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Watercolor Paint Tricks: How to Add Whiskers to Animal Portraits

Since the moment I held a pencil I've been creating with drawings and words. I believe paintings enlighten and poems entice our thoughts.

Two Tricks to Help You Tackle Making Whiskers Look Fantastic on a Watercolor Animal Portrait

If you ever get frustrated trying to add tiny lines to delineate whiskers on your animal portraits then please read further for two tricks that will help alleviate this issue. You'll be able to tackle whiskers on a watercolor animal painting like a pro.

My Tiger

By Mary Borges (aka ML Borges)

By Mary Borges (aka ML Borges)

A known fact in the watercolor world is to paint with your negative spaces in mind in order to keep the whites of the paper for the highlights of your subjects and create shades with the colors of your paints. That sounds great and easily works for landscapes. What do you do when you have to paint whiskers on an animal painting? Since they are thin, lined shades of whites and greys it can become a daunting task. I have a great trick, learned through time and experimentation, which I’d love to share with all you watercolor enthusiasts.

Let’s start from the beginning, when you’re looking at a blank piece of watercolor paper and have a picture of an adorable animal you want to draw as your subject. The first conquest is the drawing, then when that’s completed the application of paint becomes the scary part. Why? That’s an easy answer because all of us watercolor enthusiasts know that painting over paint is possible with oils and acrylics but isn’t with watercolor. In the watercolor world there’s only one chance to get it right.

One thought that will hopefully help you out is to remember that it’s paper. If you have the perfect drawing, then copy it onto tracing paper. You can use carbon under the tracing paper to copy your drawing on multiple pieces of watercolor paper. Once that concern is gone then all you have to do is focus on the paint. For me, it alleviates the scariness of putting that paint down and making a mistake, because I know I can move on to the next sheet of paper without having to redraw my subject.

For my example, I’m using my tiger painting to explain my trick for whiskers. After I drew the subject, I used watercolors to paint all the normal shades and highlights necessary until I reached a point of completion. When I had the tiger painted to my artistic satisfaction then I let the paper dry completely. In my case I let it dry overnight.

Gel Pens


The next day I added my whiskers using a white gel pen. I kept in mind that whiskers are a variety of sizes, they have many different lengths, and they go in various directions. If you study a picture of a tiger, cat, or dog you will see exactly what I’m talking about. The pen does all the work in making the soft white to grey lines needed to create a look of whiskers. When I lightened the pressure on my gel pen the lines came out lighter, when I applied more pressure on the gel pen this created a thicker line that added another dimension to the look of my tiger’s whiskers.

If you’re a watercolor purist and believe in only using a brush on your painting there’s another great product that I found available, which can accomplish the same look. Dr. Ph. Martin makes a product called Bleed Proof White that’s a water-based paint and can be used with a very thin brush to create the same effect. It can be mixed with other paints if you want to create variety in the whisker’s colors. Keep in mind that all the same concepts apply for making whiskers look real as I talked about with the gel pen. I suggest trying both of them to find out what works best for you. As artists we all have individual styles that make us and our art unique. That’s the beauty of painting.

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Dr. Ph. Martin's Bleed Proof White Product


Both products are easy to find online through many different art sources. You can use Cheap Joe’s, Jerry’s Artarama, and if you have a Michael’s store in your area they carry the gel pens and have an online option too. I believe that we need to be supportive of each other in our artistic endeavors. If you come up with some great ideas please do share it with the rest of us. We all love to experiment and some ideas can become a successful key to give our painting a final touch of glimmer and make it shine.

My final words of art wisdom is to keep on keeping on with whatever medium you chose to work with. The only way to get better at anything is to practice it regularly. One of my art teachers that I was fortunate to take classes from, Wayne Thiebaud, would constantly remind us of this concept, practice makes better. Perfect isn’t the goal, only better.

© 2020 Mary Borges


Mary Borges (author) from San Diego, California on April 03, 2020:

I'm so glad that I was able to help. You will have great success with the gel pens, which happen to be my favorite. Thank you for reading my article and keep on painting.

Lora Hollings on April 03, 2020:

Thank you for these very good tips. I like to do watercolors of animals but I’ve never had much success in doing the white whiskers. Now, I should have greater success.

Dbro from Texas, USA on April 03, 2020:

This is very good advice, Mary Borges. I have used the bleed-proof white in the past with pretty good success. I have not tried the gel pens, but I will now. Thank you for sharing these great tips!

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