Watercolor Techniques: Making a Unicorn Painting

Unicorns are mystical and elegant creatures found in many fantasy stories. We’ve covered how to draw a unicorn before. It’s time to take your unicorn art to the next step with a unicorn painting tutorial from Dreamscapes. 

Painting With White

Because watercolors are a transparent medium, painting something white can be tricky. With an opaque medium like acrylics or oils, you would simply add white paint to the desired area. With watercolors you have to think about painting around the white, defining it by what surrounds it—especially the shadows.

Because white reflects all the colors around it, the whites in a watercolor painting are actually made of light glazes of faint color; with bits of white paper saved for the brightest highlights. For this demonstration, you’ll use a palette of yellows, greens and blues to create the perfect white for a unicorn.

Materials

Watercolors: Burnt Umber, Lemon Yellow, Naples Yellow, Paynes Gray, Prussian Blue, Raw Umber, Sap Green, Ultramarine Violet, Viridian Green

Brushes: ½” flat, no. 0, 2 and 4 round

Other materials: Pencil, paper towel, water

Starting a Unicorn Painting

1: Finish the Sketch and Apply the First Layer of Background Color
After sketching the unicorn with a pencil, use a no. 4 round and Lemon Yellow to paint around the body. Blend outward into the surrounding background using clean water.

2: Continue to Build Up Background Color
Using a ½” flat, wet the background with water. With a no. 4 round, paint wet-into-wet using Viridian Green in the upper corners, fading to Sap Green, and then to clean water as you move inward toward the unicorn. While this is still wet, trail the shadowy tree branches with Prussian Blue in the background, switching to smaller brushes to pull the color out into the thinner twigs.

Building Up the Unicorn

3: Color in the Body and Mane
With a no. 0 round, mix a bit of Ultramarine Violet into Viridian Green. Place short parallel strokes in the direction of the fur along the unicorn’s face and body. With a no. 2 round loaded with clean water, blend the strokes to create very diluted washes of shadow across the body. Using the same mixture as before, glaze a light layer of color over the trailer hair in the mane.

4: Add Fur Texture and Shadows
Using a no. 0 round and a mixture of Raw Umber and Payne’s Gray, add fur details to the shadows along the body as you did in step 3. Add texture to the fur, painting with short parallel strokes in the direction of the fur growth along the shadows of the body. Then briefly swipe a wet no. 2 round and clean water over these strokes to soften them. With a no. 2 round, wash some shadows over the background leg, body and tendrils of hair.

5: Place Final Details
Using a no. 0 round and a mixture of Payne’s Gray and Burnt Umber, Paint the hooves and eye. Lift some highlights out. 
On the horn, place short strokes of Payne’s Gray parallel to the twisting spiral. Soften the texture by brushing heavily diluted Naples Yellow vertically up the horn.

 

You can find more unicorn painting, dragon drawing and other fantastic art instruction in the Dreamscape series by Stephanie Pui-Mun Law.

Dreamscapes | fantasy art | unicorn painting | dragon art | fantasy creatures 

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