How to Paint a Realistic Rabbit

Written by clarissa morgan
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How to Paint a Realistic Rabbit
Cute, expressive and colourful rabbits are appealing subjects to paint. (Digital Vision/Photodisc/Getty Images)

A realistic rabbit painting can be a truly thoughtful and personalised gift for an animal lover or a special decoration for your own home. Thanks to their variety of colours, patterns and expressions, these animals also make for a paintable subject. With a good, detailed photograph and a few basic watercolour supplies, you can get started on your own realistic rabbit portrait.

Skill level:
Moderately Challenging

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Things you need

  • Photograph
  • Watercolour paper
  • Pencil
  • Eraser
  • Watercolour paints
  • Mixing tray
  • Water container
  • Paper towels
  • Small brush
  • Medium brush

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    Drawing and Planning

  1. 1

    Look at your reference picture and focus on what you like most about it. Remember that you do not need to copy all of the details for a successful painting. Decide if you want to zoom in on an important area or if you'd prefer to simplify or omit less important things, such as background objects.

  2. 2

    Draw the basic shapes of what you'd like to include in your painting with light pencil marks on the watercolour paper. Remember that any object can be broken down into ovals and lines. For example, you can represent a rabbit's head with an oval overlapping the body, which is a larger oval. Draw lines to figure out the length and positioning of ears before you fill them out. Don't be afraid to erase and redraw lines if you are not happy with them. It is much easier to fix problems of proportion in the early stages of a drawing.

    How to Paint a Realistic Rabbit
    Spend time on your drawing to prevent having to fix proportions when painting. (Jupiterimages/ Images)
  3. 3

    Add details to your rabbit. Refine the basic shapes with your pencil to make them look more organic, or less geometric. Add whiskers, feet, ears and a tail. Draw in eyes with a small white circle, or highlight them. Look at the direction of the rabbit's fur and lightly draw in short lines to show how it lays. When you paint, you will also follow this direction with your brushstrokes. Draw more details into your background if you've chosen to include one.


  1. 1

    Prepare your painting area on a flat or slightly angled surface. Squeeze half a pea sized amount of each tube watercolour at the edge of your mixing tray. If you are using a cake watercolour tray, it will already be set out for you. Fill your container with water and have paper towels on hand in case of a spill. Set your watercolour paper in the centre and hang or place your reference picture where you can see it easily.

    How to Paint a Realistic Rabbit
    Set up your paint supplies so that you can work with concentration later. (Jupiterimages/Comstock/Getty Images)
  2. 2

    Dip your medium brush in water and create a small, transparent puddle of colour on your tray. When picking up paint, be sure that your brush is wet and lightly wipe the surface of each bead or tray of paint. Use this technique to mix colours to match those in your photograph.

  3. 3

    Look at your reference and choose a large area to start with. Many artists begin with the background and work their way forward. Either way, keep your brush wet, but not soaking, and lightly apply a "wash" of mixed transparent colour. Continue to fill in all of the basic background colours. Paint carefully around detailed or light coloured areas. It is important to decide where you want to preserve the white of the paper, such as the highlight in the eyes, and paint around those areas.

    How to Paint a Realistic Rabbit
    Watercolour washes build up transparent layers of colour. ( Images)
  4. 4

    Layer your washes to create a better sense of realism. Remember that in nature, no colour is truly just one shade, and allow variation into your coloured areas. Add blue washes to shadows to make them look cooler, and light red or yellow washes to areas you want to catch the eye.

  5. 5

    Pick up your small detail brush and mix a slightly less diluted colour for a detailed area, such as around the rabbit's eye or inside the ear. Use this brush to add details with a drawing motion, but leave the eye for the last step. Follow your pencil lines in the direction of the hairs to paint fur texture. Use the same type of directional lines to render grass or other textured surfaces. While this will make your painting more complete looking, don't overdo the background details. Remember that your rabbit is the most important subject and therefore should have the most focus.

  6. 6

    Fill in the iris of the eye with a rich, transparent wash. Once it is dry enough not to run, create a dark colour for the pupil of the eye and paint it on top. Be sure to preserve the white highlight as you do each step. A lifelike eye with a strong highlight gives your rabbit a realistic and finished look. Once you are happy with your details, step away and allow your painting to dry.

Tips and warnings

  • Take breaks to avoid being frustrated with your progress. Sometimes returning to a painting with a fresh perspective can be the best choice for finishing it successfully.

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