not painting anything specific— just filling the background with natural, earthy colors. Once the paint is dry, I sketch the horse.

Artist’s Tip
Begin the painting with large brushes and switch to increasingly smaller brushes as the portrait progresses. Doing so will prevent you from getting bogged down with details too early in the process.

horse 2, The Art of Painting Animals

Step 2 Next I begin to block in color, using thin paint at first because I want the back of the horse to eventually appear to fade into the background. I use burnt sienna blended with flesh tint and yellow ochre for lovely warm hues that contrast with the cool notes of the background. I add white on the horse’s flank, which contrasts nicely with the dark muzzle.

horse 3, The Art of Painting Animals

Step 3 Next I develop the strong tonal values of the head, which is the main area of focus in the portrait. I often like to mix my own blacks, but in this step I use mostly Mars black with some ultramarine and burnt sienna on the eyes, ears, and nose.

horse 4, The Art of Painting Animals

Step 4 Next I focus on the shapes of the shadows, using a small round brush to fill in the midtones with various umbers, siennas, and other brown hues. To emphasize the lovely warm areas of burnt sienna on the muzzle and flank, I mix ultramarine blue and cadmium red into the surrounding shadows to create more depth. I add white highlights on the left side, indicating a glossy coat.

Artist’s Tip
Similar to a rigger brush, a sword liner brush is often used in sign writing, as it can create beautiful flowing marks for calligraphy. When wet, it is shaped like a sword. To effectively use this brush, mix a fair amount of watery paint and heavily load the brush. Unlike a rigger brush, this brush does not need to be reloaded with paint every few strokes.

horse 5, The Art of Painting Animals

Step 5 Finally, I use a sword liner brush to sweep in the lovely, fine hairs that make up the frizzy fringe, mane, and whiskers. Then I use an old, small round brush to stipple in fine dark and light lines for the slightly longer hairs on the bridge of the nose and to create surface texture to illustrate fine hairs.

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The Art of Painting AnimalsIn The Art of Painting Animals, aspiring painters will learn how to work with oil, acrylic, and watercolor paints to bring their favorite animals to life on paper or canvas. Each medium has its section that begins with an introduction, which includes a section of helpful information on basic tools and materials including paints, brushes, appropriate supports, and additional material followed by a quick guide to techniques and artist tips for rendering animal features and fur, as well as natural textures such as bark and foliage. Talented artists guide readers through a series of easy-to-follow step-by-step projects covering a variety of subjects from pets and horses to wildlife and birds. Projects include a moose, a Shih Tzu dog, a fox, a deer, a lynx, and many more! Along the way, aspiring artists will find helpful tips and tricks for establishing a compelling composition, achieving accurate proportions, and developing expressive animal faces and emotions. With its breadth of content and instruction, The Art of Painting Animals is perfect for any animal-loving artist’s collection.