It's one of my favorite scenes from one of my favorite films:
Having secured her predatory dominance over the Velociraptors, the genetically-engineered Tyrannosaurus rex of Isla Nublar roars triumphantly inside the Jurassic Park Visitor Center as a banner reading "When Dinosaurs Ruled the Earth" falls to the floor.
And it was a fun composition to paint in acrylics.
Along the way, I documented each step of the project with sequential photographs and detailed notes, which I will share with you here in this complete how-to-paint tutorial. So if you're a big Jurassic Park fan like me, you may enjoy painting this scene yourself. Or if there is some other composition that has sparked your inspiration, you may learn some general techniques that will help you with any painting you wish to create.
Looking for something specific? Select a topic in this article to read more:
- Materials and Tools
- Prepare a Reference
- Create the Sketch
- Establish the Underpainting
- Render the Background
- Render the Tyrannosaurus
- Render the Banner
- Finishing Touches
Materials and Tools
Before we get started, we'll need a few basic items: acrylic paints, brushes, a surface to paint upon, and some other miscellaneous materials and tools.
Acrylic paints are enjoyable to work with because of their ease of use and great versatility.
When applied thin, acrylics behave much like watercolors, allowing us to apply delicate translucent glazes that enrich the layers beneath. When applied thick, acrylics behave much like oils, allowing us to blend directly on a surface and to create bold impasto textures.
But unlike watercolors, acrylics are permanent when dry and will not flow when rewetted. And unlike oils, acrylics are water-based and dry quickly. Therefore it is wise to work fast when blending on a surface, or to blend on the palette when more time is needed.
If you are new to acrylics, you may wish to experiment on a scrap surface before applying a technique to your painting.
Acrylic paints are available in tubes, jars, and bottles. They are also available in "artist" and "student" grades. I prefer tubes because they make it easy to apply the appropriate amount of paint directly to your palette. And I recommend artist-grade paints because they contain more pigment and less binder, allowing you to produce much richer effects.
Here are the colors that we'll use for this composition:
Paint brushes are available in a large variety of shapes and sizes. Here are the brushes that we'll use for this composition:
- 2in Sponge Brush
- 3/4in Filbert Brush
- #8 Filbert Brush
- #4 Filbert Brush
- #4 Round Brush
- #2 Round Brush
Acrylic paints can be applied to nearly any surface that has been primed with gesso - stretched canvas, canvas board, wood paneling, etc. Projects created in a thin, watercolor-like style can also be applied to canvas paper or watercolor paper. For this composition, I used a:
- 12x9in Canvas Board
But you should feel free to use whichever surface at whichever size you prefer.
Palettes are available in a variety of materials - metal, glass, wood, plastic, etc. I prefer to use a:
- Rectangular Plastic Palette
However, rather than applying paint directly to the palette, I recommend first covering it with two layers of damp paper towels. Paint is then applied to the damp paper towels. This creates a "wet" palette that keeps the paint usable for a longer period of time, allowing us to work at a more relaxed pace.
Other Materials and Tools
Finally, we'll need a few other miscellaneous materials and tools:
- HB Pencil (Wood or Mechanical)
- Permanent Markers (Fine and Ultra Fine Point)
- Cotton Swabs
- Final Drawing Fixative
- Spray Bottle
- Water Cup
- Paper Towels
For a workspace, I prefer to use a drafting table adjusted to 45 degrees. But you should feel free to use an easel if you prefer to work vertically, or a table if you prefer to work horizontally.
Prepare a Reference
Before we begin to lay out our composition, it is useful to have a reference image. For purely imaginative pieces, some hand sketches and color studies are usually all that is needed. For more realistic pieces, photographs are a valuable resource.
For this piece, we'll reference a screenshot from the film (cropped to fit the aspect ratio of our canvas):
As we create our painting, we don't want to copy the reference image exactly. Instead we'll use our artistic license to make subtle changes to color, contrast, and detail to produce a richer tone and to emphasize the Tyrannosaurus over the background.
Create the Sketch
A great painting starts with a great sketch. It allows us to lay out our composition before ever touching brush to canvas. And because acrylic paints are translucent, the sketch will show through the initial layers of paint, providing a guide as we develop our painting. So taking the time to create a detailed sketch is well worth the effort.
If this feels like a challenging composition to draw freehand, you may find it helpful to lightly pencil a grid onto the canvas and a matching grid onto the reference image. This makes it easier to locate objects within the scene.
We start by blocking in the major contours with our HB pencil. Then we sketch the smaller features. To place focus on the subject, we draw the Tyrannosaurus with greater detail than the background.
You may find that traditional rubber erasers are not particularly effective on canvas. If you make a mistake, I recommend using a wet cotton swab to lift any errant pencil marks.
Once the contours are complete, we trace over them with an ultra-fine-point permanent marker. This ensures that our contours have enough contrast to show through the initial layers of paint. To give form to our contours, we shade the midtones of our composition using the same HB pencil. And we shade the shadows using a fine-point permanent marker.
When the entire sketch is complete, we lightly spray the canvas with final drawing fixative to prevent it from smudging when we apply our first layer of paint.
Here is the finished sketch:
Establish the Underpainting
With the sketch complete, we're ready to start applying some color. At this stage, we're not concerned with detail. We only want to set the overall tone and temperature of the painting, and to loosely define the areas of major contrast.
If you plan to display your painting without a frame, I recommend painting the edges of the canvas with Mars Black.
Apply the Midtone
The first layer of paint we apply is a translucent glaze of Burnt Umber to add a warm midtone value to our composition. This midtone value sets the overall tone and temperature of the painting. It will also serve as a convenient reference point as we work to develop warmer/cooler and darker/lighter values later on.
Because the final drawing fixative that we previously applied to the sketch tends to be water-resistant, a very thin mixture of acrylic paint applied with a brush is likely to bead on the canvas. To create a smooth glaze, we add only a little bit of water to the Burnt Umber to reduce its opacity. Then we load a small amount of the mixture into a 2in foam brush and apply a thin layer over the entire composition.
The contours and shadows that we shaded with permanent marker should remain clearly visible through the midtone value.
Once the initial glaze has dried, subsequent layers of paint will readily adhere to the surface.
Next we rough in some of the major highlights with a mixture of Burnt Umber and Titanium White, heavily thinned with water. Using a 3/4in filbert brush, we create a bit of a light halo around the Tyrannosaurus to set it apart from the background. Using a #8 filbert brush, we also fill in some of the lighter areas of the composition.
Here is the painting with the initial midtone and highlights applied:
Next we develop contrast throughout the composition by adding more detail to the highlights, paying close attention to temperature. Using a #4 filbert brush and a #4 round brush, we apply Unbleached Titanium to the warmer highlights - the Tyrannosaur's eye, teeth, and skin, the ceiling windows, the Velociraptor mural, and the demolished skeleton on the floor - and Light Blue Violet to the cooler highlights - the skylight and the drop cloth on the second floor.
At this stage, we're not concerned with matching colors precisely. We only want to emphasize contrast and set the temperature of the highlighted areas.
Here is the painting with the initial development of warm and cool highlights:
Adjust the Temperature
To my eye, the temperature of the painting seems to be on the cooler side, giving it a more subdued quality. Let's shift the temperature to the warmer side to give the painting an energy that better suits the excitement of the scene.
To adjust the temperature of the midtone values, we apply Red Oxide to the Tyrannosaurus, the banner lettering, the ceiling beams, and the demolished skeleton on the floor. And to adjust the temperature of the highlight values, we apply a mixture of 50% Titanium White and 50% Cadmium yellow to the Tyrannosaurus, the edges of the banner, the Velociraptor mural, and the concrete structures.
We also use a little Mars Black to develop the shadows throughout the bottom of the background.
Here is the painting with the adjusted temperature and added shadows:
Render the Background
With the underpainting finished, we are ready to start completing individual areas of the composition. We will begin with the background of the painting and then work our way forward.
To render the background, we add four gradients to our palette:
To ensure that the subject remains the point of focus, we only want to loosely render the background with a low level of detail.
Top-Right Portion of the Background
Next we render the top-right portion of the background.
For the ceiling windows, we use the lighter values from the Raw-Sienna-to-Titanium-White gradient.
For the ceiling, we use the lighter values from the Mars-Black-and-Red-Oxide-to-Portrait-Pink gradient.
For the ceiling beams, we use the darker values from the Mars-Black-and-Red-Oxide-to-Portrait-Pink gradient, adding a little Red Oxide to areas that have a warmer temperature.
And for the concrete structures, we use values from the Mars-Black-to-Titanium-White gradient.
Here is the painting with the top-right portion of the background fully rendered:
And a close-up:
Top-Left Portion of the Background
Finally we render the top-left portion of the background.
For the lighter areas of the concrete structures, we use values from the Raw-Sienna-to-Titanium-White gradient.
For the darker areas of the concrete structures, we primarily use values from the Mars-Black-and-Red-Oxide-to-Portrait-Pink gradient. We add a little Red Oxide to areas that have a warmer temperature. And we add values from the Mars-Black-to-Titanium-White gradient to areas that have a more neutral temperature.
And for the skylight and the drop cloth on the second floor, we use values from the Light-Blue-Violet-to-Titanium-White gradient.
Here is the painting with the top-left portion of the background fully rendered:
And a close-up:
Render the Tyrannosaurus
With the background finished, we are ready to complete the subject of the painting - the Tyrannosaurus rex.
To render the Tyrannosaurus, we add another gradient to our palette:
The desire is to emphasize the subject over the background. So we paint the Tyrannosaurs with a higher level of detail.
To produce the appropriate level of detail, and the appropriate skin texture, we primarily use a #4 round brush, applying paint thickly and with short strokes. Without cleaning the brush, we change values often and avoid over-blending on the canvas.
We begin with the lighter values and gradually work our way to the darker values, adding a little Cadmium Yellow to lighter areas that have a warmer temperature.
Pay close attention when painting the edges of the Tyrannosaurus to ensure that there is enough contrast to set the dinosaur apart from the background. Add darker and lighter values where appropriate to enhance the subject's outline.
To paint the detailed areas of the face like the eye and teeth, we switch to a #2 round brush.
Here is the painting with the Tyrannosaurus fully rendered:
A close-up of the head:
And a close-up of the body:
When the previous layers are completely dry, we apply a very thin glaze of Deep Violet to some of the darker areas to add a subtle touch of brilliance.
And with that...
Congratulations! Your painting is now finished and ready to sign:
And there you have it! A little piece of Isla Nublar, captured in acrylics, that you can hang in your home.