two gibbons

watercolor painting of two Gibbons


My theme this month is love.

I googled endangered species that make for life and found this article at Green Global Travel – an ecotourism company. My plan was to search for images for each species and take the most compelling one. Right away, I found this image of a pair of Gibbons and didn’t want to go further. I was arrested by the looks on their faces and the way one is reaching out to touch the other.

From the Green Global website: “The couple stays in a monogamous relationship that can span decades, producing up to six offspring. These adorable, tree-swinging mammals groom one another and spend quality time vocalizing their feelings. Their love song, which often involves complex sounds, can be heard for miles.”

That made me curious about their love song. The Indianapolis Zoo has a video.

Gibbons are threatened by habitat loss and poachers. North American zoos have species survival plan.

Watched this video for inspiration.

Planned strategy: (this will be challenging) [with a little research, I discovered that the brown gibbon is male and the lighter one is female.]

  • begin with background. Background also has a foreground and background. Remember to work wet into wet as much as possible. (Greens, tan, grays)
  • Paint faces. Leave white space for catch lights in eyes. Paint teeth and gums before lips. (Grays, brown, black)
  • Paint the female gibbon first so that the fur of the male gibbon is in front of the lighter ones’ arm, but note that the lighter leg is in front. (tan, browns, black)
  • Remember to hold space for the white fur around their faces.


session 1: I began by putting in background and then realized that the tree and branch background of the photo doesn’t make sense in the wet into wet technique. I also had forgotten to leave a white space around the gibbons. I started over.

Session 2: I put in the background and started to work on the female. I found I needed to do some marks to establish the body so I would know where the faces were. I put the face on the female and started in on the male. A couple unfortunate accidental swipes with a black brush gave me unrecoverable errors, so I started over.

Session 3: background, establishing marks, both faces are done.

Session 4: painted most of the female gibbon, leaving a little bare where she Is connecting with her mate.

Session 5: painted most of the male gibbon as well as the leg and arm of the female. As I look at painting, I see lots of little things that need to be done to finish it. When I am up close with the brush in my teeth, it’s harder to tell. Next time: make a mental list of what to paint before going in.

As I was painting black into black today, I realized how much more skillful I would be next time, as I’m learning how I might indicate body structure through brushstrokes. When I’m watching videos, it would be helpful to remember the painters are not painting the image for the first time.

Sessions 6 & 7: each time, I looked at the painting and made marks in any places that seemed unfinished or didn’t match what I saw in the photo.

  • it bugs me that:
    • I didn’t get their heads shaped correctly.
    • The nostrils are too round on the male and not quite right on the female. (Honestly, you couldn’t see her other nostril because of the angle of her head, but this isn’t quite right.)
    • The transparency of watercolor is not more obvious.
  • I’m happy about:
    • in general, I’m very happy with the results this project.
    • I had a good time painting!


  • The less rushed I am, the better.
  • I like writing session notes, but I’m not sure I should publish them. What do YOU think? If you have been patient enough to read this far, please leave a note below.
  • Companionship is a nice part of love. We may not think much about it, but there is an epidemic of loneliness in this world. As Mother Teresa said “Today, if we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other-that man, that woman, that child is my brother or my sister. If everyone could see the image of God in his neighbor, do you think we would still need tanks and generals?”

Posted on

November 26, 2023


  1. Charles A. Wolfe (your younger older brother)

    I enjoyed reading through your process analysis. I had not perceived the concerns you had with the finished product. My eye is willing to accept a gibbon with one nostril…. without noticing until it is called to my attention. I am amazed at your ability to paint with a brush in your mouth, and your face quite close to the “canvas.” You are an extraordinary person… which makes it quite easy to love and admire you! If everyone were as insightful as Kate, I think to myself, would we need weapons or generals? (I think not!) Thank you for your work… and also for the Indianapolis :Zoo bit—I want to listen to the song a few more times.

    • Kate

      thank you for your kind words and for reading my long analysis! The distance from the paper is a challenge. Since I paint in several sessions, I spend some time before each session looking at the work from 2 feet away, deciding my next moves, and then going forward to my working distance (which is a brush length). I listened to the gibbon soliloquy several times, wondering what was communicated. If we could hear the messages of other species then we might not need weapons or generals.


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