If you want to paint a watercolor bird, there is none more majestic and awe-inspiring than an eagle. While eagles aren’t traditionally colorful—at least, not like a vibrant, red cardinal—you’d be surprised at how many hues you can incorporate into a watercolor eagle portrait. In the tutorial below, learn how to paint a watercolor eagle step by step. 

How to Paint a Watercolor Eagle 

watercolor eagle
Inspired by nature, but made artistic with watercolors.

This watercolor eagle painting isn’t meant to be hyper-realistic—instead, it incorporates vibrant shades of blue, green, and yellow watercolor paint to create a unique and awe-inspiring portrait. 

Step 1: Create a Sketch 

eagle sketch
Before painting, create a sketch of the eagle, focusing on the outline and general proportions of the bird. 

Before dipping into your paints, create a sketch of the eagle using a photo as a reference. The drawing doesn’t have to be too detailed, but make sure you get the general outline and proportions correct. It’s also helpful to include major details like the eagle’s beak and eyes. If you’re worried about harsh pencil lines showing through the watercolor paint, use a cotton swab to soften and blend the lines a bit.   

Step 2: Begin With the Head 

watercolor eagle
Add shadows to the watercolor eagle with light grey paint. 

Brush the beak with a layer of yellow, adding just a hint of grey along the bottom edge. Next, tackle the head. While an eagle’s head is generally white, take a close look at your reference photo, and you’ll see shadows and variations in color. Using a light grey, add those shadows to your painting—extending outward from the beak, as well as along the bottom of the head. Keep in mind that you will leave a lot of white space within the head; the shadows should just be an accent. 

Step 3: Add a Wash of Color to the Body

watercolor eagle
With a mixture of sepia and blue, use a flat brush to fill in the eagle’s body with rough brush strokes. 

Load a flat brush with a mixture of sepia and blue. Holding the brush vertically and using quick, up-and-down strokes, cut between the feathers of the head. Blend the paint down into the body, using rough strokes to create the texture of feathers, especially on the outer edges of the bird. 

Step 4: Fill in the Background

watercolor eagle
Fill in the background with a mixture of blue, green, and yellow watercolors. 

Now, add a wash of color to the background of the eagle. Start with a diluted blue, making sure that it’s not too similar to the blue hues of the eagle. As you fill in the background, add in some color variation with greens and yellows. The goal is to make an interesting and visually appealing background, even if it doesn’t look as realistic as the background in your reference picture. 

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Step 5: Add Details and Feather Texture

watercolor eagle
Add long, thin lines to indicate the eagle’s wing. 

Mix sepia and blue to create a dark blue-grey accent color. With a fine brush, begin to add texture and detail to the bird’s body. Use short, quick strokes around the edges of the bird to create the look of feathers, as well as long, thin lines to indicate the wings. To finalize the watercolor eagle’s head, use that same accent color and your thinnest brush to outline the eye and beak. 

Step 6: Finish the Background With Branches

watercolor eagle
Use layers of increasingly transparent paint to create layers of branches behind the eagle. 

As a finishing touch, use your flat brush to add in thick, jagged branches behind the eagle. Then, with a smaller brush, accent those branches with thinner, more transparent lines and offshoots. Adding layers of branches with increasingly lighter hues of paint will create the illusion of depth. 

Push Your Creative Boundaries

When it comes to painting birds, don’t be afraid to think outside of the box. This watercolor eagle portrait proves that you can use a variety of colorful hues to illustrate any kind of bird. With a mixture of vibrant blue, green, and yellow, this watercolor eagle is nontraditional—but still majestic and awe-inspiring. 

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Written by:

Katie Wolf