I always include chickens in my online courses on drawing and painting birds. There are so many things that make a hen fun to draw — scaly toes, fierce beady eyes, all those feathers — and everyone has a basic understanding of chicken anatomy. This lovely girl was a demo for the current session of Birds in Watercolor and Beyond.
I know, I know… ink and gouache resist was supposed to come several weeks later in my course schedule for “Birds in Watercolor and Beyond.” But I just couldn’t wait to share it. My all-time favorite painting technique, its inky outlines and sudden transformation (as the result of spraying it with a garden hose, the best part of the whole process) remind me of my years spent carving colorful raku tiles. There’s more information on the process in an older post.
I’m in the lake country of central Florida this week, painting some of the local avian citizens in preparation for the upcoming online course, Birds in Watercolor and Beyond. I sketched these sandhill cranes, an adult and a juvenile, this morning. Now I’m making a quick color study in watercolor and white gouache. (I’ll post another image when it’s finished.)
Sandhill cranes are abundant here: they stalk along the roadsides and peer in through patio doors. They make a rapid, beeping call like a flock of chatty space aliens. At four feet tall, they can easily look into your car window while you wait in line at the drive-through. They are ideal drawing subjects.
There’s nothing fancy about the boat-tailed grackle, a lanky relative of the blackbird and the oriole. Grackles populate the coast from Texas to Long Island, and are the goats of the bird kingdom — they will eat just about anything they find, from small crustaceans to scavenged dumpster fare.
But if you have a hankering to try drawing an iridescent surface, the boat-tailed grackle is your ideal model. A sheen of shimmering blue, purple or copper play over these birds in sunlight. Microscopic structures on their feathers break light apart, like a prism, and create a reflected rainbow.
(This fellow was drawn with Prismacolor colored pencils on medium-weight Bristol vellum. He was the demonstration drawing for my online course, Birds in Colored Pencil.)
I live on a hill, and the street that runs past my front door ends abruptly at the edge of the bay, four blocks down. It’s an easy walk, early in the morning, to watch pelicans dive for their breakfast and hear gulls laughing as they sail past overhead. And in the shallows, when the water is calm, the great blue heron stands motionless. I suppose he is waiting for the gleam of careless minnows in the water at his feet, but he might as well be posing for my sketchbook. A beautiful bird, bold enough to ignore a small woman nearby with a fistful of colored pencils, he makes a great model.
I’m honored to be the featured artist in the upcoming June issue of Colored Pencil Artists magazine — an issue that will focus on birds in colored pencil. I drew this heron, and his fisherman friend, with that event in mind.
The heron is drawn in Prismacolor Premiere, the soft-core colored pencils I like to use. After making a foundation drawing in Dark Umber — including all the major shadows and textures — I used just five other colors, layered on over the Umber, to finish the bird. His beak is Yellow Ochre, shaded gently with Terra Cotta (the same combination is used for his fierce eye). I don’t like to use pre-formulated grays, which seem a little flat, but prefer to blend a warm and vital gray by mixing Light Peach and Cloud Blue. All the gray areas on this fellow are created with those two colors. Then I used black, of course, for his dark mask and (very sparingly) to deepen the richest shadows.
The fisherman’s wings are based on the lovely (and enormous) polyphemus moth, a silkworm moth that is common where I live. The richly pigmented, slightly dusty feel of colored pencil is perfect for drawing lepidopterans, from monarch to cabbage moth.