How To Paint An Animal - Chipmunk

Painting Tutorial 33 new

Greetings! In this painting tutorial I will show you How To Paint An Animal – Chipmunk.

A lot of people asked me, how to paint an animal, that’s why I am going to show you the painting process step by step. Before we start, I want to say that I don’t have a never changing painting system. Normally I change my style and methods constantly. In my opinion, there isn’t any wrong way to paint. Paint until you are happy or at least mildly satisfied. Especialy when you want to paint an animal, you have to consider that every animal is very differnt. Some have fur others have feathers etc.

Don’t sit at your desk or easel for hours. Get up and walk around at least once an hour. It’s not healthy to sit for a long time, that’s why it’s one of my bad habits.

Painting Materials

I will do this with the following colors: apple barrel liquid acrylics, Utrecht heavy body acrylics and Blick heavy body acrylics. The canvas will be a Daler Rowney 5×7 inch panel. When it comes to brushes I like the Blick scholastic brushes and some crafters choice brushes. Liquitex is a slow dry medium, that you can use for the heavy bodies. If you wonder about my pallet, its just a glass pane from an old shelf.

Reference Photo

I won’t be adding any reference photos here, as I do not own any. You can use various ones from Pinterest. The thing about using random photos as references and reference photos in general, is that you need the right to do that. If you don’t have the rights of the photos, then you are stealing them. That’s illegal and rude.

You may be wondering, “How am I supposed to use a reference photo?”


This is very easy! If you want to paint an animal exact from a photo, then you must have the rights to do so. Ask for permission, own the photo, or in some cases you can purchase reference photos from others. If you just want to get a general idea of what something looks like, then you can look at a photo for reference. This is what I did. I wanted to know the general shape of a chipmunk so after looking through many pictures, I did some sketches.


I came up with my own poses and chose one with motion.


Preparation before painting the animal

There are some steps to do before painting the piece. If the surface you are painting on is not primed, make sure to do that. You can use gesso, there are different brands and I like Winsor and Newton, but I won’t need it for this. When I buy canvases or canvas panels, I always buy the ones that are already primed for convenience.

If you prefer to paint an animal from a detailed drawing or draw on the canvas before painting, then now is the time to do that. I rarely do this, unless I want something really detailed or very specific. You can transfer your drawing with transfer paper, again there are different kinds, I don’t have any personal recommendations but you could use the one that I marked as a text link.

Use fixative on your drawing before you paint

If you a drawing be sure to use a fixative before you start painting, so it doesn’t smear, if you don’t plan on that then let’s go to the next step. This is an absolute must for me, toning the surface! There are many reasons for toning, it will help hide small white patches if you miss spots while painting and it will help the acrylic stick better to the canvas.


I use apple barrel chestnut, with it being diluted by water. You don’t want it too watery, more like an opaque muddy mixture. Apply it to the entire surface that will be painted.

It wont’ take long to dry, but it should look something like this


No perfection at the beginning!

It doesn’t need to perfect or remotely pretty, it’s just the foundation. Next, I’ll use a long filbert brush, to sketch out the painting. You can use whatever brush you want but if you drew out your picture first or transferred, then just trace over it at this stage. Again, it doesn’t need to be perfect, and it may not look at all like your planned sketch, and that’s okay.

Rarely does a painting stay as planned at first!


Now it’s time to colormap. This is the second layer, the nutmeg tone wash being the first. Pick the colors that will go best with your picture. This means the colors that will be in your picture and most importantly at this stage, what’s in the background.


Start with the background

I always do the background first, before my main focal and before I paint an animal, so I can better judge how the light will fall on them. In my sketch, I planned for the light to come from the right coming down from the top right corner like an evening light. I still may be able to do that later, but now it is looking like a midday lighting.


Now colormap the chipmunk, select or mix the colors you think are a closer match. Be sure that they will match your environment by studying your reference photos. See how the fur color changes in different lighting. Paint an animal with fur: Your fur colors, here would be black, white, nutmeg and burnt umber, with the same green as your background. Mixing with your background color will blend the animal or focal point much better. Remember- light reflects! I think my chipmunk is in a shadowy part of the tree.


Always let your work dry between layers! Acrylics dry fast so it won’t take long.

When it’s dry, it’s time for the next layer. If you are using heavy bodies for your third layer, this could be your final layer if you go for less detailed. I like to do as many details as I can do. If you are working with liquid acrylics for this, or just using the apple barrel then you might have loads of more layers. Don’t sweat that idea because these paints dry fast.

A little tip regarding the apple barrels

Mix with white for a more opaque color. This will pale your color, so you can follow up with more layers. You can add a little black to darken as you mix but that will naturally darken your color. These paints are fantastic but there is a lot of mixing and layering you have to do with them for this kind of painting.

I have used them for years though and couldn’t bring myself to stop using them. They are cheap and come in many colors, which I love.

Go on with the next step

I’m using heavy bodies now. I like the solid and almost oil paint look that these give. Again I am starting with the background. Here I’ll be using Hooker’s green, Sap green Hue, Yellow Ochre, cadmium yellow and viridian hue plus a little titanium white for mixing. Your colors may be different, that’s okay! The background is going to be pretty blurry with less detail as it’s not the focal point. Don’t worry about a detailed background for this kind of painting. That’s how the eyes work anyways. When you are focused on one thing, everything in your peripheral vision is blurry or rather-less detailed.

Here I am working on some background details like leaves. This little guy is up high in the tree so there is a lot of foliage up there. I won’t worry about detailing every leaf as it’s not essential for the effect and too much detail and too much detail can make the piece overwhelming.

I want to tell you some things that you shouldn’t do. Do you see where the brush is pointed? Can you see how the paint is kind of thin and smeared? For watercolors and on paper I imagine this would be alright but not here, this doesn’t look good, when it dries it will look like something spilled rather than painted on. This happens from thinning your acrylics with too much water; always keep paper towels or a cloth to wipe access water and paint from your brush.

I’ll stop continuing the background for now and work on the chipmunk.

Add colors that suit

Just like with the background, I am adding different colors that I consider suitable. Here I used, titanium white, burnt umber, raw umber, and raw sienna mixed with a little hookers green. When I do the strips or darker patches I add a little bit of ivory black.

How to draw a chipmunk 16

With a liner brush, I will outline major details. You can do corrections here as you’ll just paint over the lines anyways. I redrew the arm a little with a tan mixture and then outlined the darker areas.

Now comes another of my favorite parts! I start with blackening the tree. Then in narrow patches, I brush in some bark. See the inconsistency in the color and patterns? Tree bark is very random and should never be perfect. Especially oaks.

The focus should be, doing this till you have an even surface and the bark looks smooth. After that I add some highlights where the light comes through. Doing this will also help create depth. Putting some white on the leaf is a good idea when you want it to have a bright spot later.

Now I will go on with my liner again and line where the bark edges are, again doing it very randomly.

Using your old frayed brushes have some advantages at this point.

Mossy effects

Now I added some more brown and green tones for a mossy effect.

On the tail, I started with some fine hairs. Add random white lines that all have a matching end. Fur can be tricky. For the rest of the body, I used an off-white rather than a white because those parts aren’t in direct sun. You should do this on the face, starting from the nose and going outwards. It’s not nessesary to paint thick, just enough evenly spread for the right effect.

Use some darker colors

After that, do the same to the body with darker colors, working light to dark. I only did this with the off-white, warm brown, dark brown and then black. Follow your reference photos to check the right placement of the colors. I also did some background highlights to brighten the leaves and the tree trunk, to create the light effects how I wanted them. In the next step I also corrected the width of the tail, chipmunks have thinner tails than squirrels do.

In my opinion, the eye is one of the most important parts when you want to paint an animal. They show life. I did a dark brown iris and created some brown spots in the brighter parts. Then I dabbed in a thin coat of white in two layers, so that it’s a little transparent. Then I increased the effect by dabbing the eye reflection over it.

After looking over everything and seeing I was satisfied I signed my initials and called it done. If you find errors that you can’t fix, relax! You can do it better next time. Learn from mistakes and improve your new techniques.

One habit of me is to always critique my works when I’m done. In another try, I would do the bark differently. It looks more like pine than oak. Another thing that I would do differently is the background. Furthermore I think the direction of my leaves doesn’t make much sense. I is very important to think about what you can improve on your next painting.

Overall, I am happy with the painting and how it turned out 🙂

Revise your painting

Ps: Don’t forget to varnish!


I hope you enjoyed the how to paint an animal tutorial and it will help you a lot!

This article was written by one of our guest authors: MaKayla Beineke

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