Jun-Pierre Shiozawa is an Etchr Resident Artist, so we get lots of amazing lessons from him! In this 30-minute art class, he shared his technique for painting realistic birds using both ink and watercolour.

We’ll be following along to recreate the painting today, and it is a quick and easy process! The layering technique in this class creates such depth and texture, which is perfect for painting living creatures.

Step 1: Sketching 

Sketch a light outline of the bird. If you’re interested in birdwatching, you might like to know that this bird is a tufted titmouse. Known for their blue-grey colour, tufted titmice are stunning backyard birds with beautiful crests.

Step 2: Layering the Ink

Our next step is to apply water inside the lines of the sketch so that the ink will flow and blend nicely. Then, Jun-Pierre takes out his waterproof sumi-e ink and dilutes it to create a very light mixture.

If you don’t have waterproof black ink, it’s okay to use black watercolour, just so long as you are careful not to overwork the layers on top of it later on. This painting I’m doing is made with black watercolour.

To get a realistic impression of the bird’s shape, you’re going to drop the ink at the edges of the sketch, and let water naturally flow inward. Try beginning the brushstroke at a place that’s naturally darker, such as the beak or the tip of the wing.

Step 3: Deepening the Values

You might need to make a few passes with the ink to get the contrast in a place where you want it. If the blend isn’t happening naturally, just clean the brush and smooth out the gradient with it slightly damp.

Step 4: Colours 

You’re going to want to be good and sure that the ink layer is completely dry now because even waterproof ink has to be dry to function as advertised.

Start with a pale blue, such as Prussian Blue or a mixture that you like. Apply it to areas like the bird’s head and wings, blending it out with a clean and damp brush whenever you want it to fade into the grey. I took the option of adding a very faint layer of blue to the bird’s underside as well so that there’s some realistic shading on the white area.

Next, go in with a warm yet soft orange. You can mix it to your preferences, or use a straight-from-the-pan orange like Etchr’s Soft Orange.

When Jun-Pierre does this painting, his colour usage is more subtle, but I made mine more saturated so that it would show up on camera better for you. Also, I like colour, so adding more made me happy.

Keep in mind that if you don’t add enough colour, you can always add more, whereas it’s difficult to remove colour if you add too much. This is especially true if you used black watercolour instead of waterproof sumi-e ink.

Step 5: Making Sure You’re Happy With It 

We’re already at the end of the process, and the only thing left to do is make sure the image looks good as a whole when we stand back and look at it from the audience’s perspective.

In my picture, there were some things I decided to touch up before I called it done: I added more black to the bird’s eye and beak area to raise contrast, and I added more black to the branch to create realistic tree textures. Other than that, I resisted the urge to alter things in the picture, because it’s worse to do too much.  

If you don’t feel that the painting lines up with what you saw in your head, that’s perfectly fine! Every time you paint you learn something new as long as you are focusing and staying observant. Watercolour is a tough medium to learn, but with practice, you can do it just fine and someday you’ll enjoy looking back on how far you’ve come! 

If you enjoyed this lesson, I highly recommend you check out Jun-Pierre Shiozawa’s 90-minute class! He will paint other types of birds and show you the way to paint birds of your own.

You are welcome to subscribe to our email newsletter to see more updates on new classes like this! Have a lovely time painting! 

Elsa Wahlstrom is an illustrator/writer living in the south Idaho hill country. She  loves to create cozy, homey pictures and populate them with funny little creatures  having surreal little adventures. Her biggest inspiration is the music and comedy that  came out of England in the late 60s. When she’s not busy making art, she goes for long  hikes, plays a few instruments, and collects vinyl.

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