You too can learn and do oil painting the way it was done by the old masters in the Renaissance era. This free tutorial is an original work done in oil on canvas and will show you step by step how I created this painting.

On the left you will see the original photo of an African leopard. First, I made a grid with pencil on the canvas. I placed another grid over the photo and copied the information from the photo grid over to the canvas. This is an easy way to save time and get the proportions correct. I decided to exclude some of the busy detail in the foreground and background. I have included the shadow over the face; therefore, the branch on the right side of the photo will be visible in the painting.

Use various sizes of quality bristle brushes to apply paint to the canvas. Use large and soft brushes to blend the oil. You will also need linseed oil, turpentine, oil medium, and of course, a palette to mix your colors. I used Windsor & Newton oil colors.

On the left you will see the white canvas. The canvas I use is stretched over a wooden frame. The pencil lines show the shape of the object.

There is no need for you to erase the grid. The paint will cover the grid. After the pencil lines are done, take a pen with indian ink and make the pencil lines darker. This will ensure that the lines will be visible when the first layer of oil covers the canvas.

The very first layer of paint has to cover the entire surface of the painting. The great masters used a mixture of burnt umber and a little bit of turpentine to cover the canvas intitially.

The turpentine will make the oil paint much more transparent. I covered the surface of the canvas with this mixture. Notice the lines of the leopard are still visible.

The first layer is called the prematura. After this layer the ‘dead layer’ follows. The ‘dead layer’ plays a crucial part in the process of preparing the object for color. This layer is usually colorless and in values of grey. Therefore, use black and white oil. For this painting I used lamp black and flake white. These two colors I mixed on the palette to create different values of pigment.

I decided to paint most of the spots first. The spots are dark grey. Add white to lighten the black.

I painted the spots by closely observing what the photo reveals.

When the spots are done I will use a small brush to paint the rest of the skin. I mixed the black with more white. This creates an almost blue-grey color. Carefully, I added this paint between the spots. This process requires patience and time.

As I observed the painting I noticed that there is more light falling on the face of the subject. This draws the eye of the viewer to the face and eventually to the eyes of the leopard. These areas require more white, and I carefully blend it into the greys with a clean brush.

After the ‘dead layer’, the first layer of color is added. I left the spots as is, and I only concentrated on the light grey areas covering then with color. The darker areas of the colored skin are a mix between burnt umber and yellow ochre. The yellow ochre creates a warm color. Before adding the color, cover the object with a thin layer of linseed oil by using your fingers. Wipe away any excess oil.

Add the color with a small brush. In areas where the light strikes, add more yellow ochre; where the skin is very light, especially on the face, use yellow ochre with a little white.

Some areas, like the cheeks, center of the forehead, and the ears, have more red. Create this color by adding a little bit of vermillion red to the yellow ochre.

I also created a ‘dead layer’ for the background with dark burnt umber and white.

More warmth and contrast is needed. The darker areas become darker and the lighter areas need to be lighter. The body of the object gets a glazing layer of burnt umber and vermillion red. Mix the paint with some oil medium to make it transparent. This creates a glaze that you paint over the entire lower body. This will allow the previous layer to shine through. For lighter areas, add some yellow ochre and a hint of white to the mix.

Make the light areas on the face lighter in value by adding white to the canvas. Mix the white with yellow ochre and medium to make it transparent.

The image to the left shows how the light on the face creates more contrast. Add more color and blend this carefully with a clean brush.

Give color to the background by using burnt umber and black for the dark parts and yellow ochre for the light that flows behind the object. Add some white at some parts around the edge of the object to create more contrast. Blend this into the yellow ochre with a clean blending brush.

This image shows the final result of the painting process. The background is warmer now with more yellow ochre. The branch was also added. I painted the branch in several layers. I painted the whiskers in yellow ochre with a very thin brush. The right side (as you view it) has more burnt umber in the whiskers than the left which has a little white. This is due to the light that falls from the right.

Finally, I added shadows on the yellow of the eye and created the sparkle in both eyes to bring out more life.