Tutorial – How to Paint a Sloth Bear

Pencil to Paint Tutorial

Artwork-Zebra Zensations Technical Pen and QoR watercolor on a Hahnemühle Cold Pressed Watercolor Postcard. Brushes: Princeton Neptune Round Size 8.

This painting is what is known as a ‘line and wash’ because it is drawn in pen first and then painted with watercolor.

Reference photo courtesy of JudaM on Pixabay.

Postcards for the Lunchbag: Today, my hubby took a Sloth Bear in his lunchbag. Originally, these guys were classified as Sloths because of the long, curved claws they use for digging up ants and termites.

Before Pencil Touches Paper

Before you start, it’s important to know what you want from a painting. You are always free to change your mind, but the way you format the painting, the colors you choose and the tools you choose should reflect what you want to paint.

Looking at the reference photo above – I loved that expression and that wild shaggy hair. I wanted all the focus on that, so I made the following decisions:

  • I would make the bear’s head take up almost all the postcard
    • with very little background
  • My pen drawing would be very detailed
  • The colors would be limited
    • they’d be transparent and intense
    • I’d use light washes that let the penwork show through
  • I’d use a Neptune round brush because
    • it has soft bristles
    • it holds a medium amount of water
    • it releases water evenly
      • it allows both fluid washes and darker color


(This scan is darkened so you can see the pencil lines. You should pencil lines in lightly)

My initial sketch was done freehand, without using a grid. I exaggerated the width of the head, just a bit, to emphasize that wild and shaggy.

The direction of the fur is important to me, so I detailed that in the sketch.

Not sure if you’re up to drawing this? Art Tutor has a great grid program that will help by applying a grid to your uploaded photo. You can also crop and adjust color and value.


Most of my work was done at this stage. I established my values and the detail.

This drawing would be different if I were going to leave this as a pen drawing. As I do it, I’m thinking colorbook more than pen sketch. If it were a pen sketch, my darkest values would be almost solid black. There would be more shades of gray.

For a line and wash though, I want room for the color to show. I accept that some of my line detail will be lost, but it will provide a richness that I couldn’t get by adding the lines afterward. The viewer’s brain knows that detail is there, even if the eye doesn’t distinguish it.

This took about 1/2 an hour to draw. Mind you, I’m fast, so it would take longer for many.


I kept the color very simple. I used light washes of:

  • Phthalo Blue (GS) for the fur
  • Pyrrole Red Medium for the nose and tongue
  • Quinacridone Gold for the eyes, teeth and background

This took me about 5 minutes to paint. Much less time than it took for me to write up the detail below, lol.

Phthalo Blue (GS) is an intense color so I used a very wet brush, and barely touched the paint. Qor paint activates very quickly. With some brands I would need to add water to the paint first.

I put the paint down in the areas I wanted darkest, the top of the head and under the neck. I had already established these areas as darkest when I did my pen drawing.

My Neptune round holds enough paint that I’m able to do the bear in about 3 touches to the paint. When there is barely any water or paint left I add it as shading to the white area of the face.

Without rinsing my brush, which is only damp by now, I faintly touch the Pyrrole Red Medium for the nose. I look for a place with lots of Phthalo Blue on the bear, and pick up – just a very little – and use it to shade the nose.

If my brush had still been quite wet or held much paint, I would have dabbed it on a paper towel to remove most of the paint and water. If I were using less intense colors I would pick up more paint to begin with.

Now I rinse my brush, and I let the painting dry. It doesn’t take long on the Hahnemühle postcard (humidity can affect drying time). I give it 1/2 an hour, but could have continued in 10-15 minutes.

My reason for waiting – I don’t want the colors to blend together. Yellow and blue make green and I don’t want my bear to be green.

This is why I also start at the edge of the bear and sweep outward with the brush. I don’t mind a greenish tinge in the background, though I try to avoid it. I don’t want the yellow in the bear.

Another reason I waited for the fur to dry. The eyes and teeth need to be detail, but are very small. I want control, so I make sure everything is dry around them, that my brush is only damp and that I have an appropriate amount of color on the brush.

I use the very tip of the brush to add quinacridone gold to the teeth. Then I pick up more of the color, for darker yellow eyes, and use the tip to dab it on.

The whole brush, water, color thing is one of those issues that you can only learn through practice. I can tell you what I’m doing. You can watch people doing it. But so much depends on the tools – the brush, the paper, the brand and specific pigment of the paint and even the humidity in the room.

It can seem daunting, but it’s a lot like driving. You wonder at first how you’ll ever keep track of what is going on. Eventually, you don’t even think about it. It’s difficult for an instructor to think back and explain much of this because it becomes so second nature.

So instead of getting frustrated if you don’t get your results, pay attention to what is happening with your tools. Experiment. Many of you have the tools you can afford, and they may not give you certain results. If so, enjoy what they can do. Experiment with different amounts of water. What happens when you use these tools – learn what they can do and what you like best about them. Eventually, you might want new tools but for now? Enjoy what you have. Isn’t that what’s best in life?


(and where you can buy them)

Hahnemühle Cold Press Watercolor Postcards (you can find my review here).

Zensations Technical pens

QoR Watercolor 11ml tube:

Princeton Neptune Travel Brush, Series 4750, Round, Size 8

Published by Life Imitates Doodles Art, Reviews & Tutorials

Artist Ambassador for Zebra Pens. I'm a self-taught artist who dances about with all sorts of artistic mediums. My main loves are Watercolor, Zentangle and Ballpoint pen. The subjects of my work are many and varied and change at whim. I'm a little bit crazy, but doesn't that come with being an artist? At my Life Imitates Doodles Blog, I post a list of resource links for Tangles, Tutorials and Giveaways two times a week. I also write reviews, hold giveaways and share my art work.

10 thoughts on “Tutorial – How to Paint a Sloth Bear

  1. Sloth bear – I know a few of these. Oh wait – a shaggy bear. This is outstanding. Thank you for the detailed description about how you achieved this little masterpiece. I’ve never worked with ink and watercolor combo but will try soon.

    I’ve been using your technique for fuzzy animals on little paintings of cats and bunnies that I did for my granddaughters, and they came out well. So thank you very much, Sandra. You’re generous with your lessons.

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