A virtual zoo of exotic animals can populate a carousel. The rider can defy
reality and ride astride lions, tigers, pigs, cats, rabbits, chickens and even
frogs. These fun menagerie figures have graced carousels since the 1800's.
Photo one shows a small Looff zebra with an unusual curved saddle from the
A Looff Zebra from the 1870's
Painting a zebra
is a fun departure from traditional horses. You will virtually paint two
animals in one. The base color of a zebra is that of a beige or cream horse.
They are not really white with black stripes. Or is it black with white
stripes. They do have mule ears, a butch haircut and a cow tail.
This picture shows the
base color of a new zebra that is destined for the newly carved "Columbia
Gardens" carousel in Butte, Montana. You must exaggerate the shading when
doing this first "coat" as the later stripes will camouflage and mute these
markings. Use your reference file and erase the stripes in your imagination so
that only the shading of the cream coat are seen. This animal is highly
muscled so extra shading can be applied to place emphasis on these muscles.
A zebra in base color coat
Once this first
coat is finished it should look like a perfect zebra, but without stripes! The
stripes are mapped out in blocks. A zebra's eyes are highlighted and lined
like a lady going to a ball. The stripes accent the shape of the eye, making
it appear large and feminine.
Zebras have natural eye shadow!
There are several types of zebra, each
distinguished by the stripe pattern, width and color. One even has black
stripes alternating with a lighter brown,
as shown in this restored zebra from
the Wheaton, Maryland carousel.
Wheaton, Maryland zebra
Photo courtesy of Mike Sweeny
If realism over fantasy is your goal, the dark
stripes should be painted a dark black-brown. Even the individual animal has its own fingerprint stripe pattern.
Do not be
concerned if you can not find a photo that shows all sides and angles. You can
either visit a zoo that has one in residence to photograph or build a
reference file. You can then block out your own stripe pattern. Remember, they
are usually identically striped on both sides but no one can see both sides at
the same time.
Each zebra has its individual fingerprint stripe pattern
The front section includes neck, chest and head. They all flow to the front
of the chest forming a V. This V appears again on both the nose and the ears.
The next section is the side, with stripes running down to the belly area. The
last section is the rear with the V appearing under the tail and down the back
of the legs. The inside of the legs and belly are not striped. (Thank
There is a dark dorsal stripe that runs down the middle of the mane
as well as the tail. The center of their back appears to have a white
stripe on each side of this dorsal stripe. This is because the black
stripes on the side stop short of the dorsal stripe.
Once you have divided the
animal into these three sections you can sketch on the stripes. It is much
easier if the figure has a saddle and trappings but there is nothing like
riding a carousel figure bareback, especially if it is a zebra!
You will find that
painting the dark stripes will require several applications of paint. You can
use this to your advantage and paint it to look like real hair. This is done
by making sure your brush strokes flow in the same direction that the hair
grows. Vary your ratio of black-brown, feather out the edges, and darken them
in the area of shading and it will look very realistic.
The soft muzzle effect is done by dry brush stippling, layer over dry
layer. By working dark to light it will soon have the velvet effect of a soft
long hairs found on the edge of the ears with a small liner brush. You may
find that the handle of your brush is too long to deal with the stripes on the
tail and the back legs. Just shorten the handle. This short-handled brush will
come in handy for many painting projects as it is easier to "choke up" on it
and get a steady line.
A Zebra from the carousel in Republic, Washington
Once complete, you will have an outstanding "Butch" to add to your
Bette Largent is a professional carousel horse restoration artist from
Washington State, and the author of
Paint The Ponies,
a guide for those who are interested in learning the art of painting
for information on ordering her book.