Thursday, September 2, 2010

Day 4: Mess With The Bull...You Get the Horns!

         Today we turn our attention to the focal point of a longhorn painting:  that wonderful set of full twist stickers on our steer.  Step One of this process will be to establish an underpainting.  I will do this with a light wash of Raw Umber and a touch of Cadmium Orange.
     I try to paint over the entire horn except for highlight areas.  (This is where the sun is reflected off the horn and washes out to a white highlight).  Let this wash dry, and then we’ll move on to separating the light and dark side.

     Now we’re ready to approach the light and dark separation.  The shadow mixture I’m going to use will be the same purple mix of Ultramarine Blue and Alizarin Crimson.  (I lean this mixture toward the blue side).  I then add a touch of Raw or Burnt Umber to grey the mixture a bit.  Greying the shadow mixture gives our shadow a very real look.
     We must ride a fine line between getting values right, yet maintaining luminosity in our subject.  No easy feat with watercolor!
     I will paint the shadow side, hopefully in one pass with my purple mixture, and then add some of the detail in the horn.

     Here are the horns after the purple shadow wash and a hint of the details on the horn.  I used Burnt Sienna and Ultramarine Blue as a dark mixture to define the twist and variations in the horn.  Don’t get too caught up in the many details in the horn.  Notice in the photo that the only thing I added, beyond the shadow color and some horn detail, was a bit of Cadmium Red on the underside of the horn to warm it.

     I didn’t break this in to separate photos because this isn’t an all-day affair.  Paint your shadow side and add the details.  I finished the horn in about 20-30 minutes.  Don’t forget to warm the underside. 
     See you tomorrow! 

All content and images © Mark Kohler Studio.


  1. So the original photo does not have as strong of a shadow on the horns as you have done them in your painting. What was you thought for bringin those harder lines in on the shadow? I think it brings more importance to the horns, what are your thoughts? Was this an artistic choice you made to increase the values. I guess where I'm going is that artists will place more or less emphasis on certain elements for a reason. I seem to do that occasionaly and It sometime is a subconscious action that I don't always recognise until much later.

    David McMullen

  2. Part of it is that I've painted so many longhorns, that I have seen that shadow and know how pronounced it is. And yes, it makes more of a dramatic statement in this simple little piece. Plus, the steer's horns in the photograph are against a dark background, and they stand out. So we needed to define them in our background-less vignette and add to our composition. Sometimes, you adapt the "reality" of your image to be better represented in a painting. In the end, you are after a good painting, not merely a copy of a photograph, so there are many artistic choices to be made. I hope that makes sense.