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How to Paint a Dolphin

Paint a dolphin in or out of the water using landscape painting techniques.
dolphin image by goce risteski from Fotolia.com

Dolphins have fascinated artists since the earliest times. Dolphins painted on a mural in Knossos, Greece capture artists' love and reverence of powerful, gentle dolphins. Start your composition by drawing the dolphin subject on canvas. Alternatively, use light ultramarine blue to paint the outline directly onto your canvas. Outline and build the dolphin's musculature and features. Use larger brushes to blend colors from top to focus point, and from the base to focus point. Finish your painting by outlining the dolphin subject in burnt umber oil paint.

Paint a dolphin in or out of the water using landscape painting techniques.
dolphin image by goce risteski from Fotolia.com

Things You'll Need:

  • No. 6 Long Flat Brush
  • Cobalt Blue Oil Paint
  • Linseed Oil
  • No. 2 Rigger Brush
  • Phthalo Blue Oil Paint
  • Lemon Yellow Oil Paint
  • No. 14 Or 16 Flat Brush
  • A 24- By 18-Inch Prepared Canvas
  • Viridian Oil Paint
  • A Palette And Easel
  • No. 11 Round Brush
  • Sansodor
  • Paint Cups
  • Emerald Green Oil Paint
  • Titanium White Oil Paint
  • Burnt Umber Acrylic Paint
  • A 2-Inch Hog Bristle Hake Brush
  • Burnt Umber Oil Paint
  • Alizarin Oil Paint
  • Pencils
Sketch the dolphin's beak with a smiling, elongated
dolphin image by Tabitha Little from Fotolia.com

Identify the kind of dolphin or dolphins you want to feature in your painting. Study dolphin morphology by referring to a book such as "Marine Mammals of the World" by Thomas A. Jefferson, Marc A. Webber and Robert L. Pitman. Evaluate the proportions of the dolphin. Position the dolphin in the upper third of the canvas. Draw a horizontal eye-shape to create the dolphin body. Add the dorsal fin about two-thirds of the way above the body. Sketch the beak by extending two lines from the dolphin's head. Position the eye adjacent to the beak within the head. Add flippers beneath the body, along with the fluke, or dolphin's tale.

Use pencils and Sansodor to blend the sketch. The sketch forms the basis of your under-painting. Use burnt umber acrylic, a transparent color, with a No. 2 rigger brush to outline and shade the dolphin subject. Allow the painting to dry.

Coat the canvas with a thin layer of titanium white oil paint. The burnt umber acrylic used creates a kind of ghost image. Use landscape techniques to create a halo effect around the dolphins. As mammals, dolphins breathe air. The halo creates the sense of air, movement and light around the subject.

Use a large flat brush to add horizontal strokes of cobalt blue, lemon yellow and phthalo blue. Use phthalo blue -- a dark color -- sparingly, or mix with cobalt blue. Spread the horizontal strokes into the white base. This technique is also frequently used by watercolor painters, according to "Paint the Sea and Shoreline in Watercolor Using Special Effects" author E. John Robinson.

Pull color down from the top toward the dolphins. Add darker colors at the bottom of your composition to indicate depth. Combine emerald green, viridian and alizarin toward the base of the canvas to create a gray-green ocean floor. Add tiny amounts of titanium white to your color if it's too dull or dark.

Blend color from the bottom up toward the dolphins, maintaining the halo. Use burnt umber and lemon yellow to add transparent effects to the sea water.

Blend away any brush strokes with a No. 11 round brush. Brush strokes indicate too much thinner, paint or wetness. Gently remove any excess paint and blend again to create the sense of watery movement. Keep a light touch when blending the colors. Learning to blend takes practice. Make side-to- side and up-and-down movements with your large brushes to create a flawless and brush stroke-free appearance. Finish by outlining your dolphin subject as desired.


Use bright colors, like emerald green, sparingly. A little goes a long way.

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