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Photo of a rock painted as a giraffe

Finished Giraffe Rock Painting

How do you turn a lanky blob into a giraffe? With paint, patience, and several hours to your name.

I finally got a good chunk of time to paint this weekend. I camped out on the dining room table with my sister and her painting project, and we painted the day away. I managed to finish one of the giraffe rocks I’ve been working on. Since there are a lot of photos, most of them are  in the gallery at the bottom.

The Spots

I started the day with the giraffe’s base coat and some shadowing already done. The general form of the giraffe was there, but it was spotless. I used several photos of giraffes to get a good feel for their coats: how the spots interlinked, their shapes, where they’re larger or smaller on the giraffe’s body. I used a orange-brown for the spots, created by mixing a little blue into orange. I outlined the spots with this paint, then filled them in as I went. (Photos 1, 2, and 3.)

I realized pretty quickly that the spots were going to need a second coat to smooth the color out. It would add more time, but it also allowed me to worry less about the first coat and focus more on their shape and placement. Then I added more blue to the brown to darken it, and painted the spots in the shadows. (Photo 4.) Using the same color as the spots’ base coat, I repainted the rest of the spots. It looked much better after the second coat.

6. Photo of giraffe painting process: fur texture, side view

6. Fur texture on the shoulder.

The Fur

Giraffe fur is a little different than what I’m accustomed to painting, lacking the distinction of the wild cats‘ or the wolf’s fluffy fur. A giraffe’s hide is essentially like a cow’s: very short. Most photos you see of a giraffe don’t even show their fur’s texture, but I still wanted to give the appearance of fur in my painting. I found some close-up photos of giraffe fur, and tried to capture the effect. To do this, I used a light orange-brown (orange, blue, and white) to paint fur texture into the up-fur edges of the spots. Then, using the same dark brown as the spots, I painted texture flowing onto the light background on the down-fur side of the spots. (Photos 5 and 6.) Just painting around the edges of the spots gave an impression of fur texture without becoming overwhelming.

Creating Dimensionality

The next parts were a little tricky and ambiguous. Using a watered down black, I added dark shadows around the edges of the head and neck, legs, and tail. I added shadow around the giraffe’s forehead and darkened the eyes and ears. With watered down white I added highlights along the edges to add contrast between the shadow and the forms that needed to stand out. (Photo 7.) I tend to work a little instinctively at times, adding paint where I see it might help. In general, lighter objects stand out, and darker ones pull back into the shadows.

11. Photo of giraffe painting process: Feet and shadows

11. I painted the hooves and used a black wash to define the edges of the giraffe from the raw rock beneath.

Other Details

Then I painted the mane and tail, from dark to light. (Photos 8 and 10). From there I used more washes to darken areas that needed to recede into space and lighter paint to those that needed to come forward in perceived space. I darkened a lot around the neck with black washes. (Photo 10.)

Once that was finished I painted the hooves and painted a shadow around the giraffe on the bare rock with a watered down black wash. It need only be light, just enough to define the giraffe from the rock and imply a little shadow. (Photo 11).

The final photo shows the giraffe in it’s finished state. I still need to sign the bottom and paint on three coats of protective varnish, but the giraffe itself is done. Hurray! It always feels good to finish a painting. It’s not perfect and I still have much to learn, but it’s a fun process.


Here are the photos! Some have a little glare from the flash of my camera. I worked into the night, so my lighting wasn’t great, which meant I needed to use flash. Click on the pictures to see them larger. To see them even larger, click  “Permalink” on the bottom right corner of the slide-show (which appears when you click on one of the thumbnails below).

More photos of the full rock coming soon!

God Bless,