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I need to kick-start myself into painting more frequently. Everything is getting in the way!

I had fun with this lion. I used a limited palette of about five colors. They were Arctic Ice, Raw Sienna, Copper Kettle, Halloween Orange and Sepia.



I began by cropping my reference photo so the lion’s eye was near an area that is good for a focal point. Β I drew the lion and splattered the surface of the painting with frisket, using a small brush. I wanted the resulting splatter to be tiny pinpricks of texture throughout the lion’s mane and shoulder. I began by mapping out where I wanted my most dominant darks. I know! Opposite of what the watercolor books say. I think that once you learn the basics, you can allow yourself some freedom of expression and there are some subjects that I build from light to dark and others where I map out the dark areas, first. I almost always push the darks even farther during my final steps in the painting.



Next, I concentrated on the midtones and light wash shapes in and throughout the face area. This is where I want to draw my viewer’s eye, so I try to feel for the contours of the lion’s face, around the nose, eye, brow and muzzle. It helps to define what portions of the lion’s face bumps out and what rolls in and gives the face more of a 3-D feel and not read so flat.



This is the step I washed in, very loose and wet, a background. I painted around the whisker dots on the muzzle and filled in the shapes in the eye and the nose. I added the background blue in heavy and light washes in and around the painting. I always bring my background colors into the foreground. I feel this gives a painting better balance. It takes a simple background and gives it a reason for being and helps to create a feeling that the subject is a part of the environment he is in rather than pasted on. I chose this particular blue because this painting is for a Detroit Lion fan.



In the final step I do all the tiny detail work and enhance some areas. I darkened and detailed the eye. I darkened the fleshtones in the nose. I defined more shapes around the eye. I darkened and defined the muzzle around the whiskers so the frisket areas would show up. I enhanced the shadow shapes under the chin, both sides of the ear and far brow line with Halloween Orange. I darkened all the shadow shapes. I removed the frisket once the painting was dry.

Thank you to Wet Canvas for the reference for this lion.


  1. As a “King” I love Lions! This one is particularly handsome. I really enjoyed reading your process. I always find it helpful. I’m curious as to what brand of watercolors you use. I don’t think I’ve heard of some of your colors.

    • Hi Carol,
      Thank you for this about the lion. ..and your question. I now use American Journey watercolors. They are the Cheap Joe’s artist watercolors and are sold by them. I became hooked during two different workshops I took and have never looked back. I was, previously, spending way too much money for paint, did not want to use the student grade watercolors, so took the plunge. I get a large tube of brilliant color for the same amount of money. That said, the arctic ice is a form of phthalocyanine blue. The copper kettle is quinachridone burnt orange. I don’t know what to tell you about halloween orange other than I love it. It is lighter and more transparent than cadmium orange. Hope that helps.

  2. Glad you did that “kick start”! πŸ™‚

    • Thank you, Susan. Just seems like my efforts are start and stop and start and stop while trying to make time for everything, lately. πŸ™‚

      • Making time for everything on ones busy schedule is a challenge. I haven’t had time to relax and pick up a brush for awhile now and it looks like it will be awhile before I can. πŸ™‚

  3. Beautiful work as always, Leslie. I find it helpful to establish my darks early in the painting process, too, and often work this way.

    I had been wondering about your paint brand as well and am interested in your choice of American Journey. I tried them once and didn’t care for them, but that must have been 15 years ago. Products can change in that amount of time – if you like them so much perhaps I should give them another chance!

    • I’ll bet I know why you don’t like them much, Anne. Your paintings are bright and composed of mostly beautiful transparent colors. The American Journey watercolors are a little more opaque and give a heavier bodied feel to the look of the watercolor. Could that be why you didn’t like them? It took me some time to get used to that feel of them. I have used them for five years, now, and have noticed no fading and I have learned more about how the colors work together with the water. It always takes me time to become accustomed to any changes in paper or paint.
      Thank you for the comment, especially how you like to establish some darks early, also.

  4. Gorgeous, I love it!

  5. Brilliant Leslie! Thanks for sharing your process.

  6. How striking! Love the blue for Detroit!

    • Ha! Thank you, Caroline. Just had to have that blue in it. πŸ™‚

  7. Very cool Leslie – love this style. I get so much from your WIP posts.

    • Thank you, Mary. I like to study other artists’ step-by-steps. I have learned from them and hope that some of what I share may be used by someone for their own creations.

  8. So gorgeous! Love it.

  9. Just amazing. Your images…notice the plural…take my breath away. You continue to inspire.

    • Oh. You are so kind, Jots. I think the same of your work. …and your writing? I so admire how you can create a feeling and a space and a picture with words. Thank you.

  10. What personality and I love the beiges agains the blue. Wonderful work, Leslie.

    • Thank you, so much, Jamie. I see you, in my mind with your love of cats… I know you are a friend to many animals, but that cats are something very special.

  11. Love your lion Leslie! I’ve been wrecking a painting for over two weeks now, I have so many distractions. Will finish it and move on in a couple of days.

    • I learn so much when I wreck a painting. Here’s one: I get such weird concoctions, sometimes. Later, I often find pieces of these in later paintings and it is just what the new ones needed. I think it is just another reason for loving this thing we do called painting. Thank you for this comment, Joy!

        • Joy Makon
        • Posted February 12, 2015 at 3:52 pm
        • Permalink

        I like your “wreck” although I’d hardly call it that. The color is personal and deep! I enjoyed scrubbing out a section of my wreck late last night and not only did I feel better, but the work improved (from cropping, really). I’ll finish it in a day or so and post it for you all to throw things at online : )

      • I just went to your site and viewed your painting. I love it!

  12. I love the color palette!

    • Thank you, Nancy. The one touch of color with so much neutral. I had fun bringing the blue to this.

  13. Fabulous lion. I find that not painting affects my emotional well being. When I don’t paint for a few days I find myself sufferring a bit. As soon as I create the veil is lifted.

  14. He’s so proud and handsome! Your step-by-step is always so informative and I enjoy learning little tips like including something of the background colour in the painting. Who cares about rules? The way you do it works brilliantly.

  15. Just beautiful! I love the blue in the shadows and that terrific nose!

    • Ha! You mention the nose. I was working on this guy one afternoon and his nose reminded me of Jimmy Durante. Leave it to you, who I consider ever-so-creative, Cindy! Thank you for that!

  16. Leslie this is gorgeous. I really like how you composed the lion and, as always, I love your step by step description of what you did to achieve the overall effect.

    • Hi Nicola,
      Thank you for this. I consider this high praise coming from you whose gouache portraits of animals never cease to amaze me!

  17. Love your beautiful work!

  18. He’s quite the handsome fellow, isn’t he. I think moving around with the darks and lights makes sense a lot of the time. It is so easy to overdo things at any stage.

    • We just talked about darks and lights in class last night and How each could serve to move the viewer’s eye through the painting and how they can be used to divide space and create depth. So much to learn! So much fun to experiment with! Thank you, Ruth!

    • Inese Poga Art Gallery
    • Posted February 26, 2015 at 10:18 am
    • Permalink
    • Reply

    You captured all the main features of a king and a lion! Once again, great color choice and very attractive watercolor!

  19. He is magestic and calm at the same time… You’ve captured him well… Beautiful Leslie!

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