With wings that move so fast they become a blur, hummingbirds may seem difficult to capture on paper—but they make beautiful subjects for watercolor paintings. Watercolor hummingbirds are perfect as a standalone subject or an addition to a flower or garden painting. Plus, with vibrant colors and interesting features, like a narrow bill and long, outstretched wings, your watercolor hummingbird will likely look a little different than any other bird you’ve painted before.  

Want to learn how to create easy watercolor hummingbirds? Follow the step-by-step tutorial below. 

How to Paint a Watercolor Hummingbird

notecard with hummingbird
Create this beautiful, vibrant hummingbird yourself.

To create an easy watercolor hummingbird, you will need a few basic supplies: watercolor paper, a variety of watercolor paints, a mixing palette, a pencil, an eraser, paint brushes, a cup of water, and white and black gel pens. 

Before you begin, it can be helpful to identify a small color palette—about four or five colors—to use for your hummingbird. This tutorial will use lemon yellow, turquoise, royal blue, magenta, and sepia.  

watercolor supplies
In addition to watercolor paints and brushes, you will need white and black gel pens to create watercolor hummingbirds.

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Step 1: Draw an Outline of the Hummingbird

watercolor sketch
Use a reference image to create a sketch of a hummingbird. 

To guide your painting, first sketch the outline of a hummingbird. Feel free to use a reference image—there are plenty available online—to make sure you get the proportions right. 

At this point, focus solely on the outline of the bird. Don’t worry about details like the shapes of individual feathers, as you will add that texture with paint. Make sure to keep your sketch light, so you don’t see the pencil markings through the paint. 

Step 2: Paint the Body of the Bird

watercolor bird
Fill in the body of the watercolor hummingbird with short, vertical strokes to mimic the texture of feathers. 

Then, you will cover the entire bird with a wash of watercolor paint. You will use all the colors in your palette during this step, as the majority of the hummingbird’s body is colorful, with just a bit of grey along the inside of the wing. 

Start at the bird’s bill. Mix sepia and blue to create a blue-grey color, and fill in the beak. Then, use a clean, damp brush to wet a small portion of the bird’s head. Load your paint with your first color—in this example, turquoise—and begin filling in the space with short brush strokes. Transition into another color, like blue, for a few brush strokes, and then use another color, like yellow, for several more. 

Continue filling in the body of the bird with short, vertical brush strokes—this will mimic the texture of feathers. As you use different colors, you’ll see them blend into additional hues, like greens and purples. 

Step 3: Use Long Strokes to Fill in the Wing

watercolor hummingbird
With a dry brush, make long strokes across the wing to create the illusion of feathers. 

Once the body is filled with color, move on to the wing. Using a dark blue, begin to paint long, horizontal strokes to mimic the look of outstretched feathers. 

Add a bit of dark paint (use sepia and blue to create a grey-blue color) to the inner corner of the wing. Then, dry your brush and, without adding any water or paint to it, use it to pull long strokes from that inner corner to the outer edges of the wing. The dry brush will move the existing paint, creating some lighter accent lines to represent feathers. 

Step 4: Add Texture and Shadow

watercolor hummingbird
Use dark paint and a thin brush to add details, like U-shaped feathers and long, thin lines across the wing.

When the first layer of color is completely dry, move on to adding detail to give the hummingbird a more realistic look. Focus on the following areas: 

  • Bill: Use a mixture of sepia and blue to add a shadow along the bottom edge of the hummingbird’s bill. Then, draw that dark area out toward the bird’s eye.
  • Eye: With the same sepia and blue mixture, fill in most of the eye, leaving a few white highlights.
  • Feathers: Beginning at the hummingbird’s head, use extra pigmented versions of your colors (in other words, use a high ratio of paint to water) to add shadows and dimension to the bird’s entire body. Use short, vertical brush strokes to mimic the texture of feathers. Make these strokes fairly dark and close together in the head area. Then, as you move down into the bird’s body, spread out the strokes to allow the initial wash of color to show through. You can also make U-shaped strokes to add to create additional texture.
  • Tail: When you reach the tail, use long, thin lines to represent the tail feathers. 
  • Wing: Similar to the tail, use dark paint to create long, thin lines to create the look of wing feathers. 

Step 5: Use a Pen for Final Details

watercolor hummingbird
Use a white pen to add a few white dots to the bird’s head and wing for additional texture. 

Black and white pens can help you add final details to bring your hummingbird to life. For example, if the eyes of your bird aren’t dark enough—because you can’t achieve a true black with your limited palette of colors—use a black pen to fill them in. You can also add a few accent lines around the eyes and wings to create additional definition. 

A white pen is useful for creating highlights in the eye. You can also add a few dots on the head and the top of the wing for texture—as they melt into the still-wet watercolors, they will look almost like little sparkles. 

Spread Your Wings

Delicate yet vibrant, hummingbirds are a perfect subject for a watercolor painting. Try painting them on their own, and once you get comfortable, add them to a more complex composition—for example, resting on a tree branch or fluttering in a flower garden. However you choose to paint your watercolor hummingbird, it will be a fun and unique experience. 

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Written by:

Katie Wolf