Tutorial: How To Paint A Lion On A Watercolor Postcard

Today, I’ve got two ways to walk you show you how to paint a lion on a 4″ x 6″ (A6) postcard. The video shows you the action, and the write-up is so you can stop and think about each step or come back later to look something up.

I’m using stills from the video so both versions use the same reference.

My Tools

The Video

The Three Step Process

  • A rough pencil drawing
  • A detailed technical pen drawing
  • Watercolor painting

The Rough Pencil Drawing

I use the grid method for my initial pencil drawing. I have three postcards, three different grids per inch. The more complex the animal, the more grids per inch should be used. I used the grid shown in front for my lion.

The reference photo is uploaded into an online program that overlays a grid (see tools for link).

Using A Grid For Drawing Example

The grid postcard is placed under a blank postcard and placed on a light box so that I don’t have to draw and then erase the grid lines – faster, cleaner and did I mention faster?

I draw the outside outline, the eyes, nose, mouth and ears, the feet and any detail that will keep me to scale. This drawing is to help ensure the animal fits on the postcard, and gives me landmarks to shoot for.

How to Draw A Lion - Contour Drawing

The Detailed Technical Pen Drawing

Sometimes, I barely do this drawing and other times I establish my darkest areas, show the direction of the fur, distinguish the different textures and establish what is coloration and what is lighting.

Technical Pen – size 0.3 nib. Chosen because it’s small enough for fine, light lines and I don’t need to color large, dark areas.

I did a very thorough drawing for this tutorial so there would be a large range of strokes. It’s hard to really explain what’s happening. It happens so fast! Instead, I’ll give you –

Things To Watch For

  • The direction of the line, which should follow the lay of the fur or hair
  • The length of the line, which should establish long hair, short fur, and textural elements
  • How dark or light the lines are
    • The shorter and lighter – drawn faster with light pressure
    • Darker and longer – drawn slower with heavier pressure

You only have black ink and white paper to work with. Both speed and pressure determine how dark or light an area will be.

For instance, at this point…

  • the eyes, nose, mouth – medium pressure and medium strokes.
  • the shading around the nose and face – short, fast strokes and light pressure
  • the mane –
    • heavier pressure, longer strokes for longer hair
    • lighter, shorter strokes for shading
Drawing A Lion - Doodlewash

In the pencil drawing, I drew the major shape. In the pen drawing, for an animal, I draw …

  • eyes first
  • nose, mouth, ears
  • the darkest areas in and around the face (but not too dark – gotta leave something for the painting!)
  • The paper is left blank for lightest areas
  • short fast lines create the lightest greys

Checking my reference photo often, I go, almost in a circle, in and around the face, but don’t add all the detail. If you try to complete one area at a time, you’ll get too dark or out of proportion. I keep widening out until I have the important detail, and the shadows.

I continue, until I feel I have a sufficient under-drawing to guide me as I paint.

How To Draw A Lion - Doodlewash

How To Paint A Lion – Step by Step

  • Juicy = paint mixed in lots of water so it’s about the consistency and color of flavored lemonade
  • Milky = paint/water mixed to about the consistency of milk

The first step is wet-into-wet …

  • a juicy wash of Nickel Azo Yellow over the entire lion
  • dab off color with paper towel, where the sun hits the mane and body
  • go to next step while the paint is still wet
Nickel Azo Yellow Da Vinci Watercolor

Blend the colors …

  • drop in juicy amounts of terra cotta, letting the colors blend. Use the reference photo to decide where to leave the most yellow and add the most terra cotta
  • let it dry completely

Terra Cotta Nickel Azo Yellow Mix Da Vinci Watercolors

Make a creamy mix of mostly Terra Cotta with a touch of Nickel Azo Yellow …

  • Work on the middle values

Work quickly and while the paint is still wet …

Drop In Terra Cotta Paint A Lion
  • Add juicy Cobalt Blue where there is shading
    • work lightest shading while paint is wet

As paint gets drier, mix creamy Cobalt Blue …

  • paint the darkest areas
Add Juicy Cobalt - Paint A Lion

Make a dark, creamy mix of Terra Cotta and Cobalt Blue …

How To Paint A Lion In Watercolor - Darker Mixes - Doodlewash

Paint The Rocks

  • Dab tops with paper towel, where the light hits rocks
  • Let it dry completely.
How To Paint A Lion In Watercolor - Rocks - Doodlewash

You’re almost done. Once dry…

  • add the smallest details
  • add more of the Cobalt Blue/Terra Cotta mix to the darkest areas

How To Paint A Lion In Watercolor - Final Details - Doodlewash

You are done!

RESIST the urge to fuss (now if I can just listen to my own advice!)

How To Paint A Lion In Watercolor - Final Image - Doodlewash

Send to a friend, family member or put it somewhere to cherish!

Click Here To Visit Me on Life Imitates Doodles To Enter For A Chance To Win Hahnemühle Cold-Pressed Postcards And More! (enter by July 18th)

Recommended14 recommendationsPublished in Tutorials, World Watercolor Month
  1. Mary Roff 4 years ago

    Incredible instructions and what a lovely lion! Thanks so much for sharing your process!!

  2. June Hadaway 4 years ago

    This is so wonderful. I hope to try soon.

    • Author
      Sandra Strait 4 years ago

      Feel free to ask any questions. I’d love to see what you paint!

  3. June Hadaway 4 years ago

    Love the painting Sandra

  4. Sandee Setliff 4 years ago

    Lots of tips on your techniques, beautifully created!

    • Author
      Sandra Strait 4 years ago

      Thank you! This was my first video for this kind of subject so it was a real adventure, lol.

  5. Jennifer McLean 4 years ago

    wow that was so fantastic and it shows your excellent drawing skills. The subtlety of the paint was awesome. I loved that you didn’t add the terra cotta to the cobalt first, I have to try that!

    • Author
      Sandra Strait 4 years ago

      Thanks, Jenn. I tend to drop or glaze rather than mixing colors together as often as not. It works better on something small like this. Larger and the colors tend to blend out too much.

  6. Rod Fletcher 4 years ago

    This is terrific Sandra. I especially appreciate the text – wish more on You Tube would emulate this.

    • Author
      Sandra Strait 4 years ago

      Thank you, Rod. I find it hard to follow on a video, too. It’s nice to see the action, but I always miss things or can’t remember it later. Plus, on some devices videos just don’t work.

  7. Sharon Nolfi 4 years ago

    Wow! Thanks for this comprehensive tutorial. It’s great to have the video and print instructions.

    • Author
      Sandra Strait 4 years ago

      Thank you, Sharon! It was an interesting challenge doing it both ways.

  8. Robin Arnold 4 years ago

    Fantastic video, Sandra! Line and was is my favorite but my pen work is not so hot. This will definitely help!

    • Author
      Sandra Strait 4 years ago

      Thank you, Robin! Feel free ask questions if there is anything else you want to know about what I’m doing with the pen work.

  9. Laura Hale 4 years ago

    Wow! Beautiful lion and wonderful tutorial. Thank you so much for sharing both.

  10. Clelie 4 years ago

    Thank you for the incredible, instructional video and supporting text! There is so much technique to absorb there from beginning to end I will be studying this many times over. Your wonderful sketching skills brought him to Life and gave him so much expression. Can’t thank you enough for the work you did on our behalf!!!♥

    • Author
      Sandra Strait 4 years ago

      Thank you, Clelie! I truly appreciate the feedback.

  11. Ingeborg 4 years ago

    Excellent! Thanks so much for sharing. This is a “must hit repeat several times and learn.”

    • Author
      Sandra Strait 4 years ago

      Thank you so much, Ingeborg! I’m glad you found it helpful.

  12. harrietb978723927 4 years ago

    What s great step by step tutorial and the end result is fantastic.

  13. Fantine Ponter 4 years ago

    Wow! Thanks for the lesson and all those good tips. Love that lion!

  14. Yvonne Reeder 4 years ago

    Absolutely fantastic Sandra! The line drawing had my jaw dropping – and then the pigment application process was like eyecandy! You are so seriously talented! 👏🏻❤️👏🏻

  15. Thanks for sharing the tutorial. This is beautiful and I really admire your work. I wish I were your husband who receives a beautiful post card each morning! My best to you.

  16. Leslie Grindey 4 years ago

    Great Sandra its been great to watch .Cleaver you

  17. Karen Howard 4 years ago

    Oh Sandra, your lion is truly majestic and beautiful. Thanks for sharing!

    • Author
      Sandra Strait 4 years ago

      Thank you, Karen! I’m honored that I was allowed to share!

  18. Susan Cuss 4 years ago

    Super video Sandra!

  19. dkatiepowellart 3 years ago

    oooh, now i gotcha secrets!

    • Author
      Sandra Strait 3 years ago

      Thank you, Kate! I wish I got notification when people left me a comment. I’ve still got a few secrets stashed away!

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