There’s always fun to be found in painting wildlife, whether you’re using modern or traditional techniques. Andreea Nae seamlessly blends the two to create her brand of enjoyment and shares her secrets to doing so in this demo.

Step 1: Prep and Pencil Sketch

Andreea starts by prepping her tools, which is super quick and simple.

You’ll need an A4 sheet of cold press watercolour paper, a pencil, a kneaded eraser, black fineliner pens, watercolour paints, a palette, a large mop or quill brush, a no. 6 and no. 1 round brush, two containers of water, and paper towels.

Your paper should also be taped to a wooden board via artist’s tape, and propped up at an angle.

Bonus tip: You’ll be using quite a lot of water for this demo, which means you should go with paper that’s at least 300gsm (140lb) thick. I also recommend getting 100% cotton paper, as it absorbs and retains water better.

You can print out or have on screen the reference photo of this parrot, but Andreea doesn’t really follow this reference anyway.

When you’ve gathered everything, do a quick pencil sketch of the parrot that fills out the page. Your lines should be light and loose, and the sketch shouldn’t take longer than 10 minutes.

Once you’re done, lighten the lines a little by dabbing your eraser over the lines, and erasing anything that doesn’t belong.

Step 2: Wet-on-Wet and Splatter Combo

Before painting, spritz your paints with some water to loosen up the pigments. It will help you work faster, which is essential in using wet-on-wet techniques!

Start with the mop brush, and use it to wet the top of the parrot’s head with clean water. Then, drop in some hooker’s green on the right side, and ultramarine blue on the left. Since the surface is still wet, the colours should blend smoothly into one another.

Tip: This is known as the “wet-on-wet” technique, where soft blends can be achieved by adding paint to a wet surface.

Also, while the colours mentioned are the ones Andreea uses, feel free to use whatever you want! This applies to the rest of the painting as well – there’s no “right” or “wrong” colour to use; just pick colours that you have and that you think will look good on your parrot.

Wet the body next, and drop in yellow. Add red on the left side of the body, and a touch of orange if you want the transition from red to yellow to be smoother. For the wing on the left and shadows at the bottom, use Payne’s grey for a dark (but not black) shadow.

Wet the wing on the right, and drop in ultramarine blue, cobalt blue, hooker’s green, and Payne’s grey. It’s okay if the paint starts to bleed a little into one another; this is the freedom found in the wet-on-wet technique, where the paint moves wherever it pleases!

While doing this wing, you can occasionally load your paintbrush with a lot of water, and flick it so splatters of paint fall over your painting. You can switch between different colours, and try not to overdo the splashes, but let the chips fall where they may (or droplets in this case!).

Tip: Andreea likes to work from top to bottom, and left to right (as she’s right-handed). This prevents her from accidentally touching any wet areas while painting. Also, don’t sweat the details for now – this is just your first layer, so it’s going to be a bit messy!

Step 3: Finishing the First Layer

Paint the bottom part and tail of the parrot using Payne’s grey, and the branch using burnt sienna. Leave the talons white for now.

Switch to yellow for a final splatter of paint, then clean up any puddles or paint droplets at the bottom of your painting or on your table. 

Tip: If you ever get a splatter you don’t want, you can lift it out by dabbing it with a paper towel or a clean, dry brush. This only works while your paint is still wet though! In general, the key to a good splatter is confidence, so try not to hesitate or change something once it’s down on paper.

Step 4: Penned Details

Wait for your painting to dry, or use a hairdryer to speed up the process. You’ll be using the fineliner pens next to add some detail, and you don’t want the black ink to bleed all over your lovely painting!

Using a 02 size (so quite thin), add the details for the head, such as the eyes, beak, and markings. You can use a bit of a rougher or scrawly line quality, but in any case, make sure your pen has waterproof ink, as you’ll be painting over them in the next step.

Step 5: Strengthening Colours

Next, switch to a no. 6 round brush, and intensify the colours along the top of the head, the wings, the body, and the tail. Doing so is quite simple – for example, to do the top of the head, add a saturated hooker’s green over the same area that has hooker’s green, then a saturated ultramarine blue in the other area.

Join them by pulling these colours to meet in the middle using clean water to preserve the smooth blend between the two colours. As for the other areas, you can use a wet-on-dry technique – that is, putting paint down on a dry surface.

This allows for much more control over your paint, so take this chance to add in some details!

Paint in the beak and the parrot’s “beard” as well using either black or a neutral grey paint, starting with a light wash and dropping in more saturated paint in the shadowed areas. If the colour ever gets too dark, you can lift out some paint using a paper towel.

Add some red, orange, and yellow tail feathers, and try to flick your brush outwards to get a nice tapered curve.

Step 6: Adding Texture

Switch to the no. 1 round brush, and quickly outline the talons using a saturated black or Payne’s grey paint. Go back to the no. 6 brush and add some textures as well using the dry brush technique by using a synthetic brush and quickly skimming the side of the bristles over the surface of the paper.

The texture of cold press paper should allow it to pick up some extra colour in some areas, creating a “brushed” texture. This technique is especially useful for painting branches, fur, and feathers!

Paint the same brushed texture for the branch using sepia, and feathers with colours that match the underlying layer. Intensify the red on the body as well, and try to preserve the colour blends by adding more saturated yellow in the yellow area.

Once your paint is dry, use a black brush pen to add even more texture along with a few outlines of your parrot, such as along the side of the wings, around the branch, the tail, the head, and the parrot’s “beard” marking.

Tip: Adding texture with a brush pen is the same as with a paintbrush! You can also flick some brushstrokes in with greater control than with a paintbrush, although the downside is that once the line is down, there’s no going back.

Step 7: Going Wild

It’s time for one final, epic splatter session! Again, use your mop or quill brush to do this, but this time, try to add splatters that roughly match the colours of the area they’re close to.

For example, the splatters on the right side should be mostly blue and green to match the right wing, while the splatters on the left should be red, yellow, and a bit of Payne’s grey.

It’s okay if your splatters kind of fall everywhere. If you want a bit more control, hold your brush a bit closer to the paper.

Tip: Try to be aware of your surroundings when doing this! You don’t want to get paint on anything expensive or sensitive to water, even though watercolours generally wash out quite well.

Once your splatters and paint are all dry, use a black brush pen and add some final details, such as outlining part of the branch, flicking in some feathers along the wings’ edge, and adding more line details to the parrot’s “beard” marking.

You’re done! While Andreea sometimes adds one final splash of white gouache paint, she holds off on this one for something different. And while your parrot may look very different or have very different colours, the idea is to incorporate your flair into this painting, so run with whatever you have!

Even with all the traditional techniques mentioned in this demo, I hope it was still made fun for you with all the paint splatters and freeflow of paint! If your ready to take your art to the next level, check out Andreea's 90-minute art class!

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Nicola Tsoi is a practising graphic designer and illustrator based in Hong Kong. During her downtime, she likes to watch birds do funny things, search for stories, and bake up a storm. She keeps a pet sourdough starter named Doughy. 

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