Watercolour Chickadee

Framed chickadee watercolour

It’s been within the last 6-8 months that I have attempted to figure out watercolour painting.  This makes me truly a beginner.

I have always used acrylics and found them to be very forgiving, allowing you the option to go back over a spot you are not happy with.  Watercolours vexed me.  My brain just would not adjust to using them.  Finally, the light bulb went on, I realized I had to start with the light tones and move to dark.  I also had to start with very thin paint in layers to achieve what I wanted.  In this session I will provide the steps I took to paint a chickadee bird.  I’m learning as I go and hopefully you can too. The steps I will provide is what has worked for me.  I am sure an art instructor will likely chew the eraser off their pencil here.  My thoughts are our destination is your finished piece, and the journey? Well that’s the good stuff.  Here you will have OSM’s (oh shoot moments) and some AH HA’s.

If you feel you cannot draw the picture you want to paint, I will give you a cheat here.  Print a picture you like from the internet.  Colouring page sites are good for this. (Please respect copyrights.)  Now using a pencil on its side colour in the backside of your printout.  This will put graphite on the back and allow you to transfer the picture to your page.

We are using 140 lb water colour paper.  Line up the picture and trace, make sure not to press to hard.  That will create dents in the paper and the dent will likely hold the water colours in pools you don’t want.

Watercolour paper with chickadee sketch

1. Tape your paper to your working surface.  Here I have created a border on the page.  Tip* run the masking tape over your clothes first.  This adds lint to the tape and it will hold down your paper, but not damage the paper when time to pull it off.

Adding masking liquid in water colour painting

2. Apply masking liquid, use an old brush you do not love and rinse it immediately.  The masking liquid will create a barrier and keep that area of the paper clean and paint free.  Here I will outline the chickadee and cover in the eye area.  Allow to dry.

Softening water colour sky by blotting

3. Begin to paint the background.  Here we will imagine the light is coming from the left top corner.  This will be where the lighter blue will go.  The middle and lower left will get some purple shades and blue grey to the lower right.  We will be painting with a wet on wet method.  Using a fine mist spray bottle, spray the entire surface well.  Now with a large round brush dab the colours on according to your light source.  Blend the colours with the brush by sweeping across the page.  Blotting with a paper towel will soften the sky and help provide depth and visual interest.

Removing masking liquid from water colour paper

4. Next begin to block in the branches.  Start with a brown lightened with some yellow.  Remember-thin coasts here.  Let dry, then add darker areas to the branches as shadows, creating texture to the branches.

Block in chickadee using water colours

5. With an eraser it’s time to remove the masking fluid from the outside of the chickadee.  Leave the eye area covered for now.

6. Build thin layers of colours to the chickadee.  Grey on the head, wings and tail.  Beige on the area below the wings and from the legs to the tail area.  Continue to add layers of these colours to build depth.  At the same time make your grey a bit darker for each pass.  You may want to add fine lines here and there to the breast area, to represent soft feathers.

Building layers of watercolour

7. Build layers of brown to the legs, adding shadows to the back area and across the toes.  This can be achieved adding a small amount of black to your brown mixture.

8. Using a couple very thin tones of green apply a wash where you would like your pine needles to be.  Here I added some yellow to make a lighter tone and the darker tone had a bit of blue added to blend into the sky better as we want them to appear further away.

9. Using a light brown, block in your pine cones.  Allow to dry then begin to add layers of a darker brown to create shadows around the individual seeds that make up a pine cone.

10. Using a script brush and a slightly thicker mix of green, add in the pine needles.  Be sure to have some cross each other to build in more realism.

Adding detail with water colour

11. Remove the masking fluid from the eye area.  Block in the beak area with a yellowy brown.  Darken the underside and the area closest to the head. A very fine line can be added to create the opening of the beak.  Add some dark brown around the outer edge of the eye. Black in the center (using a thicker mix here).  Be sure to leave  a small white circle                                          placing it according to the light source.  Here i have placed it near the upper area just left of centre.

12. Using a thicker black mix and a script brush add small strokes to build up the small feathers on the head and under the white cheek area. Detail the tail feathers. (Cheat* should you find an area became to dark and you want it lighter, using some white acrylic paint thinned with water can be used to adjust those areas)   Sign and date your masterpiece.

Completed chickadee water colour

13. Carefully remove your tape.  Once dry you may want to weight the paper down for a few days with heavy books, then pop it into a frame.

Well done!  You have done your first water colour.

Let us know how you made out on your painting project by submitting a comment on our page.  Contact us if you have any questions.