Painting Wildlife Landscapes

Top Paint Techniques from Expert Artists

Painting wildlife in its natural setting takes patience, good luck or timing, and most likely a camera. Capturing a lush, gorgeous landscape as well as a “model” that isn’t content to sit still for you no matter how gorgeous the end result on canvas will be means you have to use certain paint techniques during your image scouting and afterward when you are in the studio.

  1. Scouting. Closely observe when you are in the landscape making sketches or taking photos. What is the color story? What are the textures of the elements around you? How does the atmosphere feel and how can you convey that through paint?
  2. In the studio. Combine paint techniques that lend themselves to a feeling of immediacy. Color is your biggest ally in this but an alla prima sensibility is also key. It’s about confident brushstrokes and a visual fluidity — so nothing interferes with the viewer soaking up the scene.
Paint techniques for wildlife landscapes
Gone Fishin’ by Kathleen Cencula, acrylic painting.

Consider a split complementary color scheme.

That’s what Kathleen Cencula used in this painting of a fox. The fox’s water reflection in her reference photo was as bright as the fox itself. Her vision somewhat differed from this: she wanted the viewer’s eye to follow the length of the fox and into the splash of blue, without having the reflection interfere.

She painted the reflection in full color and then added successive light washes of the greens until she reached the point where the reflection was there, but not as an interruption to the main visual.

Love, Life, and Community by Vickie McMillan, acrylic painting. Painting wildlife landscapes -- top paint techniques.
Love, Life, and Community by Vickie McMillan, acrylic painting.

Color Means Habitat in Wildlife Landscapes

Color choices are vital when creating a mood indicative of an animal’s habitat. Here, artist Vickie McMillan’s desire was to draw the viewer into the painting through the use of color, perspective and drama, as if they, too, were in Africa leaning over the bridge as she was when she snapped this photograph.

Living in the bush for many summers helped McMillan gain knowledge. During that time, she painted many plein air paintings, researched and recorded data through photography, and created drawings that she used to create this painting back in her studio in Texas.

She applied numerous layers of paint to emphasize movement with color through either heavy body acrylic paint or thin glazes similar to watercolor techniques. She developed an impasto/ impressionistic technique for the final details of the painting.

Painting wildlife landscapes. Hope by Dominique Wilkins, acrylic painting.
Hope by Dominique Wilkins, acrylic painting.

Raw Realism for Painting Wildlife Landscapes

For Dominque Wilkins, acrylic is the most versatile painting medium. It allows her to work from the tiniest detail to scumbling and glazing. Wilkins uses a collection of photos to start, putting together a composition that captures the emotions she wants to portray.

She paints with a high level of observation to detail and, in a series of details and glazing, slowly builds up form and color intensity. The color layering builds up a luminosity. To achieve raw realism the artist pushes color saturation a bit beyond truest natural color to help heighten the emotive message.

All of these amazing wildlife landscapes came from our newest resource, AcrylicWorks 4. If you are interested in exploring the power of this particular medium, this book will confirm that you are on the right track! Acrylics may be what you are seeking in a painting medium. Let AcrylicWorks 4 inspire you to discover that fully. Enjoy!


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Acrylic Painting
Courtney Jordan

About Courtney Jordan

  Courtney is the editor of Artist Daily. For her, art is one of life’s essentials and a career mainstay. She’s pursued academic studies of the Old Masters of Spain and Italy as well as museum curatorial experience, writing and reporting on arts and culture as a magazine staffer, and acquiring and editing architecture and cultural history books. She hopes to recommit herself to more studio time, too, working in mixed media.   

One thought on “Painting Wildlife Landscapes

  1. ^^ That fox is simply stunning! At first glance it is a photograph. I was going to mention at an attempt at humor of how that fox must’ve been perfectly still and not minding the artist sitting so close with their canvas and paint. I may be interested in seeing the original photograph though i often find myself remembering this quote,

    “Comparison is the death joy.” – Mark Twain