How to Paint Birds With Watercolors

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Watercolors are ideal for painting scenes of nature and wildlife. The colors are vibrant and lend themselves well to birds in particular, as evidenced by the works of Rita Sklar. Painting with watercolors allows the artist to use a number of techniques such as washing, lifting off and dropping in color to create an array of colorful image effects and patterns that bring the natural beauty of birds to life on canvas. Learn how you can paint beautiful birds with watercolors that you will be proud to display in your home.

Things You'll Need

  • Watercolor paint
  • Brushes
  • Canvas
  • Reference photo (optional)

Consider the composition of your painting first. Decide if your bird will be sitting in trees or in flight against a background of sky. Don't worry about sketching in your painting first. Let the natural behaviours of the watercolor paint form your images.

Paint your background first. If you are going to put your bird in flight, dampen your paper, then apply a good amount of blue paint to your brush and begin wiping it across the paper, letting the water naturally disperse the paint as you do. This will result in a soft, almost washed look. Once you've applied the first coat of blue, go back and add in some strokes of darker blue paint to add depth to the sky. Clean your brush and make the clouds, using a very wet brush and little paint.

Add a few fat strokes of brown watercolor paint at the bottom edge of your paper canvas, then dip your brush into green water color and blot the paint around and above the fat brown strokes to turn them into trees. It's okay to leave a little brown paint on the brush when you do this because the two colors (brown and green) mixed will enhance the shape of your trees.

Use a thin brush and add a few birds in flight in the distance. Don't worry about definition here. You want to create an illusion more than anything else. Use a dark shade of the main color for the bird you've chosen to paint and apply curved lines that resemble a lowercase letter "m." Curve the ends of each end tail to give the shape the look of a bird in flight.

Add the central bird image to one of the trees. Start with the body color of the bird and paint his head, keeping your brush on your paper canvas and angling it down to paint the general shape of your bird. Once you've achieved the outline, clean your brush and add the distinct coloring that will identify your bird. Do this by dipping your brush in watercolor paints and dabbing the paint onto your bird to achieve its markings. You can leave the markings as they are for a more distinct look, or you can wet your brush and apply water to the paint to create a diffuse effect.

Use various shades of color to bring out the feather textures of your bird. This can be done by varying shades of the bird's main body color or by applying strokes of black paint with a very small brush to bring out the layered look of the feathers. You can enhance this by wetting a brush and spreading the water colors out on each feather to create a gradation in color on the feathers that will stand out against the layers created by the thin black lines.

Make adjustments as needed. Step back from the painting and view it as a whole, then add paint where you want to darken the images or water if you want to lighten or diffuse. Adding more water will spread the paint out, which is a technique common in watercolor. The effect is such that the painting seems to lack definition close up, but the further away you view it, the more detailed it appears to be.

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