How to Paint an Elephant in Oil

Skill Level : 2 Intermediate, 3 Advanced

Medium : Oil Painting

Subject : Animals

Tutor : Nolan Clark

Class Length : 1 hour 52 minutes

Avg Rating : No Ratings Yet

Gold Level or Higher Class

Class Description

You will learn how to paint an Elephant portrait

During the class you will learn:
1) How to use texture paste to create texture on the canvas
2) How to indicate distant objects in a close up like this
3) How to render the rough texture of the hide
4) and much more

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Nolan begins by cropping an elephant photo to create a portrait-like close up from which to work.  Now follow his lead to create your own template, apply it to the canvas, and then make your own transparent template to lay over the canvas to help you keep your painting in alignment.


Begin the texturing process by applying a light layer of the texturing paste to the body. By keeping the texture quite flat on this area,  the body recedes  more into the background.  Cover the area with cling wrap and put in the texture lines.  Do the same for the leg, but add just a bit more thickness.

When you reach the ear, add even more height to the paste. Then taper it back down to the base height.  Note that you will actually “lift” the edge of the ear up off the canvas.  Continue with the basic molding to the remaining ear textures.

Apply a fairly light layer to the forehead.  Build up the deepest “humps and bumps,” then gradually taper the forehead back.

Move on to the eye.  Use Nolan's technique for rolling the paste to sculpt the eyelid and make the eyeball.

Next, work on the cheek area.  Then begin layering the paste on the trunk. Carve out a place for the tusk on the right.  Use the cling wrap again to put the main texture markings on the trunk and follow up with your knife to do any remaining small markings.

Make the tusk on the left.  Then make a thick tusk for the right side and shape it into place.  Let the texturing dry. for a day or so.


Before painting the background, remove any stray bits of paste from around the elephant.

Mix some sky colour and apply it lightly where applicable around the elephant.

Using the sky colour as your base, add the colours you will need for the bushes in the background. Dab on the colour as Nolan does.  Then make a darker tone to paint in the twigs.   Blur the twigs a bit, too.
Make another shade to use for the bushes in the foreground where you will put a bit more detail.

Make a light tone for the grasses in the middle ground.  Dab in a bit of shading and add some trees complete with highlights and shadows.

Elephant colour mixing

Mix the colours you will need for the elephant.  Make varying tones to match the reference photo.

Blocking in

Begin by blocking in the cracks on the elephants hide.  Be sure to get the correct tones in the correct places.  Cover the entire hide with this first coat of paint. Once you have all of the hide covered, move on to adding the highlights and shadows.  Use the flat side of the brush for this so as not to destroy the texturing.


Use a dark colour such as lampblack for the eyeball.  Add his eyelashes and then put the gleam in his eye.  Try to replicate the sense of depth that Nolan has created in the elephant's eye.


Mix some tones for the tusks.  Paint them on in such a way as to keep the rounded look.  Shade the tusk on the right to give it the appearance of moving forward.

Final overview

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


About Nolan Clark

Read more about Nolan Clark

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