How to Paint Horses With Acrylic Paints

Updated April 17, 2017

Horses have been subjects of paintings since their images appeared on the walls of caves in Spain and France from 15,000 to 10,000 B.C. The grace and beauty of these noble beasts has been the subject of countless paintings across many cultures and time periods. Ancient Chinese and Indian Mogul artists loved to do equine paintings. Horses are featured in many paintings by Henri Toulouse-Lautrec, Edgar Degas and other Impressionist artists. With patience and practice, almost anyone can learn to paint horses in acrylics.

Locate some horses at a nearby farm or ranch and practice drawing them. Learn basic horse anatomy to understand how the animals are constructed. Observe the complex muscle groups and how they interact. Sketch the horses in a variety of positions, including grazing and running. Practice drawing until you get the outlines and proportions right. Photograph the horses and use the pictures as references for your drawing and painting.

Use your sketches and photos as guides to draw your final composition. Make a detailed drawing of your design on paper the same size as your canvas so you can easily transfer it by tracing or gridding. Integrate the horses into a landscape background. Draw the basic forms of the horses and the negative space surrounding them in a balanced composition. Set up a value structure balancing the darks and lights of your picture for a three-dimensional look.

Use 63.5 to 136kg. watercolour paper or a stretched canvas for your painting support. Transfer your compositional drawing or draw it freehand directly onto the support in pencil. Thin some acrylic paint and block in the horses' shapes and background colours. Use large, flat, square-tipped brushes. Rough in the forms of the horses. Use thin washes of colour for your initial coats of paint. Use thicker coats for subsequent layers.

Observe how the sunlight illuminates the horses' bodies and where the shadows fall. Define their musculature with brushstrokes that follow the contours of their bellies, necks, rumps and legs. Use small round and filbert brushes for your intermediate layers of paint. Pay special attention to the horse's facial features, mane and tail. Try to capture the character of the animals. Don't be afraid to rework and paint over areas that don't look right. Work on the landscape background until the horses look situated in their environment.

Paint in the fine details with your smallest brushes. Suggest wrinkles and folds in the horse's skin. Define their cheekbones, muzzles and veins in their heads. Finish up the painting by adding the accented highlights. Paint thin lines for the highlighted hairs of the horse's mane and tail with your smallest pointed brush. Add descriptive details to the forelock, ear-hair and eyelashes. Use dots of paint for the tiny points of reflected light in the horse's eyes.


Spend lots of time drawing horses for a convincing and realistic equine painting.


Be careful around horses, some of them bite and kick. They may also attract biting horse- and deerflies.

Things You'll Need

  • Drawing materials
  • Sketchbook
  • Camera
  • Drawing paper
  • Watercolour paper
  • Canvas
  • Acrylic paint
  • Artist's paint brushes
Cite this Article A tool to create a citation to reference this article Cite this Article

About the Author