Horse Watercolor: Start to Finish

Horse watercolor paintings are fun and I enjoy doing them. But, I'll admit that I find them more difficult than dog paintings.  It’s harder to make the color transitions look smooth on such a short hair coat, and can’t seem to get that “glow” look that horses have in the sunlight.  But I practice, and hopefully, I’ll get better. 

Here’s a timeline of a recent draft horse I did so that you can how this watercolor horse art project progressed from starting sketch to the final painting.  This took me about 10-12 hours total over a few days.

Horse Watercolor: The Drawing

I start with an accurate sketch.  This is a tracing of a printed photograph.  I don’t see any point in spending hours doing a hand-drawn sketch as my goal is to learn to paint better.  I start painting the eyes and nostrils first because it helps me to establish the animal's "personality" as I begin.

The Underpainting

The underpainting is the first layer of overall color which helps me establish where the darks and lights will show through under future layers of color. I add more detail to the muzzle here as well, and add more color to the ears.

The first of many layers

I then start adding more layers of color and paint in the mane and ears. In the next set of pictures, you can see I'm adding more color layers and beginning to put in more details. Click the pictures to see larger versions.

Deepening colors and adding details

In the sixth and seventh layers, I add more color by glazing over the underlayers with red gold and burnt sienna shades. I also add in the details of the bridle and bit.  Click either picture to see a larger version.

Final Painting

And here is the final painting.  I usually end up fussing at the end, because I put the original photograph and the finished painting side by side and then see all the places I need to fix.  : )

Although I like the result, it's not exactly what I started out wanting to create. One of the things I would like to improve is the color transitions from light to dark, so that I can show the muscle structure of the animal more accurately. Horse are such beautiful, strong animals and as I improve, I hope to be able to bring out the beauty and strength in my future paintings.  

Also my paintings don't "pop" off the page yet, so I probably need to work on contrasting values more vividly.

I hope you enjoyed seeing how I progressed through this horse watercolor, and that it helps you in your painting.  Ready to start one of your own?  You can download lots of horse photographs for free use from or  Some of  the social media sites have groups where photographers are willing to share their photographs for free.

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