Drawing White Fur

Getting colours right in fur is always hard, but I find two of the colours people struggle with the most are black fur and white fur. I had a period last year where I found myself drawing a lot of white animals, and thought I’d share some of what I learned here, in the hopes that it will help someone out when they’re faced with the challenge of drawing an animal that is primarily white.

This portrait of Dexter uses purples, blues, pinks, yellows and even greens to get the depth of his white fur.

First and foremost, just like with black fur, white fur is not one colour. While greys certainly play a role, depending on the lighting you’ll find lots of different colours in there, from creams to browns to blues, purples and pinks and even green. If you’re having trouble figuring out what colours to use, try using the eyedropper tool in Photoshop to see which colours are in your reference photo.

Don’t be afraid to use these colours in your drawing! One of my biggest challenges is that I tend to desaturate all my drawings. I’ve gotten a lot better over the years, but I still have to fight the urge to be conservative with the colours I use. The truth is, using the correct colours and not being afraid to use them will really bring depth and lighting to your drawing. Right now I’m working on a husky that has a lot of ‘white’ fur, but I’m mostly just using blues, because the lighting in the reference is quite cool. 

One of the other big challenges in drawing white or light coloured animals is that oftentimes I work on white paper. While I do have coloured or toned paper, most of my portraits are on a white background, and I need to be able to draw a light animal on a light paper surface. So how do you make a white animal stand out on light paper?

In this portrait of Lily, the lighting was such that the right side of her face was essentially bright white. I added a bit of shading on that side to make sure her profile would stand out against the white paper.

When I’m working in coloured pencil, which is my primary medium, I make sure I cover all areas of the animal with pigment. While I leave the background as the natural colour of the paper, I make sure as little of the paper is showing through as possible on my actual subject. This is true even if I’m drawing a white animal on white paper, and I could theoretically just leave the white parts with the paper showing through. The thing is, white comes in different colours, and likely your coloured pencil white will be different from that of the paper. Even if the difference is subtle, you’ll be able to see it. Coloured pencils also leave a sheen to the surface once you’ve added enough layers, and this can really help a white animal stand out. 

You’re also probably going to have to fudge your reference photo a bit. While it’s fine to have some very light parts in the middle of your subject, you want to make sure the outline of your animal is clear. I usually use a very light grey with some colour tones to emphasize the shape of the animal I’m drawing. The key here is to make this look natural, and not like a deliberate outline. 

If you’re having trouble drawing white animals on white paper, don’t worry about it! Pick some coloured or toned paper, get the hang of the colours that show up in white fur, and then move on to white paper. Hopefully these tips give you a good starting point! 

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