Realistic Tiger Design

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If you’re active in the world of fantasy faces, I can promise you that you’ve caught a glimpse of at least one Maria Malone-Guerbaa design. Famous for her intensely realistic animal faces and beautiful duo-tone celebrity portraits, she’s quickly become inspiration for thousands of painters worldwide–myself included. Here is my simple realistic tiger design with some proportional twists, inspired by Ms. Malone-Guerbaa.

What I used:

As always, start out with clean skin. Light eye makeup is fine, and won’t interfere with your design, but it’s always easier to start fresh. Begin by finding a clear image of a tiger’s face online, and mapping out it’s most distinct features on your own face with Paradise white (or another thin, light color) and a small brush. Be sure to outline color changes as well as facial structures.

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Start sponging with your choice of a more opaque white. If you don’t have Wolfe, Diamond FX and Global whites work well for later blending. Accent your jaw with grey to start creating the effect of a tiger’s “mane” (the layers of skin and thicker, longer fur surrounding the face). Don’t worry about your edges as long as you can still make out your lines, or know where they should be.

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Next, sponge in your yellows. I used a combination of yellow, brown, orange, and white in varying proportions to create the colors below. Experiment on your arm before laying down each color to ensure that you’re happy with the combinations that you create.



Use your fan brush to even out your white edges and create a furry effect. Only do this where edges are rough–you don’t want to overdo this, as it’ll make the whole design look sloppy.



Start filling in the smaller, sharper features with a medium round brush. Consider where a tiger’s fur is shorter, and the patterns look less furry. You may wish to further define these regions by outlining them in a shade slightly darker than the surrounding yellow. Do your best to disregard your own features and paint yellow over the inner corners of your eyebrows to give the appearance of wide-set eyes and a broad forehead.

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This is one of the trickier parts, which you may choose to alter. I decided to paint the tiger’s nose beneath my own, so to elongate my face, but this can more easily be done by painting over the nose and simply raising the appearance of the entire muzzle. I am incorporating the natural shadows of my nostrils with the dark pigment that surrounds the tiger’s nose. I also drew the top lip of the muzzle down over my bottom lip, but this is also optional and can be painted on the top.

I created the lovely pink color by toning down dark pink with yellow, and lightening it with white. I then created an even lighter shade and dotted it over the darker one to create a subtle rough texture. After laying down the color of the nose, define the edges with black using a small round brush, following the white lines that you painted in the beginning. If these are no longer visible, simply refer to your online photo.

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With your black paint and small brush, detail the muzzle by painting rough lines inward towards the nose. I achieved this by using a stippling motion, similar to sponging.

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Now comes the fun part! Use your large round brush to start painting the more prominent stripes. Consider carefully where they would occur naturally, so not to detract from your illusion. Start each line by painting only with the tip of your brush, then pressing down, and then relieving to create a tapered stripe. I’d suggest practicing this on your arm first.

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Tigers’ eyes are proportionally smaller, rounder, and farther apart than ours, so the way you outline them is important. Many people make the mistake of drawing out their eyeliner in an overly oblong and pointed shape (known in the beauty makeup world as the “cat eye”), but here we’ll only accent the middle region of the top lid, and the inner-to-middle section of the bottom lid.

If you’re handy with a liquid eyeliner, tightline your waterline to finish off the eyes. Do NOT do this with face paint, and don’t attempt this if you aren’t comfortable with it.

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Finish up your stripes with your medium and small brushes. Working in small sections and mirroring one after the other will help your symmetry. Be sure to accent your chin, as big cats typically have much larger chins than people and domesticated cats.

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To create the appearance of longer fur, use your fan brush and draw out the stripes along your jaw. Drawing out the gray regions with white paint will create depth and the appearance of the aforementioned “mane”.

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There you have it! When people take your photo (which they most certainly will), be sure to angle your chin downward and face the camera to reduce the appearance of your natural facial structure and enhance the illusion (as seen in the second photo).

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