Six Tips for Painting Creatures’ Features

I write a column for California Art League's newsletter called, coincidentally, "Art Studio Secrets." Here's a recent entry from the July issue.

1. Outside Rounds

When painting humans and creatures keep in mind that body parts, including facial features, have outside round curves. Your figures will appear more lifelike by following this principle. (See "Study for Madonna With The Yarnwinder" below.)

Leonardo Da Vinci knew the secret of drawing life: every contour is an outside round. In this drawing the curves are sometimes subtle and may appear to be concave, such as the chin line on the model’s right (our left). On careful examination it’s drawn by a series of outside rounds. (Image courtesy of

2. Bright Eyes

High contrast makes eyes appear shining and alive. When painting any eyes, use the darkest black in your painting in the pupil and the purest white for the highlight, placed side-by-side. Apply thick white in a horizontal stroke to catch light and enhance the effect. 

3. A Nose for Art

When painting noses, don’t put black inside the nostrils, even if they look very dark. Keeping nostrils lighter puts more focus on the eyes, optimizing emotional appeal.

4. Blushing Artist

Try real blush applied with cotton to put cheek color onto a watercolor figure. Blush blends easily and the colors are natural. A bit of blush on animals’ ears adds cuteness. 

5. Painting the Two-Lips

Lower lips usually catch more light than top lips; consider warm colors with yellow and white. The top lip usually has more shadow; consider warm neutrals with red. Use dark warm colors for linear shadows between lips. 

6. The Tooth Be Told

It’s difficult to make teeth look natural. If you must paint them, use white toned with gray violet and warm white for highlights. Paint teeth darker as they curve front to back, away from light. Keep shadows between teeth blurred and light.

Of course, these tips are generalities. Many factors influence style and color choices, and each painting requires its own expression.