Tina Hotchkiss has an approach to watercolour animal portraits that I have never seen before, despite my lifelong experience drawing animals and my years-long fascination with watercolour. There was a learning curve for me during Hotchkiss’s FREE Live Demo because I had never worked in this manner before. Come now and watch my trial-and-error process! We’ll discover new things together.

The first step was well within my comfort zone. I have drawn thousands of outlines of animals in light pencil. The only hint that things were about to get wild is the lack of definition in the tail feathers and the branch.

At the time, I thought nothing of it and figured that we would do some mild Impressionism or something. Little did I know what playfulness was in store!

Watercolour is all about letting go and learning to trust the process. As someone practically married to the calendar and clock, I find this difficult. But that’s the wonderful thing about watercolour; it is a small and contained lesson in spontaneity and letting go.

I really enjoyed spraying the page with water, then making huge splashes of yellow. The yellow did correlate with the yellow parts on the reference photo, but it spilt beyond that. Hotchkiss has extraordinary intuition for composition and balance, and that guides her colour choices.

Next, while the yellow was still wet, it was time to add some green. I enjoyed this step because the colours flowed and blended into one another so beautifully. I don’t think I sprayed the paper enough at the beginning because I didn’t have as many soft-edged puddles as Hotchkiss did, but every painting is different and different is good!

Now, I had not prepared for how wild things got, but diving into it was freeing and fun. I would have never been brave enough to put such intense green and red onto the same page wet-on-wet because they mix and make brown. But brown is okay! Look at that; the colours sort of look like a mango!

Adding the neutral mixture of colours for the branch was difficult because the paper was already soaked, and the colour didn’t want to sit nicely for me. But I kept gradually pushing the colour where I wanted it to go, softening whatever edges I dared to soften, and made things work.

Adding the blue for the sky was so rewarding because blue combines so beautifully with all these other colours, even the accidental browns!

The steps at the end were the ones I least expected, but they tied the entire picture together. I used a hairdryer to dry my painting, and I didn’t love how the edges turned out, but the finishing touches ended up covering the places that weren’t so pleasing.

The next thing to do was add some black brush pen to the beak, eyes, and other edges that I wanted to emphasize. I mostly followed Hotchkiss’s example but used my own intuition, too, because the tail on my parrot turned out more defined than hers did, and I wanted to develop it more with the pen to keep the work balanced. For the smallest outlines of the bird’s head, I used a 0.5 felt tip fineliner.

Tina Hotchkiss does something that I have never seen anyone else do: add little coloured pencil outlines and fills within the ink lines. I wasn’t sure how it would look on my painting, but I tried it anyway, and I was pleasantly surprised with the outcome! It helps the lines be more dynamic and less stark.

My favourite unexpected result in this painting was how the random splashes of colour in the background ended up perfectly resembling tree foliage as soon as I added a few indications of a vague outline. It was magical.

The biggest takeaway from this Live Demo for me was that sometimes, the best way to learn to paint more effectively is to throw all the rules you thought you knew out the window and just do what you think might look neat.

Tina Hotchkiss has such a distinctive style, which comes from her willingness to be spontaneous and experiment. She mentions teaching children’s art classes, and I think she has learned from the playfulness of children as much as the children have learned from her. I highly recommend you go to Hotchkiss’s Mini Workshop over at this link!

Elsa Wahlstrom is an illustrator and graphic novelist based in Minnesota. She specializes in all things cozy and calm, but adds humor where she can. When she isn’t drawing, she enjoys playing musical instruments, but you’re more likely to see her staring at some silly tree or something. 


  • Tina Hotchkiss said:

    It was wonderful to see this lovely interpretation of my approach to painting. Thank Elsa, your painting looks great! Hope you keep “playing” with the splashes. It is so much fun!

    August 27, 2021

  • Jacqueline Donohoe said:

    Lots of good tips. Many thanks.

    August 27, 2021

  • Patricia Izsak said:

    Excellent article – Love her painting style!

    August 26, 2021

  • Patricia Izsak said:

    Excellent article – Love her painting style!

    August 26, 2021

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