Sunday, January 10, 2010

How to Paint Polar Bears

Well I'm back after a wonderful holiday break and several cleaning/organizing days in the studio. I've been thinking about polar bears a lot so I thought I would show you how to paint a few using either a stencil technique or contact paper. Materials Required: thin cardboard or chipboard from packaging tape scissors watercolor paper or nice quality sketch paper (one with some tooth) watercolor paints or tempera disks paintbrush plastic cling wrap repositionable contact paper gesso polar bear template 1, polar bear template 2, if needed Draw out some polar bears, use the templates if needed. Transfer on to some thin cardboard. Now you could use an exacto blade to cut these out but I prefer to use scissors. I just cut through at one spot and then cut out the shape in one go. I then come back and tape together where I cut through to start. This is more kid friendly than having to use a blade. This will leave you with the positive and negative image. Now you have a choice at this point. You can trace them onto repositionable contact paper and use it as a sticker which will resist the paint. Peel off the paper. Place where you want and then paint your scene. Leave to dry. Or you can use the negative as a stencil. Plan out your scene. Paint over entire surface and then come back and stencil in your bears. I like to add some color to my arctic scenes. With polar bears you have a lot of white so I try to do a sunrise/sunset with extra color or a snow scene with lots of shadow. Here I'm doing a sunset. I'm adding some color on the horizon. While it is still wet I'm lifting out a sun shape using a coin wrapped in some kleenex. I then add more colors to my sky. Before I start painting in my middle ground I make sure I have my plastic cling wrap handy. I paint in my hills and snowdrifts and then while it is still wet I push my cling wrap in creating texture and then leave in place to dry. Using cling wrap is one of my favorite techniques and I think it's perfect for a snow scene because it forms a sort of ice crystal type texture.
When dry remove the cling your stencil where you want it. Squeeze out some gesso or thick acrylic or tempera paint on a palette.
Using a round brush pounce on the paint holding your can tape it into place with some painter's mask to make it easier for the kids.
You are trying to get some good texture for that furry coat.
Set aside to dry.
When your paintings have dried you need to add a few details to finish them.
With the contact paper one you need to remove your "sticker".
Then add an eye, nose and some shadows to define the bear.
For the stenciled add eyes, nose and shadows.
And that's reality these bears would probably show up as only silhouettes at sunrise or sunset but I wanted to distinguish them from black bears so you have to imagine there is a light source from behind the viewer as well.
Give it a try. At school I'm going to get the kids to do a Mommy and two cubs similar to this one.
See you next time.


  1. The cling wrap is such a good idea! Thanks!

  2. Dear Gail,
    Happy new year.This looks like such a neat project.My kids will love creating the polar bear picture.As always many thanks.

  3. Thanks for that post - looks pretty easy for such a beautiful effect!

  4. I love all your ideas! Just wish I was brave enough to try them!

  5. Beautiful and amazing!! I'm going to try these with my kids this weekend. Thank you!

  6. For those of us artistically challenged might I ask what size paper did you start with. Many Thanks, ~Beth

  7. This is gorgeous! I like it very very much. Thanx for sharing :))

  8. WOW! You are so talented! What beautiful pictures you've created!

  9. Thanks everyone! school we tend to use paper that is approx 18 x 12 but you can do this on any size just adjust your stencil.
    Some of the samples are 9x12 because that is the size of my scanner.

  10. Gail

    These are so beautiful Gail. I love the idea. My little girls are 5 and 8. I'm not an artist myself, but I do a lot of art with them. This one will definately be on our lesson plan. Thank you for sharing! :-)


  11. Wow! I love this! So beautiful and the templates are wonderful! Thanks so much for this, I'll be linking.

  12. So many great techniques and tricks! You are always and inspiration.

    I love how, even with using all those brilliant colors, you are still able to make the paintings look so "COLD". I can feel the chill!

  13. Wow this is wonderful! My kids will love doing will I. Thanks so much for sharing with us. Kim

  14. Hello Gail,
    A teacher in Saskatoon directed me to your blog and its great. I am an art teacher in Saskatoon at Father Robinson School and also write my lessons online at
    I wrote and linked to your blog in my article on watercolor winter lessons, a series of 4 articles for winter watercolor themes. If you would like to see my lessons and make a link to them, here is the address:
    I also have a teaching blog, which has not been updated recently, but is a place where I create links to my art lessons and writers lessons.
    The address of my blog is
    I will link and follow your blog as I love all the pictures and useful projects you have.

  15. I did this with my seven year old homeschooled son this morning! We used the method with contact paper but instead of paint he wanted to use oil pastels. As usual he put his own "spin" on the project. Thanks for the continued inspiration and the excellent photos of each step. I am going to put a photo of the Polar Bear project on my blog.Oh and the Tissue paper Mountain, too.

  16. maravilloso me encanto y aprendí mucho

  17. I just love all of your work.It excites me to think that maybe I can do these projects with my class.
    Thank You.

  18. I'm a middle school teacher on summer vacation and I was looking for ideas for the upcoming school year. I'm so glad I found your site. Wow! What incredible, gorgeous, inspiring, creative, brilliant ideas! Thanks so much for sharing!

  19. You always have interesting ways of using common materials. I can't wait to try using cling wrap. These bears are fantastic!!

  20. I have a question about the contact paper - I am wondering if it comes off the paper smoothly, and doesn't muss up the paper below? Is it less tacky than tape? Is there a specific type or brand of contact paper that works better than another? Thanks!

  21. Hey Amy, it is less tacky than tape. It removes easily with no effect on the paper. I store my 'stickers' on wax paper to use over and over. Just make sure it says that it is re-positionable on the label.
    It's one of my favourite products to use.
    Good luck with the project