Welcome To The Jungle - Structural Colors And Pigments Of Animal Subjects

Welcome To The Jungle - Structural Colors And Pigments Of Animal Subjects



From the b l a c k panther who lives in the dense tropical forests of Southeast Asia, to the Brazilian pumpkin toads with florescent bones in the Amazon, the color of an animal is very much affected by it's environment. 

Colors have an important clue to each animals place in their ecosystem. The hues, shades and brightness of the animal kingdom help nurture, protect, and prey on it's food.

Colors also display good health to other possible mates




The color of skin, scales, fur and feathers come from two different sources; pigments and structural color. Structural colors are the shimmering tones of beetles, butterflies, dragon fly wings, and shells. They reflect the light through the structure of their wings creating their colorful displays through interference and diffraction.

P R O  T I P - If you are painting an animal that has structural color, it would be helpful to enlarge scientific photos to analyze how many colors you can see and strategize your technique, so that it is accurate of the animals true colors.


Few animals have b o t h pigments and structural colors with the exception the hummingbird.

P R O  T I P - Keep in mind when painting feathers where the light source is coming from on the paper, in relation to the movement and angle of the feathers to the perceiver.


As with plants, the pigments contained in the animals skin, fur feathers cause certain wavelengths of light to be absorbed and others reflected. Melanin is responsible for the darker pigments such as black, brown, beige and auburns, but it's not responsible for the bright colors. 

Brighter pigments can be affected by what the animal eats such as berries. The pigments in berries are stored in a cardinals feather follicles to keep them bright red.

If you held a cardinal in captivity and only fed it seeds, you would see their color in their feathers fade away.

In contrast why do you think a parakeet can keep it's colors even when eating seeds and in captivity...hmmmm.

And who knew, that flamingos feathers get their pink feathers from the shrimp that they eat. Stomach acids in the flamingo turn the shrimp bright pink in their stomach and create their pigment similar to the cardinal.

D I D   Y O U   K N O W - The poison dart frog secretes it's poison through it's brightly colored skin. The intensity of the poison correlates to how bright it's color is and and how poisonous it is. Can you guess which color frog can kill 10 grown men? The one that is a bright golden yellow.

Researching your animal before painting or drawing, can give you some important clues on their color and surroundings and may make it more interesting and fun, if you know why they have certain colors in the first place. 


K e y  T a k e a w a y s: 

1. Limited Palette - for those of you with a limited palette consider this a gift! Now you have the colors that you need to finish your piece.

2. Know Your Subjects

3. The Devil Is In The Detail - understanding the subject automatically elevates the caliber of your outcome. You're not just drawing a beautiful vibrant cardinal anymore, the plot thickens. He's a cardinal held in captivity and all of a sudden you find yourself dipping your brush in grey. This is next level stuff. Your artwork now has a story.

4. Don't Pick Up Any Bright Yellow Frogs. 

5. Research If Your Subject Has Structural Colors, Pigmented Colors or Both 


By: Christiaan Torrez Korsgaard



Eckstut, J. (2013). The Secret Language of Color. Science, Nature, History. Publishedby Black Dog Leventhal Publishers, Inc. 


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