A Looff Zebra from the 1870's
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 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.

A zebra in base color coat
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.

Zebras have natural eye shadow!
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.

Wheaton, Maryland zebra
Photo courtesy of Mike Sweeny
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.

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.

Each zebra has its individual 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.

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 heavens!)

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 muzzle.

A Zebra from the carousel in Republic, Washington
Apply the 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.

Once complete, you will have an outstanding "Butch" to add to your collection.

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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 carousel figures.

Click Here for information on ordering her book.

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