Soft Touches

Painting animals using a mixed media technique



Professional Artist Vivien Walters uses pastel and acrylic to paint a graceful white swan

White subjects present their own special difficulties as there is always a temptation to use too much white. When painting white animals I look for tone and colour in order to give the finished picture form and depth, and here I will be showing you how to put these techniques into practice by painting this serene white swan.

Tip: Remember to look for subtle changes of colour and tone when painting white animals, reserving the use of white for the brightest highlights. Using a grey scale will help you to identify subtle tonal variations. I began with a white pastel, drawing the outline of the swan on a piece of Blue Haze Colourfix paper.


1 I used a hard white pastel to draw the swan and then I added several layers of acrylic paint, gradually building up the acrylics to the required strength by using thin layers rather than applying one thick layer. When I was satisfied that the under painting was sufficiently developed I completed the painting using soft pastels.

Please note that references to left and
right are as you look at the painting.


2 The next stage began with a thin layer of black acrylic over the black areas around the beak and the eye. I then covered the remainder of the beak with a thin layer of Burnt Sienna acrylic, which I warmed up by over-painting with a layer of Cadmium Red.


3 When the acrylic had dried I sprayed the paper with water, then added thin layers of Ultramarine Blue acrylic over the area of the water and the shaded area on the swan’s back.


4 To add warmth to the painting and to soften the blue I applied a few layers of Burnt Sienna acrylic over the entire paper, before adding a few more layers of the Ultramarine Blue acrylic over the area of water. Finally in this stage I brushed on some White acrylic over the highlight on the wing.


5 I now started to use pastel, most of the time applying it with a piece of kitchen paper, but occasionally I applied it directly on to the surface of the paper. I used a Yellow Ochre to begin with, on the sunny areas of the neck and head, and next to the highlight on its wing. Then I added a Deep Flesh Pink next to the Yellow Ochre on its wing and also in various areas on its neck and head, as the evening sun was giving the swan a warm glow. I added a thin layer of Ultramarine Blue to the shadow areas on the wing, and on the neck and head. I also used a light Phthalo Blue to bring out the lighter blue areas. For the deeper warm shadows I used a Purple Brown pastel to darken the shadows in the blue areas and used an Umber pastel to create shadows in the areas catching the sun. Next I used a Black pastel on the black areas on its face and eye and lifted some lights with White. For the water near the swan’s back I added a Deep Inky Grey pastel and for the water in the foreground I used the same grey and also some light Phthalo Blue.


6 I began this stage by adding a Deep Orange pastel to the beak and then darkened the beak in places with a Deep Brownish Orange pastel before adding a Light Flesh pastel in the lighter areas. I went over the black areas again using a Black pastel and also used an Ultramarine Blue for the lighter areas in the black area above the beak. I then added the highlights softly with White. Next, I started to work on the feathered area of the swan’s head, and carefully rendered the subtle changes of colour and tone. To begin with I used a Medium Grey pastel next to the black areas. Then I added Yellow Ochre and Raw Sienna to the darker warm areas on its face and used Naples Yellow to lift out the lights. I continued to use these colours on its neck and also added some Ultramarine Blue on top of the neck and on the outer curve of its neck. On the lower part of the neck I also used a Deep Flesh Pink before applying the Ultramarine Blue over the shadow area. Working on the wing now, I strengthened the shadows and colours using the same colours that I had previously used on this area. I chose an Umber Pastel next to begin to define some of the feathers on the lower outside curve of its neck, adding a touch of Ultramarine Blue on the lower inside curve below the beak. Moving on to the water, as this is behind the swan, I decided to keep the tone and detail subdued to help it to recede. Umber Pastel was applied to the dark areas, and I strengthened the Phthalo Blue in the foreground. Light applications of pastel were made to the water in the distance behind the swan with touches of Yellow Ochre, Deep Flesh Pink and Deep Orange.


7 In this final stage I needed to add detail, and tidy up the image. Beginning with the beak area, I strengthened the existing colours and tidied the edges, and also added a little more detail. I then added more Black to the eye and redefined the highlights with White. On the head I lifted out some of the lighter areas with Naples Yellow and White and added a few suggestions of feathers around the top edge, using a colour shaper to define them. I also added a touch more Yellow Ochre near its eye. Working my way down the neck I brought out the lights with White and Naples Yellow again adding a few suggestions of feathers with the help of a shaper. On the chest I strengthened the colours I had previously used and the shading along the outer side of its neck to help to define the edge. Moving on to the wing, I again strengthened the existing colours and added the odd highlight and feather as detail. The light areas on its wing were also strengthened. I finished by adding a little Naples Yellow in the water towards the front of the painting and a final touch above the swan’s back.


• Colourfix paper - colour "Blue Haze"

Ultramarine Blue
Burnt Sienna
Cadmium Red

• Naples Yellow
• Yellow Ochre
• Umber
• Raw Sienna
• Light Flesh Pink
• Deep Flesh Pink
• Deep Orange
• Deep Brownish Orange
• Purple Brown
• Medium Grey
• Deep Inky Grey
• Light Phthalo Blue
Ultramarine Blue

• Soft brush
• Roll of kitchen paper
• Shaper
• Grey Scale (optional)