paint a horse with watercolors using this easy step-by-Step tutorial

  • You can paint a horse!

Learn how to paint a white prancing horse with these easy watercolor steps. Set off the horse with a dark, colorful background.

The background is a mixture of colors that contrast with the horse. Paint the background colors and let them run and mingle together.

Watercolor likes to do its own thing. Yes, you can control it, but it is always fun to let the colors go and do their own thing.

You don't know exactly what the finished product will look like. That's the joy and mystery of painting watercolor!

Paint a horse with artist Carol MayDo a horse painting with watercolor

what do you need to paint a horse?

  • This horse painting is on an 11"x14". It would also, work very well on a larger format. Aquabord is my favorite support for watercolor paintings.
  • The painting is done with soft, round watercolor brushes #5 and #7, plus a 1/2" stiffer angle brush for removing paint. Larger paintings will require larger brushes.
  • Tube watercolors are best for this style of painting. The color scheme is analogous colors of a warm and cool blue, purple and pink.

  • Spray the finished painting with Krylon UV Resistant Spray.

  • Watercolor Art Supplies

draw and mask the horse

  • Get a good reference photo and draw your horse. This painting was done from a photo by Karen Broemmelsick.
Draw the horse on Aquabord.Draw the horse and apply masking.

It's best to do your drawing on a separate page and then transfer it to your painting surface. Erasures may damage the watercolor support.

  • We are going to paint the background first, so apply a masking fluid around the edges of the horse.

Let the masking dry thoroughly before starting on the background, approximately an hour.


paint the background

  • Choose your desired background colors. Let your mind run free and enjoy the pleasure of painting with watercolors.

Don't try to copy the colors in this painting. This is the fun part of painting a horse.

Play and have fun!

Paint the background around the horse.Paint the background around the horse.

Since this horse will be light colored, a dark background makes a nice contrast. Use darker colors where you want more contrast. The colors are darker around the horse's head and back.

  • Dampen the background with a clean brush of water. The water soaks in fairly fast. So dampen each area before painting.

Tube watercolors work well for this technique. They can be mixed with less water, so you get intense colors.

Sometimes the colors are painted on. Other times the colors are splattered on. An occasional spritz of water will help soften and blend the colors.

  • Work fast, so the colors will blend together.

A separate brush for each color works well. Then you don't have to keep washing the brush. The colors stay clean and it speeds up the painting process.

After the colors are on and starting to dry, spend some time softening hard edges or back-runs. If desired, you may use some salt for added texture.

  • Just have fun! There is no right or wrong on this part of the painting, just keep it dark.

Let the background dry. For a background like this, overnight is good. A hair dryer will speed up the process, but it can move the paint around.

You may also pour the background, especially on larger formats.

How to pour watercolors.


remove masking and soften edges

  • Make sure the background is completely dry.
Remove the masking fluidRemove the masking fluid and soften edges.
  • Remove the masking all around the outside edge of the horse. If you used salt, rub it off with a dry hand.

Rub the masking fluid off with a rubber cement pick-up tool or a dry finger. The paint must be completely dry or you will get a mess.

  • Use a clean, damp brush and soften the edge between the horse and the background.

Use a clean, damp stiff brush to remove any spatters from the horse and redefine the drawing. This one advantage of Aquabord, you can remove paint.

Start softening the edge of the tail. When we paint a horse, we don't want high contrast between the tail and its background. Contrast in that area would draw attention away from the front of the horse.



how to paint a horse

The horse is painted a little more carefully than the background.

paint the shadow areas

  • You may use purple or blue for the shadows. But the blues mixed with complimentary orange will make warmer shadows.
Start painting the shadow areas on the horseStart painting the shadow areas

Mix more water to your colors to make them lighter. Use less water to darken your colors.

When most painters paint a horse, they will start painting the head first. This time the belly came first. Then move on to the legs.

The light is coming from the top left, so you will have darker shadows under the belly and on the top of the far legs.


Paint the shadows on the horse's body and legs.Continue painting the shadows

If you are not totally familiar with horses, keep referring to your reference photograph.

On the lighter areas like the legs, wet the surface slightly before applying the paint.

Other areas like the rear haunch, apply the paint to the dry surface. Then use a clean, damp brush to feather the color out.


paint the tail

Paint the horse's tail.

Use a variety of lighter and darker colors. Mix the colors lighter and darker with more or less water.

The paint is applied to a dry surface. That way the stokes remain to simulate the hairs of the tail.

The blue in the tail is the masking.

paint the mane

Paint the horse's mane.

Paint the mane with techniques similar to the tail.

Use a variety of colors and stroke in the direction of the hairs. The mane will be darker at the base where it attaches to the neck.

When the paint is dry, remove the masking fluid.


paint the horse's head

Paint the horse's head with your watercolors.Paint the head

There a various ways to paint a horse. And there a different ways to paint watercolor.

You may either glaze the color on with several layers of paint. When you are glazing, it necessary to let each layer dry before you apply the next layer.

More about glazing watercolor.

My preferred method is faster. Apply a stroke of paint to the dry surface. Then use a clean, damp brush to feather out the stroke.

You may paint a horse with a bolder look. In that case, leave the strokes without feathering. It's your choice.

  • However you do it, is fine. One way is not better than the other. Just get the paint on and have fun.

finish painting your horse

Check out your painting and adjust anything you see. You may soften or redefine areas that catch your attention.

Refine and finish your horse painting.Refine and finish your painting.

It was easy to paint a horse. Things to remember.

  • Use a good reference for a realistic horse.
  • Choose a color scheme with a limited number of colors.
  • Keep the high contrast in the focal area.

take your time and enjoy painting your horse!



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