I airbrushed the background using several layers of liquid acrylic.
I have had several questions recently on how to find reference material to paint or draw wildlife. Obviously the ideal is to use your own photographs. I have been steadily building up a large portfolio of animal photographs from visits to various zoo's and wildlife parks throughout the UK. I also took almost 2000 photographs whilst on holiday in Canada and the US last year. The problem with captive animals is that they are often fatter than their wild counterparts and can show untypical behaviour due to being caged.
Sometimes though you want to paint an animal you haven't got a suitable photograph of, or a pose you haven't got, or you want to make sure you set it in its natural habitat. What do you do then?
You can try websites which offer high quality photographs for a fee. Two good websites that I have used are;-
Do however make sure that you purchase the correct licence for the intended use. If you want to use in any derivative work, which includes art, then you need to purchase the extended licence.
If you see a photograph you like while browsing the web you can email the photographer and ask for permission to use it. You need to specify exactly what you intend to use the photograph for and ask what compensation they require if they agree to let you use it. If you think that in the future you would like to sell the finished artwork, or have prints made, then again you need to detail that in your initial query.
If you intend to paint a background with the animal in a natural setting, then what works best for me is to watch as many DVD's or television programmes about the animal as possible. If I see some foliage etc that I think I could use, I freeze the picture and sketch the background. I also use books and magazine to research the animals natural habitat.