How to Paint a Lion in Oil

Skill Level : 3 Advanced

Medium : Oil Painting

Subject : Animals

Tutor : Nolan Clark

Class Length : 2 hours 4 minutes

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Gold Level or Higher Class

Class Description

We will learn how to paint a Lion portrait

During the class you will learn:
1) How to use texture paste to create depth on the canvas
2) How to paint long haired animals
3) How to paint natural looking battle scars
4) How to paint realistic eyes
5) and much more

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Class Tutorial


sketch the template onto the canvas

Transfer the close up of the lion to the canvas.  Try to include as many of the fine lines as possible. Keep the reference photo attached at the top so that you can flip back and forth to be sure that all details are included.


apply texture paste to the canvas

Use the same technique for applying the texture paste as was done in the earlier Big Five lessons. Spread the spackle (or Polyfiller) fairly evenly over the face, building up to about one centimeter for the nose.   Sculpt out a  small “looking-in” effect at the bottom of the nose, the mouth, and eyes.

Colour mixing

color used for painting the background

Prepare some sky colour and several green tones for the background.  Drop a bit of sky colour into each of the greens so that the background will not be too bright.


painting the background

Starting with the darkest green tone, randomly apply shapes onto the canvas. Gently blend them in, keeping them out of focus.   Be sure that there are no hard edges here.  Keep the bottom darker and the top lighter, giving a sunlight effect.  In the top left corner, extend the foliage in a bit as the hair will be falling down over it.

Lion colours

colors used for painting the lion

Mix the colours that you will need for the lion, including highlights and shadows.  Note that you will need quite a few shades for the lion's hair and some specialty mixes for features like the mouth, tongue, etc.

Bridge of the nose

painting the bridge of the nose

Use a stabbing/dabbing motion with your brush to paint in the short hairs above the lion's nose.  Block in the correct colors at the correct places, then blend them.


painting the nose

Continue using the same brush stroke to paint the nose, constantly creating contrast by overlapping dark and light colors.  Be sure to get the tonal values and angles correct.  Constantly refer to your reference photo.  Ignore the cuts on his face as they will be added in at the end.

Right side of the face

painting the right side of the face

Block in the colours of his face.  Again, check tonal values and angles as you work.

Right eye

painting the right eye

Follow Nolan's lead as you paint the eye.  Start with the outside of the eye, then work your way in.  Add the details around the eye.  Then place the pupil in the center of the eye and add the cast shadow above it.  Lastly, add the remaining details around the eye, including the sky colour reflection on his eye.


painting the forehead

Begin by painting the eyebrow on the right, including the dark patch above his eye.  Note that your brush strokes will begin to be in longer flicks as the hair gets longer.

Now move to the other side of the forehead and use the same techniques in painting that.

Left cheek

painting the left cheek

Add your darkest dark where the mouth and chin meet, then fade it out.  Add the black markings.  Then flick out small white hairs along the edge of the chin and flick them also from the spots on the chin.

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Left eye

painting the left eye

Begin by painting the iris, then move to the outer parts of the eye.  Compare this eye with the one you did first.  It's important to add the highlights/reflections to the eye.


painting the mouth

First, create a looking-in effect in his mouth.  Then work on the gums, being mindful of the varying colours.  Thin out the dark paint as you move to the lower mouth, being careful to get your angles correct.  Watch Nolan's brush strokes here as he puts is highlights and shadows to create a realistic  mouth.

You may want to check back periodically to see that all of the facial colours and tones are correct.


Block and blend in the body colours at the far right.

Left mane

painting the left mane

Follow Nolan's lead in filling in this area.  His brush technique is critical to getting the hair to look correct.

Right mane

painting the right mane

Continue with the same technique as you used on the left mane.  Watch your angles.  Paint in the black shadow that will help set off the ear when it is painted.

Right ear

painting the ear

Identify the darkest areas you will paint to create the looking-in effect.  Use stabbing-dabbing strokes to make the short hairs of the ears.

Central mane

painting the central mane

Continue with the same technique for the longer hairs.   Clean brush between tones, so that you get clean, vibrant colours.


painting the chin

Start off with the white chin, then add in the appropriate colours, or as Nolan says, “dirty up that white.”  Flick out some hairs to hide the hard chin line.


painting the whiskers

Look carefully where each whisker will be placed.  Note the angles, directions, and lengths of each as they come out from a dark spot on the face.  Lastly, add some black to the whisker where it is closest to the root.

Final overview

final painting of the lion

Go back over the painting as Nolan does to be sure you have all the details correct.


About Nolan Clark

Read more about Nolan Clark

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