Giraffe portrait gouache painting

Let’s paint this giraffe portrait with gouache painting

You can watch the video with the full painting tutorial, for a total of 45 mn, or read the article below with step by step instructions, as you prefer.

Giraffe portrait

Colors used: zinc white, primary blue, lemon yellow, Naples yellow, red, burnt sienna, burnt umber and black.

Brushes: large and medium flat brush, round brush, very fine brush.

I painted it on A4 size, hot pressed watercolor paper in a pad, so I don’t have to tape the paper.


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You can download the copyright free reference image by Sian Cooper on Unsplash.

Giraffe gouache painting

Begin by tracing the contour. You can draw if you prefer, for the purpose of the live, I prefer to trace. I’m using a blue transfer paper by Sarah, as I know it will blend in the blue sky and won’t be visible after. 

Place the inked side on the watercolor paper. Place the photo on top.

Giraffe gouache painting

You can either tape the transfer paper and the image on the pad, or hold it firmly with your hand while tracing. 

It’s better to use a criterium, as you’re sure your line will be thin.

Draw the main shapes only, not the brown spots on the skin.

Giraffe gouache painting

Wet the paper with a brush or a sponge (this is why it’s important to use watercolor paper). This will help the sky color to blend in the paper well. 

Just wet, not soaked!

The lines will slightly disappear, that’s fine, we’ll still be able to see them for gouache painting. 

Giraffe gouache painting

Make a mix of primary blue and white, darker than the color you want to get, as the paint will dry slightly lighter. 

Apply with a large brush, using horizontal brushstrokes. I like to have visible brushstrokes so I’m leaving it quite rough.

If you prefer a more even surface, apply more paint so you’ll be able to blend. You can see a blending tutorial here

Gouache painting giraffe

While the blue paint is still fresh, apply different greens with a flat brush. Use blue and red to darken and give more variety to your greens.

Leave the neck empty, as it will be easier to have the same color under all the giraffe.

Gouache painting giraffe

For the skin of the giraffe, I’m using Naples Yellow, mixed with a bit of Yellow Ochre and Burnt Sienna. Mix the color while it’s wet on the paper, so you don’t have harsh lines between colors.

Refer to the image to see where the skin is darker. 

Add more white if needed in your mix.

Gouache painting giraffe

Following the reference image, add the shapes of brown, grey and beige. I’m not cleaning my brush, mixing as I go.

Gouache painting giraffe

While you have brown on your brush, apply the spots on the skin. Look closely at the reference image, and you’ll see a black spot in the middle. 

Add black paint while the brown is still fresh to integrate the colors.

I’m still using the flat brush to get the torn edges of the spots. 

Gouache painting giraffe

Finish the skin with various colors.

For the eyes, use pure black and pure brunt umber.

Gouache painting giraffe

Using a very dry paint and a round brush, add small brushstrokes to mimic loose hair on the horns, ears and nose.

Gouache painting giraffe

Finish with the finest round brush, using pure black paint, to make the eyelashes. It’s a good idea to exaggerate a bit the image.

I decided it was a girl, so made long eyelashes!

Add a tiny dot of pure white for the highlight in the eye, and voilà!

The finished gouache painting, 45 mn live painting. And having fun, once the stress is gone!

Let me know if you paint it, tag me on social media so I can share  your art!


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Cecile Yadro

I believe that art can help you express yourself, find your voice, and discover who you are. And I want to help you do that. I've seen how powerful my classes can be for more than 20,000 students. In my classes, I focus on giving you the tools you need to express yourself and make your creativity take flight!

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