How to Paint an Asian Bird

The centuries-old, East-Asian technique of painting birds spontaneously using ink brushstrokes as quick and fleeting as the creatures they represent is a skill available to anyone willing to practice. Using supple calligraphy brushes that respond sensitively to pressure, the flowing nature of brush-painting birds is a relaxing pursuit that rewards the artist both through its meditative process and the finished painting that results.

Things You'll Need

  • Access to birds
  • Pencil
  • Sketchbook
  • Watercolor paper
  • Tape
  • Newspaper
  • Watercolor paint set
  • Palette
  • 2 plastic cups
  • Large and medium calligraphy brushes
  • Empty jar


    • 1

      Practice drawing of all types of birds to become familiar with their anatomy and proportions. Visit zoos, bird sanctuaries or use photographs for these practice drawings. Observe how the feathers move over the musculature underneath and memorize distinctive markings and colors of the specific birds studied. Artists work from memory and imagination when painting birds in the spontaneous style of East Asia; the purpose of the sketches is to prepare the memory and imagination before painting.

    • 2

      Prepare a workspace. Spread newspapers on the table to catch drips of ink and paint. Tape your paper to a piece of cardboard or wood. Fix your palette. Squeeze out watercolor paint in the bird's colors. Fill two cups with water. Assemble the watercolor brushes bristle-side up in an empty jar.

    • 3

      Visualize the position and composition of a specific bird to work from before beginning to paint. Dip the largest brush in clean water and load it with paint in the bird's primary color. Remove excess water. Paint the basic shapes of the bird quickly on to the paper in broad, thick strokes. Pull the brushstrokes in the same direction as the feathers. Allow the brush to lift up slightly near the edges to indicate the thin, soft feathers of the underbelly of the bird. Reload the brush with paint if it becomes dry. Rinse brush in water.

    • 4

      Dip a medium-sized brush in clean water then load with black or brown watercolor paint. Roll the brush on the palette to form a point, gather paint and remove excess water. Paint in the details of the bird's eyes, beak, legs and claws using thin, smooth strokes produced with the point of the rolled, wet brush.

    • 5

      Load a small, dry brush with paint the color of the bird's feathers. Press the side of the brush on to the palette so the bristles fan out in sharp points. Paint the small feathers around the face, eyes and head in small strokes. Load the large brush with brown or black paint. Paint in the shape of the branch or rock the bird sits upon in quick, flowing brushstrokes that move in that direction of the perch.

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  • Photo Credit Jupiterimages/ Images

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