Centaur: Shepherdess, Step-By-Step

Centaur Shepherdess

Centaur: Shepherdess

I’ve been painting a lot of mythical beasts lately. It was a turn I took a few weeks ago, when I thought that eventually I will launch a web site, etsy shop, etc. to try to sell some paintings (still a little bit away, but I’m thinking about it), and wondered, what would people buy beside half-naked mythic Goddesses? The answer came to me when, as I explained last blog post, a friend needed a unicorn painting. I became a bit obsessed with exploring the theme of mythic beasts.

Here are some of the paintings I’ve done in the last few weeks:

Unicorn Neptune

Unicorn Neptune

Unicorn Jupiter Io

Unicorn Jupiter with Io

I wanted to do some centaurs, but I also wanted to put a spin on them. Centaurs come from Greek mythology, though they were known in myths from around the world. The Greek centaur, despite its name (the ‘taur’ syllable is the same as ‘Taurus,’ meaning bull) is seen as part human and part horse. But centaurs from other mythologies have other animal parts. I hit on the idea of centaurs from localized regions, and started the project with a northern European centaur (mythically speaking, Scandinavia/Sapmi is my place of power):

Centaur Moon

Centaur Moon

So my next idea, aided by a trip to the Natural History museum, was an East African centaur.

African culture had a huge impact upon the mythologies of the ancient world. Several dynastic rulers of Egypt were from the lower Nile (the areas that today are Sudan and Ethiopia), and if you look at the earliest Egyptian sculptures, the Pharaohs had distinctly sub-Saharan features; Many Jews come from the lower Nile region, and some people believe Judaism originated in Ethiopia.

The sculptures above, from the earliest Egyptian dynastic period, have distinctly sub-Saharan features (as you would see in modern Ethiopian peoples); compare these to the well known sculptures below of Akhenaten and Nefertiti, rulers of Egypt in the later dynastic periods. These figures have features one would associate with modern Egyptians, who look more like contemporary Semites.


In visualizing an African centaur, I looked at various animals native to East Africa, and decided on a springbok. I love their supple shape and graceful lines. I also looked at many photos of tribal African people, and used an amalgam of several photos.

Centaur: Shepherdess

Acrylic on canvas, 24×36

Colors used: titanium white, ivory black, red ocher, cobalt blue, viridian hue, raw sienna, burnt sienna, burnt umber, cadmium yellow, cadmium yellow light, cadmium red hue, ultramarine.

Brushes: large and small coarse hair brushes, such as used for painting houses: small angled brush; small filbert.

I began by ‘reclaiming’ a canvas that I was unhappy with (a painting I did a couple of years ago of three muses. I never really liked it). I painted over it with red ocher and some brighter yellows. I thought to use this background as the final backing for the piece, but this painting changed directions many times as I worked. That’s something that’s part of my process, and I’ve learned not to fight it.

centaur 1

I really like the charcoal sketch when I look at it now, but as with the background, that would change drastically as I painted.

centaur 2

I began by coloring the springbok body, using titanium white and cobalt blue. This is a bit against the way I usually paint: I usually place the darkest shading first, then paint light colors over them. But not today… I also began placing the flock of springboks that the shepherdess is tending into the background.

centaur 3

This is when the piece took its first major turn away from what I had originally planned. I decided the piece needed a much more developed background than the simple color pattern I had started with. I wanted the look of the springboks’ habitat. This would of course take some real work…I used cobalt blue mixed with titanium white for a sky background, and began making shapes suggesting grasses in the foreground and shrubbery in the background.

centaur 4

My GF, who acts as my editor for paintings (a painting is not ‘done’ until she tells me it’s done!) suggested that the human body be slimmer and more graceful, to match the shape of the springbok; I visualized the human part as fitting exactly where the springbok’s neck would fit. So the human body changed quite a bit, including placement of the limbs:

centaur 5

I became very frustrated with the face, which I was taking from a different photo than the (human) body. I painted it over and determined to begin again.

centaur 6

But try as I may, I was not happy with the face. I determined that the human head was simply too large for the body. This is likely because as you might have seen, the whole human part started out much larger and broader: I changed the body shape, but failed to change the size of the head to match. So, ‘off with her head,’ as a certain fictional character might say… I also changed the angle of the torso, which was not right when I thought about the movement of the human half turning to face the viewer.

centaur 8

centaur 9

Much better! (Though my GF preferred the larger head…ah well. You can’t please everyone, even the people closest to you. You have to please yourself first). Newly angled torso, smaller head, more impressionist styled face.

A little more fine-tuning, and I had a finished painting:

Centaur Shepherdess

I guess this blog post shows, if nothing else, that while working on a painting things can change quite drastically. You just have to go with your instincts, even if it makes more work for you. I’m still not 100% sure I’m happy with this. It was an experiment: for one thing, since I’ve been focused for several years on European Goddesses, I’ve never painted East African skin tones before, though I’ve wanted to for some time. This gave me the opportunity, one which I will continue with (I think at this time in history, supporting cultural diversity in any way we can do so is really important: as an artist, I can do this by painting other peoples and cultures than what I am used to painting…) . And I did love painting the springboks.

My other choice for an African centaur body was the kudu, and I may do a second painting on this theme with the kudu base, and a thicker, more muscular human body. You can always see my work on my DeviantArt: http://kennyfiddler.deviantart.com/ to see what else I’m painting.

As always, thanks for looking. Please ‘like’ and comment.



  1. I really like your unicorns, especially 🙂 The planets and skies are great too. Are you going to paint some naked male centaurs too?


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