A Jenny Wren Painting

Once again we’ve started our volunteer nest recording work for the BTO this year and one bird we notice while we are out looking for and monitoring nests, is the wren. The male can often be spotted singing from a vantage point to try and encourage a female. For such a tiny bird they have a very loud voice and can be heard from some distance. The male busies himself building several nests within his territory – these are neat globe shaped nests with a little entrance hole and made from moss, leaves and grasses. Though on a local farm we found them made from straw, so I guess they just use what is to hand! The female will inspect the male’s handiwork and chooses a nest that she feels meets her exacting standards! She will then line this with feathers in which to lay her eggs. We’ve yet to find a lined nest this year so this blog will have to be about painting a wren instead, hopefully we can report on an actual wren nest later in the year. 😉 So instead I am aiming to give you an insight into the process I take to produce a realistic representation of this super little bird.

The first stage is to draw the image on to watercolour paper – I use Bockingford – it suits my style and technique well.

I almost always start on the eye or eyes of a subject, I love to see them looking back at me as I progress through the piece and they are usually the make or break area. Should they not look right the painting can sometimes end up in the bin and I start again. At least at this stage I’ve not invested too much time!

For a bird the next area I would usually work on would be the beak. Along with the eyes the beak is the other obvious stand out feature on the face and as such it is really important that it looks right to give the bird a realistic feel.

Having painted in the two main features I will start to work my way systematically down the body of the bird. Initially I will put in some under tones using some base washes of colour. These need to be allowed to dry between layers so a quick blast with a hair dryer can speed things up. They are applied with a constant reference to the photo, even at this first level it is important to start to build up the darker and lighter areas.

I may sometimes apply more than one base wash to achieve a deeper colour, for the wren I left it at one and started to work on the first layer of detail using a tiny 00 brush and minimal paint.

There is nothing to stop you leaving it at one layer of detail, however I prefer to build the layers, working in progressively darker tones until I feel I have achieved the realistic feel that I am after. The photo below shows the results of adding a second layer to the face.

To this I added a further third layer of detail – it is subtle, but you can see the darker tones which are defining the shapes and depth within the feathers and facial features.

Having achieved the look I am after on the head I work on the same principal with the body and tail feathers, starting with a base wash and then adding finer details over the top in gradually darkening shades.

Whilst the legs and branch are different colours, my method is still exactly the same, starting off with a foundation wash and then building the depth and detail over the top. My final stage is usually to add the watercolour white highlights. I use an opaque SAA white paint, mixed to varying degrees of thickness and then applied sparingly at first and building very gradually. It is all too easy to get carried away and cover all the previous detail you’ve spent hours working on.

I hope that has given you a bit of an insight into how I build my work. For more details you can check out my PDF tutorials or should you wish to actually watch me paint, do take a look at my video tutorials on YouTube or my full projects available to subscribers on Patreon, or downloadable from Vimeo. All the links are here on my website.
Until next time – keep those brushes wet and wish us luck finding an active wren nest! Paul 😉

Going Live!

For anyone who knows me or who has followed my page for some time, you will be aware that living in rural North Devon we have struggled for many years with a very slow broadband speed. We often struggle to play videos with lots of buffering and sometimes things stopping altogether. A couple of years ago I tried to do Facebook live – but our upload speed was so poor that the quality was just rubbish. 😞 People got fed up with watching and I got fed up with giving the wrong impression about the quality of my work!
Since it’s launch in July 2017 I’ve had to plan well in advance to get my Patreon Channel videos online as each section generally took me a good 3-5 hours to upload! So a month’s worth of content was tying my computer up for the best part of 24 hours….frustrating to say the least! But, enter the Huawei B593u wifi router our new best friend!

The Huawei works off the mobile phone network and we now work off this router instead of our phone line. You can see we don’t get a brilliant signal – just one or two bars. Despite this, the other evening I started a whole month’s worth of Patreon videos uploading and the whole process was complete within the hour. 😁 If only we had known about this a couple of years ago!!
So, I thought I would see if I could go live online again –

and……yes I could! I was so pleased to be able to go successfully live. There was no buffering, the image uploaded beautifully and viewers were able to see the detailed brush work involved in painting a section of the kingfisher’s head. The version here on my blog is from YouTube it was downloaded from Facebook and uploaded to YouTube in a matter of minutes…..yes I’m still getting used to the speed and still haven’t stopped doing speed tests or talking about it! It is just such a new experience to be able to do all these things without worrying about our internet dropping out completely! So what is next……

Well, I definitely would like to do more live sessions, on Facebook, possibly YouTube (once I’ve researched how you do it) and most certainly on Patreon – the latter will be exclusive live sessions for my Patrons…..so watch this space and look out for me popping up live on your social media feeds a bit more frequently from now on. 😃
Feel free to leave me a comment below, maybe you have an idea for a live painting/tutorial you would like to see or maybe you just want to say “Hi”.
Until next time, thanks for following my blog and don’t forget…keep those brushes wet. 😉
Paul