How to paint a Harley in Nine steps

Harley Davidson Super Glide (2006 FXD) ©2017 Kendrea Rhodes All Rights Reserved

Painting for the pleasure of another is the greatest reward; anticipation of this pleasure is the greatest anxiety.


You will need: ruler, pencil, eraser, canvas, photograph that you can draw on (take a photocopy), Paint (Oil or acrylic) and brushes.

1   Begin with a photocopied photo and a canvas.

It’s always easier if the photo (or portion of the photo that you want to paint) and canvas are of similar orientation, ie: both landscape. They do not have to be the same size because the grid drawing system can be used to enlarge or reduce the resulting painting.

2   Underpainting

I made the decision to use an acrylic cobalt blue as the under-painting. I normally start with the white of the canvas or a light underpainting, but I thought I’d try something new. It’s so much easier to use a grey leaded pencil on a light coloured canvas, but if you like what I’ve done, try it. Let me know if you come up with a better method on a dark background.

This presented  unforeseen problems but was worth it in the end:

  •         the dark colour meant the pencil drawing was harder to see
  •         I changed to white pastel for the drawing, which rubbed off or mixed with the paint
  •         I was painting in reverse (dark to light) causing extreme mental gymnastics

3   Grid your photograph

Draw a grid of equal sized squares on the photocopy of your photograph. Number all columns and rows along the edges (like an Excel Spreadsheet).

4  Grid your canvas

Draw a grid of equal sized squares on your canvas using the same number of boxes as in your photograph. So if your photograph is labelled 1-20 along the bottom and 1-10 on the edge, so too is the canvas.

If you have more numbers on your photograph than the canvas, you will crop some of the photograph out of the painting. If you have more numbers on your canvas (than the photograph) then you won’t fill the whole canvas. This, of course, depends on what you want to achieve.


5   Draw the motorbike

Draw the motorbike by hand, using the grid reference numbers on the photograph to indicate the positioning on the canvas. If you follow the grids on the photograph closely, your result will be in perfect proportion, regardless of the size of the photo vs canvas.

See the previous image: the motorbike is enlarged on the canvas using this method. If you need to, go square by square. Simply look at one square on the photograph and draw it exactly as you see it onto the canvas, in its corresponding square. You can also cut out a small square on an A4 sheet of paper and move this around your photograph. It sometimes helps to block out all other ‘image noise’.

6   Background

Paint the background squares first. This is important to diffuse the future-boredom factor. The fun bit is the motorbike itself — all the highlights and shiny bits. If you do the background squares first, while your motivation is high, it will get done quickly and thoroughly.

7   Paints and Mediums

I used the following oil paint colours:

Ultramarine Deep (Umpton)
Pthlalo Blue (Umpton)
Cerulean Blue (Art Spectrum)
Indigo (Umpton)
Viridium Hue (Windsor & Newton)
Payne’s Grey (Umpton)
Titanium White (Art Spectrum)
Cadmium Red Middle/Light (Umpton)
Cadmium Yellow Middle/Light (Umpton)

 Windsor and Newton’s Liquin Original and Low Odour Solvent were the mediums used. The underpainting was an acrylic cobalt blue.

8   Block in the motorbike shapes

Fill in the main shapes: anatomy, tyres (tires), seat, tank, exhausts. Watch the 57 second video below to see how I approached the Harley.

9   Fill in the detail

This is the fun bit. You need to use your painterly talents and interpret the image to colour in squares and other shapes. Look at the final of the Harley in the video below. The main features are enhanced using whites, greys and blues. Finer details disappear into shadow. Very little Cadmium Red is used, but where it appears, is very important: Harley Davidson logo, tank highlights, tail light and other lights.


Click here to visit the post: How to Harley. It contains the artist’s statement and motivation for this painting.

Feel free to ask questions, click here to email KendreArt.


©Kendrea Rhodes 2023

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