How to Paint Watercolor Barn Swallows | Joy Neasley | Skillshare

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How to Paint Watercolor Barn Swallows

teacher avatar Joy Neasley, Watercolor Wildlife & Nature Artist

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Taught by industry leaders & working professionals
Topics include illustration, design, photography, and more

Watch this class and thousands more

Get unlimited access to every class
Taught by industry leaders & working professionals
Topics include illustration, design, photography, and more

Lessons in This Class

8 Lessons (57m)
    • 1. Introduction

    • 2. Supplies

    • 3. Foundation Layer

    • 4. Building Layers Part 1

    • 5. Building Layers Part 2

    • 6. Building Layers 3

    • 7. Final Layer - The Illusion of Detail

    • 8. Conclusion

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About This Class

Whether for school, enjoyment, or professional artwork sketching and painting opens the eyes and heart to the world around you.  This course gives you the basic skills to paint a local bird, barn swallows, in watercolor. 

I encourage beginners and advanced students to give it a try.  Beginners may need to practice with mixing their watercolor paints to become acquainted with them before starting.  If you have any questions, ask in the discussion section of the class, and I will be happy to help. 

This class is a paint-a-long type of class to encourage you to try new subjects and to see the beautiful wildlife and nature around you, even if you live in the city.  Let's get started!

Class Outline:

  • Introduction
  • Supplies 
  • Foundation Layer 
  • Building Layers Part 1
  • Building Layers Part 2
  • Building Layers 3 
  • Final Layer
  • Conclusion 


Meet Your Teacher

Teacher Profile Image

Joy Neasley

Watercolor Wildlife & Nature Artist


Watercolor Wildlife and Nature Artist (full-time), and photographer (part-time).


 Currently based out of Tennessee, Joy Neasley is a watercolor artist specializing in Tennessee wildlife and nature.  She enjoys painting in the outdoor natural sunlight with a small pallette of quality watercolor paints, white gouache, and 100% cotton, archival HP watercolor paper.  

     Many ask if she has painted all her life.  The answer is no.  Born in East Texas, as a teenager Joy would often disappear to a nearby farm field to read, write, and draw.  By the time she was 19, Joy let drawing take a backseat to motherhood and family life.  It was not until 2009 that she began drawing again.  From 2009 she focused on... See full profile

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1. Introduction: look into my class. My name is Join easily. I'm a watercolor, wildlife and nature artist out of Nashville, Tennessee. Today we're going to paint barn Swallows. I found three cute, adorable little fledgling barn swallows up a Dunbar Cave near the border of Tennessee and Kentucky and Clarksville, and it just made the perfect subject for us to paint today. 2. Supplies: Let's gather supplies. Starting with watercolor paints. They use professional grade Windsor and Newton. Feel free to use what you have. I will include with this lesson the water palette that I use if you choose to use it, but you do not have to. I also use Windsor and Newton White Wash for the white in the painting, and I use a flat angled brush aside. Zero round brush, triple zero detail brush, a large round brush and a small rigger brush the's air made for watercolors and very inexpensive brushes I found at the local hobby store. Lastly, we have the paper. I use an archival 100% cotton heart hot press paper, £140. You can use any brand. This particular one is legion. Gather your supplies, the ones available and let's get started. 3. Foundation Layer: Welcome back to the class. We're going to start with the foundation and you see me working here with a little bit of burnt sienna, encourage you to watch the video all the way through and then started over and work on your own. I have sped it up because the slower version I've noticed 10 seat. A little boring, but I you feel free to pause and stop is you need to to catch up. I'm always painting here in the direction of the for or the, uh, feathers in this case or skin, whatever it may be that we're painting even in these first layers, when I'm mapping out the color and the foundations and my foundation layers are usually mapping out color in the hues. I'm not working on tonal values or ah contrast or anything like that. Right now, I'm just getting the basic layer down so we can start building and creating. That's creating the many, many layers that will give you that more realistic Look in your painting. Um, no Met part of the foundation layer is working on getting your darkest darks in your highlights Designated. That doesn't mean that your darkest darks gonna be is dark as they will be in the end. That's because with watercolor it takes quite a few layers to get those dark tones correct . But we can map them out right now and get them started. The eyes in this case tend to be the darkest and the nose. So I'm gonna work on that right now and start mapping those in using my detail brush. This is a quadruple, um zero brush that I got just a local hobby shop. I don't spend a lot on my brushes. I just make sure they do what I need them to dio. I prefer to spend my money on the quality paper and the quality paint, which is, if you've watched the supply video, I can tell you exactly what all those are working on getting in some of these darker areas continuing to paint in the proper direction. Now my paintings tend to evolve as we go, so anything that's not absolutely correct in this foundation will fix later. Don't worry about it. Just cause you make a wrong mark. Don't give up. Can going around the eyes a little bit here will go back with our black mixture. Now when I mix these browns, I am working with my three favorite. Brown's, a sepia burn number and burnt sienna have discovered those three mixed with your reds and blues and yellows tend to give me everything I need. So those are the neutrals and the browns. I usually work with, um, to mix my blacks that you see in this video, you mix one of the blues I usually use French ultra Marine or in beneath room blue with a little of one of the reds. I prefer Scarlett like you might prefer a different one, just a little red, not too much. Otherwise it'll create a brown instead of a black. And then I mix one off my neutrals here that we're using and that will get Ah, usually I use birth number or sepia, depending on what I'm going for. Sometimes both that gives me the black that you see me working in the eye with. I don't mix up a lot of black at one time. I like for my blacks to Ah very also don't mix up a lot of water color one time because I'm working with animals and nature and wildlife. I like the colors to vary, and it seems to come more natural if I just still makes up a lot of it at one time and continue to mix now, if you prefer your colors more accurate and exactly the same than make sure to mix up enough of it, it's just a preference. I'm still using my detail brush here. Uh, sometimes I use a larger brush, but this is an eight by 10 and I am mapping out a lot of little color variations here. So I am using anywhere between 80 and I quadruple zero going back and forth. Use what's most comfortable for you. We're not looking for exact right now. We can go back and fix anything as we go along. You noticed there were some areas in a few of these little birds that needed some work. After I mapped him out in the foundation, I corrected it as we go along, and that's what I mean by my work usually evolves, so your work will, too. A lot of people think water color is not forgiving it iss more so than most people think. I mean, there are a few things you can't do with it. But it is forgive, More forgiving than a lot of people believe it. ISS I love working with watercolor. You see me here, continuing to mix my different shades of brown and tossing in a little bit of black, just working on the shape of the feathers, getting those darks, making sure I know where my highlights are gonna be. This foundation layer helps me see for the rest of the painting. Now, when I am painting. Now that I'm talking about seeing, I'm also seeing the underlying structure of the bird while I'm painting it or whatever the subject is on painting. When I paint wildlife, I like to look up the anatomy of what it is that I'm painting, and I don't necessarily study study it. But I do look it over. Make sure I understand things that might be different about this birth. Another birds off painted because knowing this, I can visualize that as on painting and pain. Accordingly, in the proper directions helps, especially with animals in different muscle areas, like around the shoulders and the legs and things where it makes a big difference in your painting to get those in, um, for birds. It helps with the different beaks. The different feet, the bones and the joints in the feet helps you understand them, which makes it much easier. Paint your subject. In addition to the anatomy, I also observed these birds, most of the animals and wildlife you see me paint. Unless it's a commission piece. I have observed the's. That's how I choose. What I paint is by choosing things that I'm able to see in real life first, Ah, usually paint from photos that hopefully I've taken one that is available for me to do so. But I do love to paint from what I've watched because I can get the character. You can capture character and personality. If you understand your subject before you paint, it just takes a little practice, and it'll go and be into your painting without you even realizing it. It's where your nature Journal comes in handy to. These three barn owls are from Dunbar Cave in Clarksville, Tennessee, up underneath the cave entrance. It's an area that's closed off right now, but under the cave entrance is an overhang above what they call Swan Lake. A man made lake, and every summer I can go down there and there are a lot of these little guys flying around the lake eating the mosquitoes and the bugs catching on the Dragonflies and things, and it's very easy to get close to them and get photos. So I hear. I'm just making sure mapping it out. You notice there's just a hint of an I on the other side know the difference between barn swallows and cliff swallows. When I was looking at these, I immediately knew they were barn swallows because they were in the nests. The nests are all there are quite a few nests up under that overhang in front of the under the cave entrance, and it's around it clay like nest. You're Cliff swallows have more of a Gord looking type nest with a hole in the top versus around it with the birds hanging out over it. These guys air fledglings. I tried to get reference photos of Mama, but she was a bit quick and a bit skittish to feed the babies while I was there, so I decided to just stick with these three fledglings. They are about ready to leave the nest. I did see Mama feeding them, but they are about ready to hop out of this nest. I'm gonna let you paint along with the rest of this. Are you say we're just mapping out mostly with our brown's here and a little of the black touch a white wash here and there, especially around the beaks. So I'll catch up in just a minute. See you soon. For the next lesson, - I'm popping back into the video here real quick just to let you know, in the painting of the nest at the bottom of the painting, I am using a mixture of various browns and a touch extra of scarlet Lake to give it that reddish Look. Now, the brown I'm using at this moment is Bert number mixed with a little red and really watered down just for me to kind of start mapping out this section, I'll see you in the next lesson where we will begin actually layering. So you said 4. Building Layers Part 1: Okay, You ready to start layering? Actually already started layering a little bit I'm using, like washing the white areas. If you prefer to leave those areas white without the wash, go ahead. Just be very careful with your shading and with your paint as you paint along to leave those areas white or use what they call frisk it or drawing gum to, ah, keep those areas. Why? I prefer, in the case of birds and animals, to use the white wash for Billy. I like the Windsor Newton quash. And the reason why is the, uh, gives texture. I like the texture that it applies to the animals and the birds, especially with fern feathers adding more sepia here. I'm just going over and adding layers, uh, over my previous layers. It's okay. If you go a little dark, we can lighten it back up with a layer of the white wash. My paintings tend to go back forth between dark and light because of the white wash. Um, I like to make sure my colors 100% dry before I add the White Wash. Now I like to make sure the White Wash is 100% dry before I add anything on top of that. And you also have to be careful not to brush stroke over too many times over it or, well, just get muddy. But I'm just following along with my reference photos looking at, um, deciding how I want these guys to go. My favorite reference photo is the one that shows all three of these birds, which is the one I drew this sketch after, but a couple of my other photos were actually sharper. A little clearer, um, for the details of the birds. That's why I've got several reference photos for you. I am still using a smaller brush. I seem to be used sticking with my spot smaller brushes on these guys than I, then the larger brushes. I'm sure I'll move to those in a little while working on making sure those darks are gonna be dark by adding every layer I add over my darks, pretty much making sure I add hints a color in the white because that white area is still for our feathers, I should say, and they're not solid white, so we'll go back and forth on them, making sure that my strokes are all in line with the direction, especially under the beak and over the beacon, the sides of the face. Um, you have to keep in mind each individual father, even though we're not painting each individual feather, You want to make sure you're following the direction that they would lie. We're giving the illusion of detail by doing this, creating some depth in this layer, working out those hues and tonal values to make sure we even them out by the end of it, which, if they're not perfect at the end, I'll show you a little trick to blending them together. Aren't they just cute? I am adding touches of Scarlet Lake in with my sepia or my butt number, alternately here and with my different brown mixes. I am not exact with my mixes because I know throughout the layers it's all gonna work out. So if something looks a little often, color this layer, that's OK. As we layer, it will even out. We just got to keep going. I find that a mistake. A lot of people make that want the more realistic paintings that they stopped too soon. You got to keep going, and then if it the end, it doesn't work. You can throw it out if you don't like it. I've learned to keep it. Let the paint cure, which means to dry over time and pull it back out. And I can either make changes. Or oftentimes I like it just like it is because I'm looking. I've put it away and I'm looking at it with fresh eyes, and I'm able to see it clearer. After staring at a painting for a long time, we tend to get a little more critical of it than, um we should by putting it away and looking at it with fresh eyes. You can see things we didn't see after staring at it for so long. And two of the paintings, I thought, in my opinion, were my worst work. Some people purchased, saying it was their favorite, So artwork is subjective. I've learned to just go with it, and if I find that I'm getting a lot of that's not working, then I might be correct. But most the time I find that it was just me being over critical and people actually loved it. Now, with wildlife art, I've had people come in tow a booth or into an art show and say, Well, I don't want No, I wouldn't decorate my wall with animals. Then I have other people that come in and they've had personal experience with an animal or they just love it. It speaks to them. So you're not gonna Please. Everyone was paint from your heart paint what you love. 5. Building Layers Part 2: welcome toe layering Part two. It's actually our third lier. If he can't the foundation, we're still going over the darks, so you will see me really darkening by using black mixture a little more of the sepia mixed in with my Browns. I'll be bringing back some of the orange look, the rusty orange look to these guys with some sepia here in a little while. But for now, it takes quite a bit quite a few layers to get thes dark. Stark enough. So that's what this lawyers mostly focused on getting in these darker little areas, thinking feathers, each little feather as a darker area. We're not painting each little further. We're just giving that illusion. But you still have toe touch, a little dark spots all through here, shadows and the feathers. You need to give that indication. I also wanna add depth, especially here under the neck, and we do that with adding a little of the darker cut. Brown's not going black black here. Um, there's actually very little really true black on this of these birds that's around the eyes in the face and just a few other spots around. But we do need to dark in them, and that means we need a new layer. Now. You see me right now bringing out some of those darker colors but adding whitewash, um, creating a lighter area to make the Browns look darker in those areas. Like I said, I used White Wash rather than leaving the areas white, because I prefer that I prefer the texture. Now, if you prefer leaving areas white, by all means do so. Just be extra careful. Notice how pumping in just a hair, just a light touch of watered down white guac. It's opaque, but still I can see through or some. I've made it a bit translucent, arm or translucent. It's not 100%. It's still partially opaque, I guess would covet semi translucent, um, with the water mixture of the White Wash. And I do that because I'm not wanting a white wait right here. I'm creating texture. I'm lightning. Some areas bringing out those darks, bringing in little pieces of for you. Notice your white, some paintings or never white white. Even your white has shades shades of white. We're going into, uh, home improvement store and buying white paint for your walls and you'll see what I mean. Little Tufts here and there to bring out the shape and the muscular portions of these birds . Because even though we're painting fathers, we have to keep in mind the shape of their bodies, the shape of their build, the anatomy underneath these feathers to give them the proper look. We're going for these air, stubby little birds sitting there cute and adorable. While I was taking this photo there, Mama was not far away. She was watching. There were other fledglings hanging out of other nests to At that time, I'm just going mostly what'd washed right here. You'll see me occasionally. Add something a little dark, but when I work with whitewash, it's easier. Just apply that in the layer and then let it dry and go back because your water gets murky . You don't want to mix that with the water color layer. You want to clean your water out or use a different water container for wash. Then you do the watercolor you want, each later, completely dry. I don't want thes mixing. I'm adding the same colors down below in the nest that I'm adding to the birds these birds really blended well with their surroundings, and the clay that they made their nest out of in this area is a reddish clay, so you'll see that tone in the, uh, clay they've used for the nest. Continue painting in the proper direction. Keep in mind individual feathers, not just the shape. When you're adding these highlights and whitewash or even the water color paint, I would say Use my finger to dab it because I don't want rough edges at this point. 6. Building Layers 3: these little guys are coming along nicely. This is our last building lawyer. The next layer will be our final layer and we'll do a little wash in between. What? You're basically gonna see me going back and forth between the same few colors. We've used very limited palette for these guys. They are looking so adorable getting in a little more of the white wash here. I'm also using a little bit of her number in the white wash. Just a hair. I don't want it so stark white. And of course, it's all watered down a little less water than before. But we do want a thin consistency, not thick. We don't want giving the illusion of texture. We're not actually creating raised layer of pains on the water cooler. Aren't they so adorable? I can see him need to go back and work on the highlights in the eyes to a little bit little thicker and harder edges on the beaks. We've got three different directions in the beak, so you kind of got to be careful here making sure we're giving the illusion of individual feathers here and there. Not every feather, just a few a special. A few the wispy ones. You don't see it on the video, but in between the wash and the watercolor. I do get up and change the water. If you prefer not to have to get up and change the water periodically thin, you may want to use a different water bowl. As I mentioned in a previous lesson for your water color paints rather than the same bowl you're using for the whitewash OAS. It'll make your paints a little murky and a little less transparent When you, uh, paint watercolor on your paper. Now you see me. I'm just still working on those darks, making sure I'm going in the right direction, alternating with a little bit of the white wash to touch up places that I see Need it getting all three of these little guys. We have one more lesson after this one. The final lesson. We're getting so close to being finished, and they're looking so cute in your little grumpy faces. Little yellow mixed in here and in spots for the beak. Just a touch. I don't want it appear white. If you look the reference photos, it's got a yellowish orange ish look in there, too. I want to bring in some of the highlights of the feathers around the eyes that will bring out the black ice, too. Help you be able to see him and all those dark feathers a little more, blending it out with my finger. You can use a cloth or tissue or paper towel if you prefer not to get your finger dirty. I just tend to work faster This way. If you don't want the oils of your hand touching your painting, you'll want to use a tissue or something like that. I just find that I'm more precise with my finger. I'm getting that three dimensional look. You're starting to see the tonal values come together, although it is a little dark at the moment, we'll fix that. The nest is a little light. We'll go over that again here in a minute with more number. And what is it sepia to kind of in spots to darken it and give shadows creating the little father wished so so that we have some detail in here. Although our greatest detail will be in the next video, we're just giving the illusion of it, making sure we've got our whites in the areas. We want it. You've always got dark under the feathers, the shadows of the feathers, things like that to give it a realistic appearance. That's what I'm doing right now. And when I get to this point, I'm looking at the reference photo. But I'm also looking at it less. And my reason for that is I can judge my shadows. Is it? Is something shadowed appropriately? Is it shaped appropriately, or the highlights appropriate? Better. If I'm not looking at the reference photos my reference photos do not always depict, especially from combining a few of them. The proper lighting lighting may be different on one thing, the other. Now, this one. We have a reference photo that is, I still like to step back and just paint by my intuition. Okay, I know the Bally's rounder. I've studied the anatomy of thes little guys for a few minutes on the Internet. I know the areas that I need to touch up better from not just staring down with that reference photo trying to get a photo image of this bird. We want the illusion of that, but it doesn't need to be exact. It just needs to be that of a, uh, burn swallow. So that's where you need your accuracy. Not necessarily in the exact bird that you're staring at. This is not a portrait of your child, where that has to be the exact likeness of your child. Now, when I'm done with this layer, I'm gonna drop down and go over the nest in the same manner. I have these burn swallows and I'll use a little bit wider brush for that. Seen me smaller brushes in this lesson than I have in the past. I think that's because I'm trying to get three birds onto an eight by 10 along with the nest. So I requires a smaller brush working on those hints of the little toenails popping over here and there and things like that. The feathers, when they're hanging over like that, you want a few feathers popping out for realism. I also want to go back in a little bit, touch up the eyes. Now, when I'm done with this layer, it is going to completely dry 100%. That means it will not be cool to the touch anymore. Then I'm going to get my, ah, flat brush. Any size will do. A smaller size for this painting would work best because it isn't a but 10 inch painting. So I will use just plain clean water with a touch. Very light, light, light, touch of sepia in it. I'm sorry. Not sepia burnt sienna. Very, very light Burnt sienna. And I mean, you will not almost not be able to see it. And I am going to just brush over the birds and the nest and give that a quick wash. I want to be careful to brush in the direction of the just is we have with the rest of the painting. But you only want to go over each area once you do not want to brush to continue to go over areas. Ariel, mess up the painting that you've done below because of the white wash in it. I don't want to smear what I've done. So just one quick brush over each area with that wash. Then I'm gonna let that dry 100%. And that is really going to bring together and create a cohesive look with these birds in the nest. We've got our deaths. We've got contrast here. We're getting closer to our tonal values, being right at the right spot. So just keep going. Make sure to do that water wash after you finish this layer, and I'll see you in the next lesson soon. 7. Final Layer - The Illusion of Detail: I'm excited. We're just about done. I love sing When a painting is coming together here at the end. This is what I call the final layer the final stage because we've done our toe tonal values and things should be just about even now. We just need some touch ups. Maybe check our shadows are highlights. Make sure our blacks are black enough anyway, just looking at the little details. Sometimes it helps if you're having trouble with it, just setting it away for the night where you can't see it coming back to it in the morning . That will help you see things you didn't see the night before. That you might want to touch up. Work on this layer were about 15 to 30 minutes away from being finished with your painting . Um, I always use a quadruple or triple zero brush for this stage. I don't want to add too much detail at this stage. You want the illusion of detail. Find a few key points for, for example, for the feathers. Just choose a few fathers. Sometimes that may be just going in with a little dark end, drawing out a few by creating a little shadow some depth there, or it could be using a little bit of the washing, bringing it out of touch. Creating some wispy little feathers on the stomach sometimes helps, especially around where the feet are or, in this case, overhanging in the nest. Checking my edges are my hard edges hard on my soft edges, soft, making sure the eyes that the highlights are in the right places. You want to look at those because, um, if you're not careful, if you're highlights or not in the proper place, you can have what looks like wondering eyes on your animals. Are your birds in this case barn swallows just creating subtle details here. Very subtle. I will go over each bird and the nest not to a little detail touch up in the nest, mostly to create crevices and highlights. Create that roundness on the sides were bows out in the middle. And then where it goes under at the bottom from the same for the birds. Make sure in this layer that you've got your darks, especially around where the wings go back up behind the body on each side of the rest of the bird. The body of the bird. Watch those, uh, you are a little bit of harsher edge there, so watch your edges on those areas to create that depth and then bring in your shadows on the sides, Any highlights, depending on where the sun is. In this case, these birds were actually under earthy, uh, an overhang in front of the cave or under the cave entrance, actually down in front of a lake so that there's not really light on them in a darkened area. It was very difficult to take reference photos due to the lighting situation because they're a pie in the overhangs, so the lights not going to touch him. It's actually fairly dark there at that cave entrance, so I'm just kind of creating my own shadows and highlights here to make sure that look accurate. But I don't have any sunlight coming from a particular direction because there isn't your barn. Swallows tend to be in dark places, Delker touching up with little Tufts of feathers popping out here. Enough wings in the white areas, little dots of brighter white in a few areas, still watered down white wash and water color, but a lot less water, more water color and mark wash for this final stage, I've created a little bit of a blue or black here because I'm really wanting dark areas here for that where I'm using this black at the moment, uh, in at this stage of the painting, continuing to pay in the direction but painting less than the previous layers. Less coverage, thicker coverage, but less coverage. I hope you've enjoyed this class learning to paint birds and going outside. Be sure in the class as you go through it, post your progress photos. I love to see them. A lot of people are fear of what other people will think. We're just message me, the Thea images through social media. But I encourage you to post them here in the discussion section of the class or in the project section so we can all see it and encourage each other. I also encourage questions. Any questions you have that maybe I didn't address, um, in the class that you you need to help you with your painting, By all means. Go to the discussion section of this class and send a message as soon as I can. I will answer you. I love talking with students getting in those little dark touches. See how that really draws out the nose and creates that dimension we're looking for. Not too much, though We don't want it. Go right on into the eyes and create a bob for your projects. I am encouraging you to paint at least one of these little guys. You're welcome to paint all three. Just a Zai have here. I've provided the preliminary sketch for that and enjoy the process. That's the hope whole thing. Enjoy the process. This should not be stressful if it is, you're too hard on yourself. Just have fun. Let go and have fun. Post your finished projects in the project section. Let me know how it goes. Just these little bitty dark details. And then also the opposite. The little white details in the highlighted areas. Just the little touches make all the difference in a finished painting. I'm gonna let you continue to the end here and down through the nest. I hope to see you in the conclusion. Let me see those finished paintings. Those finished projects, even if you just did a portion a wing or an eye toe Work on sections of it or something. Let us see that progress. I'll see you soon. In the conclusion. Have fun. 8. Conclusion: you're finished. I love painting these barn swallows with you. Feel free to post your project where you finished painting in the project section so that we can all see it. If you would like a critique just mentioned that you would like it. Everyone who does critique please be kind in your critiques. Also, any questions you have just asking the discussion session section. I'll be happy to answer a soon as I can, and I will hope to see you next time. Be sure to follow me. I send out messages to those who follow so that they know when the next class is coming up .