How to Paint Feathers

Painting feathers is not as complex as it looks. For many years, artists have been developing different techniques for dealing with feathers and their idiosyncrasies. The techniques are simple enough for beginners to learn. With a little brush practice and layering directions, you can easily paint beautiful, realistic-looking designs on feathers.

Things You'll Need

  • Large feather
  • Clear gloss spray or other fixative
  • Painter's tape
  • Acrylic paints
  • Paintbrushes

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Determine the design that you want to paint onto your feather. You may wish to make a sketch of your design and decide what color palette you are going to use before moving on to the painting process. Make sure that you are satisfied with your design.

Spray a large, smoothed-out feather with a clear gloss spray or other fixative to keep the pieces in place while you work. If you would like to have a colored feather background, use a colored spray on the feather instead. Let the gloss dry before proceeding.

Tape the feather down to a flat, protected surface, such as a mat board or piece of cardboard, using the painter's tape. Tape the feather at the top, bottom, and a tiny part of each side so that you have the largest possible working space.

Mix together one of the main colors you will use in your design, and use it to paint the outline of your design onto the feather. Paint takes a long time to build up when working on feathers, so you may have to go over your outlines a few times to make them stick. Make sure that you have all of the general shapes that you will use in your design before moving on.

Create blocks of color within your outline, using the most basic colors you want in your design. Do not dwell on details yet; instead, make a base coat of each major color. Build up several layers of these colors on the feather. Do not dilute the colors with water during this stage.

Add in some of the highlights and shadows to your design, building up the colors so that they stand out. Build up the details little by little, working with the transparency of lighter colors over darker colors to create depth in the design. Work from the larger details to the smaller details, just like you would in any normal painting. In the last layers of painting, add the darkest of shadows and the lightest of highlights, going over them several times to provide the thickest color.

Spray the finished feather painting with clear gloss spray, to seal the paint and to add shine to the image.

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