Manatee – Pencil to Paint Tutorial

Artwork- Zebra Zensations Technical pens and Miya Gouache & Van Gogh Interference on Hahnemühle Burgund Watercolor Postcard Rough. Photo reference from extrabrandt on Pixabay.

Did you know that the Manatee is also known as a sea cow, but is more closely related to the elephant? Doesn’t it seem sometimes, that every strange looking animal is related to the elephant?

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

Before You Start

Sunlight streaming through water evokes such a serene feeling and it’s something that I love to paint. By human standards of beauty, the manatee is an ugly beast, but in the ocean surrounds they have poetry. I wanted to capture a bit of that.

The manatee has a textured skin, and water ripples, so I chose one of Hahnemühle’s rough textured postcards.


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

The shape of the manatee’s head is very simple, so I drew it freehand, mostly to make sure it fit the postcard, and to capture placement of the eye nose, mouth and some of the shadows.

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.


After inking the outlines, eye, nose and mouth, I used a masking fluid pen to reserve the white of the postcard.

Sometimes, I use a white gel pen after painting to add white, because it can be difficult to reserve it in a painting this size. But the white of the paper gives you a softer, yet more vibrant white. I chose to go this route because the light in this painting is important.


It only took a few moments to paint this, possibly because I had a strong idea of what I wanted.

Timing was important. I painted the manatee by dropping watery mixes of Ultramarine Blue and Purple onto the page letting the colors run together. When they had dried for a few minutes, but were still wet, I dropped in the creamier darker mix of Ultramarine Blue for the shadows. I wanted the darker color to run into the lighter color, but not enough to lose intensity.

I used Tehran (Cerulean Blue) to paint the water and after a few seconds, I dabbed at it with a kleenex to get texture.

Once it was all completely dry, I removed the masking fluid. Sometimes, I use a damp brush to soften the edges of the white or to pull color into it. Not this time. I felt the hard edges suited the feeling of light catching the texture of the manatee’s skin.


And Where You Can Buy Them

Miya Himi Gouache Paint Set, 18 Colors 

Van Gogh Speciality Palette 

Hahnemuhle Burgund Watercolor Postcard Rough 120lb  (review)

Molotow GRAFX Masking Fluid Pump Marker, 2mm

Zebra Zensations Technical pens (review)

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.

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