paint a giraffe

with watercolor

how to paint a giraffe - step-by-Step

You want to paint a giraffe. So did I, giraffes are such interesting, intriguing characters.

Painting is an individual expression of the artist. There are many different ways to express yourself.

You may want to do a traditional giraffe painting, a fun, colorful painting or a painting to get a point across. Follow me step-by-step while I do three different watercolor giraffe paintings.

how i painted a giraffe

Painting artist Carol May shows you step by step three different ways to paint a giraffe with watercolor."Mother's Love"

how to get ready

  • These are preparations for any watercolor painting.

choose your painting surface

Watercolors traditionally are done on watercolor paper. Modern technology has given us two additional ways to paint watercolors. We may paint on watercolor canvas or the modern Ampersand's Aquabord.

Why do I use Aquabord for my watercolor paintings?

sketch or draw your painting

Use your photos or public domain photos for reference and draw your composition directly onto the painting surface.

If you erase while you are drawing, draw on a separate paper. Then transfer your drawing to the painting surface with graphite paper, so you won't damage the painting surface.

select your colors

A cohesive painting has a limited selection of colors. I normally limit the colors for any painting to no more than three to five colors.

Painting color schemes I often use.

get you paint ready

I use tube watercolors. I keep them in a covered palette.

When I know what colors I will be using, I spritz them with water to freshen the colors. If the paint is running low, I put more paint into the well.

what else do you need?

Have your watercolor brushes and plenty of clean water in a container.

Paper towels are also very handy.

let's paint a giraffe!

traditional watercolor techniques

  • Use these basic watercolor steps to create your own giraffe paintings.

step 1

Wet the area where you will painting the watercolors. Wet the area you will be painting.

Let the the water soak away slightly before you start painting.
When the sheen is gone, start painting.

This painting is done entirely with the complimentary colors, blue and orange.


step 2

Paint the lighter areas of watercolor first.Paint the light areas first.

Define your light source. In this painting the light comes from the upper-right side.

Paint the light and dark sides of the subject according to the light source.
Painting the light and shadow sides shapes the subject.

You may shape your object with several light layers of color.
Let one layer dry before glazing on the next layer.


step 3

Paint the darks of the watercolor painting.Paint the darks.

After the light colors are dry, start painting the dark spots over the underpainting.
The darker colors cover the lighter colors.

Adjust the intensity of the color by using more or less water.

The spots are painted with one pass. This is why I like tube watercolors.
The dark spots on the mother's neck are done with one layer of paint.
It does not take several layers of paint to get a dark color.


step 4

Paint the background around the main subject of the painting.Paint the background.

Before you paint, wet the painting area. 
This time paint before the sheen goes away, so the paint will flow.

I used a large round brush and worked quickly to prevent hard edges.

I flicked some dark blue spots on for added interest.
At the top, toward the light source, I painted and flicked on some orange areas.

My idea was to repeat the pattern of giraffe spots.
You may paint a background without spots, which would be great.
It's just individual choice of how you want to paint a giraffe and its background.

Please Note: Some people like to paint the background before the subject.
When the subject is painted first, it is easier to see how to contrast the values.
It's a matter of preference; either way is correct.


step 5

These are the five basic steps of watercolor painting. Now, detail and finish the painting.Detail and finish the painting.

Look over your painting and do any necessary finishing touches.
Make sure you have used light against dark values to define the forms of the giraffes.

Leave a light highlight in the eyes to give them life.
When the paint was dry, I scratched out the highlight because I had painted over it.

a colorful giraffe painting

  • Let's paint a giraffe just for fun!

Tutorial of a fun, colorful watercolor painting.Put your colors on the wet surface.

There is a small dot of masking fluid for a highlight in each eye.
Let it dry before you start painting.

Wet the painting surface. While it is still wet, put on your colors.
The Aquabord is 8"x10", so I put the colors on with a brush.
This is a small version of pouring watercolors on a larger surface.

The colors will flow and mingle together.
For example, the yellow and pink mixed to create orange.

Some of the purple flowed down into green and made mud.
I blotted the muddy color off with a paper towel.
And replaced it with some pink (you see in the next image).

Spritz the outside edges of the colors, so they blend softly onto the white.


Pulling the giraffe out of the beautiful colors.Retrieve your drawing.

The paint dries a little lighter than the wet paint.
But it was hard to see the drawing.

You may lift the dry paint with a damp stiff brush, a fiberglass brush
or the eraser on a normal #2 pencil.
The pencil eraser is what I used for most of the lifting.

I lifted the dried paint off the edges of the giraffe.
Then I darkened the rest of the drawing with a #2 pencil.


Finish your fun giraffe painting.Paint the darks and highlights.

The light in this painting comes from the left.
I used yellow for the light side of the giraffe
and blue or purple for the shadow side.

Look at the giraffe's neck for example.
First I glazed yellow on the left side of the neck.
Then I glazed blue on the right side of its neck.

The spots were painted with purple after the glazes were dry.
The rest of the painting was completed in a similar manner,
using yellow for the lights and purple for the shadow side.

Pull off the masking fluid, when the eyes are dry to reveal the highlights.

Green was added to the background next to the giraffe on the left side.
This gave some contrast to the yellow highlights of the giraffe.

Lots of fun! Paint a giraffe with your own selection of colors.

an easy giraffe painting

  • Paint a giraffe to get a point across....

Paint the giraffe subject before the background.Paint the main subject first.

I enjoy painting watercolors directly.
I call easy watercolor painting.

I put plenty of paint on my brush and paint the color on to dry paper.
Then I quickly apply clean water to one edge to disperse and soften the color.

See the giraffe's ear as an example.

The giraffe's spots were applied quickly before the lighter underpainting was dry.
Then they blended into the damp underpainting with soft edges.


How to paint a giraffe reflection.Turn the painting upside-down to paint the reflected giraffe.

I learned from previous paintings that I need to paint right-side-up.
My mind didn't work upside-down.

This happy giraffe is done in brighter, cheerier colors.
And it has a smile on its face.

Instead of seeing you weighed down by the cares of the world;
see yourself beautiful the way God sees you.


Paint the background around the giraffes.When the subject is finished,
paint the background.

When I do close-up subjects like these giraffes, I paint the background after the main subject.

It gives me the opportunity to co-ordinate the colors and value against the main subject.

When I paint landscapes, I do it the other way around.
I paint the background first and come forward and paint the focal point last.

paint a giraffe - your way!

There you have it, three different versions of how to paint a giraffe.
Use the basic watercolor techniques to create your own version of a giraffe.

  • Wet your painting area.
  • Paint the light areas first.
  • Then paint the darks.
  • Paint the background.
  • Detail and finish the painting.

Most of all - have fun painting your giraffes!


Mother's Love giraffe painting by Carol MayMother's Love
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