Pair of pied flycatchers used as a reference photo for a painting

So, to carry on from where we left off last week.  We are at the point where I had my reference material decided upon and I was just about to put brush or was that pencil to paper?!  Indeed, pencil was actually the first place that I started.  Bear in mind that this painting was completed several years ago, this was in the days when I was printing my images in draft format, covering the back of the paper in graphite, and then tracing the image by drawing around the main outlines with enough pressure to transfer the graphite to my watercolour paper.  I’ve since discovered actual graphite paper and what a day that was!

Step by step stages of painting a pair of pied flycatchers in watercolour

For anyone who regularly follows my work you will know that I work my way around a painting.  I almost always start with the eye and I like to finish off sections before moving on to other areas.  You can see in the image below, that I have applied a pink toned background wash and have used this to build the black detail on top.  The pink gives a warm feeling to the feathers, it takes away the starkness of a flat black and I would have mixed a similar colour in with the black paint to warm it too.  My paintings are built with a layering technique, the feather details are created in 3-4 layers of fine lines, working over and over the same areas to give the depth of colour and detail needed.  As we are effectively working with coloured water, applying the same colour layer upon layer will gradually deepen and intensify the colour until you get the result you want.

Step by step stages of painting a pair of pied flycatchers in watercolour

With any bird painting it is important to take note of the different type of feathers – for instance those on the head are very different to those on the wings and tail.  Whilst the colours may be the same, the brush strokes needed to make the feathers look real are often very different.  The line lengths and directions can vary considerably and it is really important to note this before getting carried away thinking that it is simply a case of filling in an area with one colour in one direction!  I very often make a few reference marks within an area, indicating and reminding myself of the sorts of lines I need to be using and the direction they are running in.  This can save a lot of time and frustration later!

Step by step stages of painting a pair of pied flycatchers in watercolour

I was lucky with my photo and had both birds in the photo together and in the position that I wanted them.  Putting two images together and getting the birds in a natural looking pose would be a lot more difficult and I am glad that I didn’t have to do that!  Like many birds, the male and female are significantly different in their colouration.  The male obviously giving rise to the ‘pied’ part of their name and the female a different colour altogether!  Both have large eyes in comparison to their bodies and in bird books they are often loosely associated with robins – a bird which also has quite large eyes compared to its size.  The formation of their feathers was the same for both these birds, this is not always the case.  I was able to use similar brush strokes on the female building the colours from a brown spectrum instead. 

Step by step stages of painting a pair of pied flycatchers in watercolour

If you read my last blog you will know that a natural setting was needed for this painting, so rather than having the birds on a box we wanted them on the side of a tree – supposedly going into a natural hole in the bark instead…..artistic licence and all that!  I wanted to paint a detailed background so felt that I needed an image to work from and felt this section of a nearby tree would work.

Photo of some rough bark and ivy for my watercolour painting

Take a look at the two photos and see if you can work out which section of the bark and ivy I used!  Having already painted both birds I had to carefully cut in around them with my washes and detail work.  I decided to approach this in sections, applying the background wash, a rough suggestion of bark and then building layer on layer and colour on colour to finally finish with a good representation of the photo.  Finished off by my well known white highlights.  I suspect back then these were in watered down white acrylic.  As you know, I now use an opaque watercolour white instead.

Step by step stages of painting a pair of pied flycatchers in watercolour

There you have it, a very brief overview of how I created this painting all the way through from start to finish.  Whilst I absolutely love painting from my own reference photos I rarely get the opportunity these days to devote the time to capturing those all important ‘just right’ photos.  I am fortunate to have some very good photographers who put in those hours and are happy for me to use their photos in my work.  I could not do what I do without them, so a very BIG Thank You to each and every one of them.  I really do appreciate your generosity and kindness.  

Watercolour painting of a pair of Pied Flycatchers

I hope you enjoyed that little insight into the whole process.
Until the next time……keep them brushes wet!  Paul

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4 Responses

  1. As you know Paul, I really love this picture. Thank you for letting us see your thoughts throughout this painting 🙂

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