Watercolour Project: How to Paint a Kudu’s Horn

The Kudu; a beautiful tawny-coloured, white-striped antelope, native to Africa’s plains. Their impressive spiral-shaped horns are a great painting exercise for beginners watercolourists. Practice building shiny, smooth and boney textures, and incorporate advancing and receding colours. Best yet, when you’re done you’ll have a gorgeous painting you’ll be proud to frame!

What you Need

A Brush

I’ll using Winsor & Newton’s Series 7 Round Brush, in sizes 0 & 3

Paint, a mixing palette & paper

You’ll need a brown, purple, orange and white. I’m using Burnt Sienna (DS), Dixoazine Violet (WN), Quinacridone Gold (DS) and Titanium White (WN). I’m paint on Bockingford cold-pressed watercolour paper.

Kitchen Towel & Water

Keep kitchen towel on the table, so you can amend how much water is on your brush.

If you’re using a Transfer Method

You’ll need ordinary printing paper, a 2B-4B pencil, and a putty eraser (you can substitute with Blutack if need be)

Reference Photos

Portrait of a Kudu Animal

These horns are beautiful, curling statements. They also come in a wide range of undertones. The first step is finding a good reference photo. You could use stills from wildlife videos, photos online or books to help you with your composition.

Kudu eating

1. Sketch the Shape

Begin by sketching out the shape of a kudu’s horn using a pencil. If you aren’t confident in your drawing, I really recommend you do you drawing on a spare sheet of printing paper, and then use a transfer method to put your final drawing onto your watercolour paper.

Once your design is on the watercolour paper, make sure the pencil line are just light enough to see. Remember, any watercolour paint that you apply to the paper will ‘lock in’ the pencil lines underneath, and you won’t be able to rub it out later.

2. Base Layer

Begin by painting in the base layer. This is a great opportunity to start using your advancing and recessive colours. For instance, for my Kudu’s horn my base colour is Burnt Sienna. However, I’ve mixed in Dioxazine Violet (a purple) for the far side of the spirals, and I’ve added warmed Quinacridone Gold (a yellow) to the spirals that are closest to the viewer.

Apply these colours directly onto the page, and then blend them together on the paper. This will keep the colours fresh and vibrant. If in doubt, start lighter and then build up to darker colours.

3. Create the Shape

First – are there any hard lines to your base layer that you aren’t keen on? You can soften the edges of hard lines by taking a damp brush, and gently reworking the edges. Hard edges can also be an opportunity to add a new ridge or texture to your horn!

Then, revisit your base layer colours. Dip into less dilute mixes and gradually begin working on the curves. You want to work on the edges of the horn to give the impression it’s cylindrical, and you want to add shadow to the spiral to give the impression that part of the horn is spinning further away than other areas.

4. Begin to Create Texture

As you darken these areas, imagine the lines and ‘wrinkles’ of the horn that wrap width-ways around the horn. Begin to create the impression of these by dragging lines of your darker colour around the horn. There are usually more wrinkles around the base of the horn than the ends. You can build up to even darker layers later.

4. Add the Highlights

If you’d like to really emphasise the contrast, you can add a few highlights. I didn’t want to use pure white, as the pure colour is rarely seen in nature, so I used titanium white, mixed with a little burnt sienna.

Once your painting has dried, your beautiful kudu’s horn is ready to be framed!

Video Coming in January


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