Painting Special Effects: Drawing and Painting a Disappearing Object

Ever wonder how a ghost or other object in a painting is made to look like it’s vanishing?

A fun little trick to try with paints is making an object appear to be vanishing. It can be playful as well as enhance your skills in increasing and decreasing density with your paintbrush.

Keep reading to learn more about painting special effects!

Finished cat

For my example piece, I am going to take a character who is famous for his vanishing act — the Cheshire Cat himself — and create the illusion of disappearing. I am working with watercolors but I think the notion can be adapted to nearly any medium.

Step 1. Create your sketch

Sketch of cat

My prepared sketch is all ready with my ink outline. You will notice here that the area where I plan to have my cat dissolving into the background (his back end) does not have any ink outline, though I have left barely-there pencil lines so I remember where the whole cat is/was. This area will become less and less of him and more and more of the background and vice versa, which is the most important component of this painting. It has to be seamless and, most of all, believable.

Step 2. Pay careful attention

Continued cat painting

I have applied my sky background, being extra careful to also paint the background where the the cat will have vanished. I then lighten up the color as my brush moves closer to the part of that cat that is going to be dissolving to and stop where the cat will still be whole. Think of it as a gentle wave of color thinning and lightening as it washes up.

I have learned after many background washes that if some color washes over where you really did not want it, unless it is a very dark night sky color or other dark background, you are pretty safe to just leave it and cover it later with your paints. I usually wash right over many things with light backgrounds, like the tree shown here, which will be painted a darker color afterward anyway.

The floating playing cards, however, have been coated in masking medium to insure they will be free of color after the background sky is painted. I need these objects to stand out and be a lighter shade than the background.

So far, so good. It looks I have kept the background steady where the cat is no longer and faded it just enough into where the cat and sky will become one.

Step 3. Complete the effect

Final cat painting

After removing the masking medium from the cards, my piece is ready to be finished.

I am going to paint my cat the same way as I painted the background sky in the “vanished” area of the cat’s body except we are coming from the other direction with full saturation, starting with his face and upper back, fading carefully so I keep an even saturation of colors at the point of dissolution. It looks seamless!

This method would work well with ghosts or any other object you wish to look to be vanishing.

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