Highland cow jump-by-jump

My oldest friend (we go back to the age of six), has just been to a very lovely wedding in Scotland – the castle, the loch, the kilts….the works. Her lovely son, who is rising 15, fell in love with the highland cows, and who can blame him? So the request came for a cow in my style, but in the colours of the card he had bought. Now I have a 15-year-old, so I was amazed and only too happy to try to oblige.

I thought I hadn’t done a step-by-step for a while, but then I kept forgetting to take photos. However, hopefully you will get the idea of what I was trying to do!

Here’s the card and reference photo:

I found this lovely reference photo on the brilliant Paint my Photo website (www.pmp-art.com). If you haven’t come across it, the site has lots (and I mean lots) of great reference photos which you can use without worry about copyright. I decided that as this was for a teenage lad, I would leave the udder out. Now the danger of doing a paint like this is that you want to do it all wet in wet, but everything will run into each other and get out of control, so I decided to do it in sections. This was helped by the fact I was cooking at the time, so I could do a section, peel the potatoes; do another, mash the potatoes; do another, make the fish cakes. You get the idea.


I selected my colours and did a light drawing on a half sheet of Bockingford 200lb not (cold pressed) paper – mainly to get the shape of those horns right. I also like the way their dribble catches on their whiskers and so I added some splatter of masking fluid to retain white dots. This masking is bright pink, which is quite disconcerting. I think it was a special for Breast Cancer awareness.

The colours were quin sienna, Mars violet, carmine, perylene green, raw sienna, light red and neutral tint. The green and carmine make a great dark purplish colour, so I hardly used the neutral tint.


I started with the eye and worked from the ear down to the nose, using salt for a bit of texture and letting the colours run together. The white is important to leave and I misted areas to encourage soft edges and give the feeling of all that hair.


Next came the horns. The light really defined them and they needed to be a different texture from the hair. I used the handle end of the brush to make some marks for the rings. If this was a ram, I would have done far more, but there was just a little on this lady.

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Then it was on to her legs, again misting to encourage the colour to bleed out a bit. I like the mix of soft and hard edges.

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A bit of a jump here – I did the right ear when the horn was dry and filled in the body mostly wet in wet, tilting the paper to get the colour to flow, but not worrying too much about texture, as it would have been too busy. I did puff the pools of paint to see if I could get a bit of hairiness going at the bottom – I have strong lungs!

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That just leaves the fringe, before moving on to the background. I knew it had to be dark the show up the light shoulder and define the legs.

Stopping to let it all dry and to reassess the painting, it was time for the final 5%. I used magic sponge to lighten some areas and lose edges (top of the head and the shape of the horn on the left), I lost some of the blown marks too, removed the masking,  added a bit of splatter to encourage the eye to travel around and used a rigger with white gouache to add some fine strands of hair. You have to remember less is more and not get carried away. Stopping while it is fresh, but finished is the aim and as all watercolourists know, it’s tricky to identify exactly when. Better under finished than over worked…

And here is my final version:

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There is one final thing to do, of course – work out what bits you like and what bits you don’t (and why). You learn so much every time you pick up the paint brush and if you want to get better and bit of post-match analysis never hurts.

Hope you enjoyed this and next time, I’ll try to take more photos!

4 thoughts on “Highland cow jump-by-jump”

    1. I do find it hard to do commissions, as they don’t pull on your emotions in the same way as more spontaneous subjects and also they matter more. After all if a painting goes wrong there is always the recycling bin! But it is good to do – love it when I do a pet portrait and it makes someone cry,,,,

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