Portrait of a Lion




Introduction: Portrait of a Lion

About: I'm a homeschooled high school student living in one of the sunniest places on Earth. I love drawing and creating things!

My previous drawing-related Instructables were done by taking screenshots on the computer, but not this one! I like doing digital artwork, but I'm still better at working in traditional mediums. This is an acrylic painting of a lion that I painted to enter in the High School Fine Arts division in the local county fair. I've also decided to enter it in the Make to Learn Youth contest here on Instructables, so here are my answers to the questions:

What did you make?

This is a painting of an African lion. For lack of a better name, I entitled it Panthera leo. I did it on a 9 x 12-inch canvas board and painted it in acrylics. In total, I'd estimate that I worked on it for over twenty hours. 

How did you make it? 

A few weeks ago, I got a batch of several hundred reference photos from some friends who went on safari in Africa (something I would LOVE to do someday). Lions have always been on my list of favorite animals, so I knew I most likely wanted to do a lion. It took me a while to decide which photo I wanted to work from. Once I finally settled on one, I got to work. I'd been planning to enter a piece in the county fair all year, but as my family knows all too well, I'm really bad at entering art contests on time. And remembering the due date, for that matter. I thought I had at least a week, but when I looked up the dates, I discovered I had about TWO AND A HALF DAYS. I usually don't cut it quite this close. In fact, I don't think I've ever completed a painting of this detail in such a short amount of time. The day before the due date, I spent practically the entire day painting, stayed up until past 1 AM, then got up at 5 AM to finish it. My brain was pretty well-fried by the end of it all. 

Where did you make it?

I have an easel set up in a little alcove next to the window in my room. It's where I do all of my paintings, and you'll see some pictures of it later on. I brought in the iPod speakers and listened to the Lion King musical cast recordings in three different languages (I adorethe Lion King Broadway musical, and am currently collecting the cast recordings in as many languages as I can) for most of the painting process. My family is pretty good at leaving me alone when I'm painting, so I didn't have too many people barging in, but I'm perfectly capable of distracting myself! It was hard to focus on painting when I was in the middle of an interesting book (the disadvantage to working in my bedroom, where I dump all my library books). 

What did you learn?

Well, I learned (for probably the sixth time or so) that it really isn't a good idea to wait until the last minute to start a painting. One of these days, I'll listen to my own advice and actually start early, for once. One of these days.

Time constraints aside, another challenge was the fact that my back's been kind of messed up ever since I was involved in a serious car crash (only two months after being in a similarly serious car crash). My mom took me to a massage therapist the day I started working on the painting, so I felt kind of weird and woozy for the rest of the day (and, though my legs were once again properly aligned, I was almost sorer than I was before the massage). I didn't want to mess up my back further, so the entire time I was making an effort to sit with good posture, which isn't very easy for me to do when I'm painting (or any time I'm not playing the piano, really). 

Anyway, that was all rather stressful, but despite everything, I think the painting turned out pretty well. It's one of my best acrylics so far. I'm still not completely happy with the grass (which gave me a lot of grief near the start of the painting, and if I had had more time, I would've put more effort into it), but at least I managed to make it look vaguely likegrass. Backgrounds have never been my strong point. If nothing else, I think it looks better than the vague green mass that I stuck behind my Eurasian Eagle Owl painting for last year's fair.

I'm quite happy with how the lion turned out, though. I figured out how to do realistic-looking whiskers (I think my favorite section of the painting is the muzzle area), and I was able to make the eye look nice, which was a bit tricky, since my reference photo hadn't caught the eye in a very flattering manner. Speaking of the reference, working from a small photo (4 x 6 inches, in this case) is kind of hard, but I think I'm getting better at it.

Step 1: I Should Probably Clean Up My Drawing Area. Actually, I Should Probably Clean My Whole Room...

I told you you'd get to see pictures of my easel setup, didn't I? It's kind of a mess in the photo (funny, it's kind of a mess in real life, too). My art supplies are a rather mishmash collection, ranging from paints won as prizes in the Junior Duck Stamp competition, to brushes handed down from my great-grandmother, to the ancient plastic Pokemon cup that holds my rinsing water. I often use several reference photos, but in this case I only used one (I'm afraid you can't see it very well, thanks to the glare). The initial sketching process is one of my least favorite parts of painting. It takes a lot of fussing to get the sketch to look right, and if anything is misplaced or out of proportion, it'll come back to haunt you later on. My methods of making sure it looks at least vaguely accurate usually involve mirrors and a good deal of squinting.

Step 2: Painting the (argggh) Grass.

As I said, backgrounds are not my strong point. I'm better at focusing on the main subject of a painting than its surroundings. When I looked at the tangled mess of African grass in my reference photo, I had no idea what to do with it. This is where I bemoaned the fact that I'm self-taught and don't have an art teacher to tell me how to deal with grass like that (my dad used to paint and often gives me helpful tips, but he was at work that day, and I couldn't afford to wait ten hours for him to come home). I started by laying down some base colors, thinking that maybe somewhere along the way I'd figure out how to take care of things. My first attempt at doing the grass just wasn't working for me, so I ended up painting over it and starting over again. I went and looked at a book of African wildlife art that happened to be sitting in my room, and decided to simplify the grass and be less concerned about making it match the reference photo. It went better the second time around, and even though I'm not totally happy with it, I'm not appalled by it, so I guess that's good enough.

The photos have commentary, if you feel inclined to click them ...

Step 3: Fur Is So Much Easier Than Grass!

Painting the lion was far more entertaining (and far less stressful) than painting the grass. I haven't actually done a whole lot of mammals in acrylics, so it was fun to figure things out. 

Again, click the pictures for commentary. 

Step 4: Signatures. Are They Really Necessary?

After finishing the lion, the last thing to do was sign the painting. It's kind of funny, but I really dislike signing my work (I only do it on my parents' insistence). I always feel like it messes things up, for some reason. Maybe I just need to make my signature prettier. 

Anyhow, I put together a little GIF animation showing the painting process from start to finish. It's a bit blurry, but I thought it was interesting see how it took shape over the course of the painting.

So, was all the stress and strain worth it? Well, I think so! My painting was well-received at the fair, earning a purple ribbon for Best of Class, as well as a cash prize. I put it up for sale, but I'm kind of hoping it doesn't sell--I've grown quite fond of it. Of course, getting money for my artwork is always nice, so I doubt I'll be complaining too much if it does end up selling!

As usual, check out my website to see more of my artwork. Also, if you've enjoyed (or been amused, at least) by my sleep-deprived ramblings, please feel free to vote for me in the Make-to-Learn Youth contest!

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    5 Discussions

    June Nair
    June Nair

    4 years ago

    You did not tell us exactly how to paint the lion


    4 years ago

    Awesome work! I wonder why it wasn't featured by Instructables.


    5 years ago

    This looks great! I'm I guess what you'd call a 'semi professional' artist too. I mostly do pet portrait commissions, but one time someone wanted a landscape (not that long ago actually) and yeesh! Grass is REALLY hard to render! Even though the landscape was in pencil, I definitely feel your pain. What I've found to work for new and difficult textures is testing out different methods for making different textures on a piece of scrap paper before applying them to a painting... Of course, with only two days to work on something of that size, there probably wouldn't have been enough time to experiment anyway... ;)

    Again, wonderful painting!


    im not a big fan of the grass but that lion looks pretty sweet, good job