How to Paint Black Fur in Watercolor

One of the things I love about watercolors is the transparency of the paint. I like to layer thin applications of color, allowing drying time in between. This creates depth in texture and rich dark colors – especially effective for dark brown or black fur.

I create realistic watercolor paintings, with detailed fur markings and features. As a beginner, I was impatient, creating dark brown and black fur in one shot using thick applications, and couldn’t figure out why my color was bland and lifeless.
Through practice – doing it over and over – I figured out what worked. The key is to use thin layers of color. And patience.


Here’s a short lesson on painting black fur in watercolor. It’s useful as a warm up or to build your skills, and is based on a shape from this lesson in my Online School on creating a black cat in watercolor.



Mix Blacks on the Palette

I create blacks and greys with a mix of French Ultramarine Blue and Burnt Sienna, using Winsor & Newton Professional Watercolor Paints. Here’s my entire List of Materials and Supplies.

  • Bring a puddle of Ultramarine Blue and Burnt Sienna to the palette, both the consistency of thin cream, and combine to create a black.
  • Add water to part of the puddle, thinning the consistency to create a grey.






Create the Under Painting

First, create the under painting – the lightest value that can be seen in the fur.

I like to begin with an under painting, especially in darker subjects, so the white of the paper won’t show through the black fur.

Fill the entire shape with pale, watery grey.






Create Pale Fur Markings

Fill the shape with pale fur markings, creating a map to follow for future applications.

  • I’ll use the consistency of thin milk to create these initial hairs.
  • There are different methods for filling a shape with fur markings. I often begin with the edge of the shape.
  • If I’m not sure what to do next, I change strategies. It eventually works itself out.

You could also begin at one end and gradually fill the shape with fur markings. Some things to consider…

  • Be aware of the overall curve of the hairs throughout the shape.
  • Space the hairs apart so the grey of the under painting can still be seen. At this point I’m aiming for a light value overall.
  • Stagger the placement of the hairs. If they are placed in a straight row, it will appear artificial.
  • Vary the length of the hairs.






Create Contour by Manipulating Value

  • Going darker in value on the right side of the shape and transitioning lighter towards the center will create the impression of contour.
  • Continue to use the consistency of thin milk.
  • Place another layer of fur markings over the previous application – taking it just a bit darker in value on the right part of the shape.
  • To take the value even darker, use thicker color from the palette.
  • Gradually transition lighter in value towards the center.





Apply a Thin Glaze of Color

Before going any further – I often do this with dark brown or black animals – I’ll apply a thin glaze. This will slightly smooth the fur, unify the values, and take the shape a bit darker overall.

  • Add water to the color on the palette to create the consistency of thin, pale tea.
  • Gently apply the glaze of thin color over the entire shape, barely touching the brush to the paper.
  • Allow this to dry completely.

Deepen the Darkest Parts

You will need a mix of black (Ultramarine Blue/Burnt Sienna) the consistency of cream in coffee or tea – thicker than before but still pretty thin overall.

  • Create another layer of hairs, focusing on the darkest areas on the right side and along the lower edge.
  • Use a gentle touch so the previous markings will stay in place.
  • The thicker consistency on the palette creates a darker value on the paper.
  • Transition lighter in value towards the center of the shape.

These variations in value create the impression of contour and roundness in the shape.





Final Glaze – Two Options

Option 1: If you are happy with the overall value, apply a glaze of plain water over the entire shape to slightly smooth the fur markings.

Option 2: If you would like to take the shape darker overall, apply a thin, pale glaze of grey.

And That’s It – Realistic Black Fur 

Realistic fur has been created by applying layers of hairs. The darker values on the right and along the lower edge gradually transition lighter, creating the impression of a curve.

If you’d like to learn more or see this lesson in real time, I invite you to check out the step by step video tutorial at my Online School. It’s part of a course comprised of tutorials for artists of all levels.







The video is in real time, and includes these concepts:

  • Mixing blacks and greys on the palette
  • Loading the brush with color
  • Using different consistencies of paint to create fur markings
  • Creating depth and shape by manipulating value
  • Using a glaze to smooth and unify

This course is available with the Monthly SubscriptionAnnual Membership, or can be purchased as an Individual Course.

Thanks for visiting, and please comment if you have questions or suggestions! Visit the Online School to learn to paint realistic animals in watercolor!

    Free Tutorial by Rebecca Rhodes

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