Basic Watercolor & Ink Illustration: Songbirds | Amy Earls | Skillshare

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Basic Watercolor & Ink Illustration: Songbirds

teacher avatar Amy Earls, Watercolor 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

    • 1.



    • 2.

      Lesson 1: Materials Needed


    • 3.

      Lesson 2: About Reference Photos


    • 4.

      Lesson 3: Understanding Bird Anatomy


    • 5.

      Lesson 4: Observation


    • 6.

      Lesson 5: Pencil Sketching


    • 7.

      Demo: How to Create Feather Textures


    • 8.

      Lesson 6: Inking


    • 9.

      Lesson 7: Applying Masking Fluid


    • 10.

      Demo: Variegated Washes


    • 11.

      Lesson 8: Painting the Background


    • 12.

      Lesson 9: Removing the Masking Fluid


    • 13.

      Lesson 10: Painting Our Bird


    • 14.

      Class Project & Thank You!


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About This Class

In this class, I will cover basic drawing and watercolor painting techniques with a specific focus on songbirds. I will take you step-by-step through my process of creating this type of mixed media illustration. I am excited to share this approach since it is one of my favorite ways of creating artwork. I love the way the ink and watercolor look together!

I will do my best to keep things as simple as I can, while also sharing my best practices and tips along the way. I will talk about how to choose and combine reference photos, tools for observation and seeing basic shapes, methods for creating textured ink linework, how to paint a simple background, and then finally, how to bring our subject to life. In keeping with the songbird theme, I have chosen to illustrate a cute black-capped chickadee!

These lessons are geared towards beginner to intermediate skill levels with some prior experience. General knowledge of art materials, drawing, and watercolor painting is a bonus but not required. By the end of the class, I hope to leave you will the tools and understanding to apply these techniques to any subject matter of your choosing! If watercolor and ink is something you enjoy or always wanted to try, please join me in the first lesson to get started!

Copyright free reference images can be found at and

For further reading on nature drawing, check out naturalist and artist John Muir Laws:

Or for birds specifically:

Meet Your Teacher

Teacher Profile Image

Amy Earls

Watercolor Artist



Please allow me to introduce myself. My name is Amy L. Earls. I am a watercolor artist and Skillshare teacher with over 20 years of experience in drawing and painting. I am most inspired by natural subjects such as landscapes, birds, and other animals.

A few things about me. I love coffee, almond milk lattes from my local coffee shop are the best! I have a soft spot for anything cute and furry, especially cats. If I could be doing anything other than making art it would be riding horses. Also, I am just a teensy bit obsessed with color. Red is my favorite!

Art and making things have always been a part of who I am. I started drawing when I was 18 months old. I did not go to art school for college, instead, I have bachelor degrees in General Studies and Gr... See full profile

Level: Intermediate

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1. Introduction: Hello and welcome to my third class on Skillshare; basic watercolor and ink illustration featuring songbirds. My name is Amy Giglio and I'll be taking you step-by-step through my process for creating this type of mixed media illustration. This is one of my favorite ways of creating artwork as I love the way the ink and watercolor look together. The class will cover basic drawing and watercolor painting techniques. These lessons are geared towards beginner to intermediate skill levels with some prior experience. General knowledge of art materials, drawing and watercolor painting is a bonus but not required. I'll do my best to keep things as simple as I can while also sharing my best practices and tips along the way. I will talk about choosing reference photos, observing basic shapes, creating textured line work, adding a simple background and then finally painting our subject, a cute black-capped chickadee. By the end of the class, I hope to leave you with the tools and understanding to apply these techniques to any subject of your choosing. If watercolor and ink is something you enjoy or something you always wanted to try, please join me in the next lesson to get started. 2. Lesson 1: Materials Needed: For this lesson, I'm quickly going to be going over the materials needed for this class. Since we're going to be sketching, we're going to need all the tools you would need for that. We're going to need a pencil, any pencil of your choice, a 2B pencil, standard writing pencil is fine. Then you're going to need an eraser, and I like to use this smaller eraser for smaller details, but again, that's not necessary. You will need some sort of fine liner pen with waterproof ink. Keep in mind that pen is optional for this and if you don't have a waterproof pen, you can add it as your last step. Moving on, you will need some masking fluid, you will need a really crappy paintbrush and a bar of soap. Another optional tool at this point would be a rubber cement pickup as that will help you remove the masking fluid. Naturally, you will need a selection of watercolor brushes. I'm going to be using round brushes, I would use a large one and a small. We'll of course need watercolor paints, I'm going to be using my St. Petersburg White Nights watercolor palette. I'm going to try and keep it to some very basic standard colors that everyone should have. But I will note that you are going to need a pink and I would suggest something in the rose family. We'll need some water, I like to use two jars. You don't have to, it's entirely up to you. Also going to need some paper towel, also going to potentially need a piece of tissue, of course we're going to need some paper. This is 140 pound cold press easy block, so I don't have to tape all the edges, the top and the bottom edge are already adhered down, but you can use any paper you'd like. I would recommend at least 140 pounds since we're going to be doing some wet and wet techniques for a simple background wash. If you want to do a background, like I said, you can either use a block or you can tape your paper down. I'm going to be doing both because I want a white edge around my piece when I finished. But again, that's up to you if you want to use masking tape and that's it. We should be ready to get started. 3. Lesson 2: About Reference Photos: In Lesson 2, I'm going to quickly go over choosing reference photos and how to combine multiple reference photos to create your own composition. My default resource for images and reference images that are copyright free is You can just go to your web browser, type that in, and this is what will pop up. This is their main homepage. For example, I could search for songbirds and it will bring all of this up. Once you find a picture that you like, you can go ahead and then download it for free. It allows you to select the file size that you like. It's just good to be using copyright free images and then you never have to worry about any copyright infringement or anyone ever coming after you for using their images. I just want to talk through a couple of pictures really quickly to help guide you when you're choosing your own photos and it will make it easier for you in a long run. Birds are an incredibly beautiful subject. But because of their feathers and the nature of flight and an animal in motion, birds can be very complicated to draw. Some birds more than others, a spotted owl, for example, has a ton of patterning on their feathers. So that would make them really difficult to illustrate. We want to try and keep things simple for this class. I'm just going to run through a couple of tips for picking photographs. You're going to want to pick images that don't involve a lot of complicated patterning on the feathers, or a lot of detailed feathers like a bird at flight where the wings are splayed out or anything along those lines. Another thing you want to keep in mind is that if the background is complicated, we don't have to include that. You are your own Photoshop essentially, and you can choose to include or exclude things from your piece. We definitely want to simplify it as we go. A couple of other quick tips, try to make sure that the photo is clear and crisp so that you can see the details unless you're not worried about details at all. But if you want to include a few, it's hard to put those in when you can't see them. Definitely a clear, crisp, good quality photo is always a great place to start. Another quick tip with birds is to try and pick a pose where there are fewer details showing. An example of this would be a bird from the front. You can't see the wing or the tail feathers very well. Then because you can't see them, you don't have to draw them. Makes it much easier to illustrate if there are less tiny details that you are faced with. You don't have to capture every detail that's in front of you. But I find that it's my tendency to want to replicate all of that. If the temptation is removed from the start, it just makes things a whole lot easier. So pick simpler poses. Things that are only like two or three basic shapes. That's going to be easy to draw. By all means, if you want to do something complicated, don't let me stop you. But just for the sake of this class, I'm trying to keep it simple so that it is accessible for all levels. I want to keep it relatively quick. I don't want this to be a project that takes 10 or 20 hours to complete. Trust me, yes, I've done pen and ink drawings that took me over 20 hours. That's not what we're going for here. Try to choose simple, clear reference photos that have easy poses and no crazy amount of patterning or details. 4. Lesson 3: Understanding Bird Anatomy: In less than three, I'm going to be going over some very basic points of bird anatomy. The purpose of this is to help you better understand your subject and how it's able to move within its environment. I feel that having a better understanding of your subject, specifically in this instance, joints and where those joints are located on the bird compared to human anatomy, is going to help you draw them better and have a better understanding of them when you are looking at your reference photos. Here is a very basic bird's skeleton and a human skeleton. I really, really want to demystify the bird leg structure. There is a common misconception about bird legs and a lot of different animal hind legs, but they somehow have backwards knees. This is simply not the case. They have basically the same bone structure that we do. It's just been evolved towards a different purpose. The first joint I want to point out is the shoulder joint. You can see that the bird shoulder joint sits in a very different place on the body. It's just a common point of reference between our bodies and birds. The next point of anatomy I want to talk about is the wrist on the right hand side, it's a human wrist. On the left you can see a bird's wrist, which is actually just before the tip of the wing. Now, moving on to the legs. The hip joint comes out of the pelvis. Birds pelvises are shaped very differently than humans. This is the start of the leg. The thing you want to realize is that when you're looking at a live bird, the hip is completely hidden by their feathers. You cannot see the hip at all. You can't see the top portion of their leg. As we continue and move down to the knee joint, the knee is also hidden. We don't see the knee on the bird. It's completely hidden by their feathers. This is, I think why people think that birds have backward knees, because you're thinking that the legs begin where they protrude out of the body of feathers. That's simply just not the case. You have to remember that the hip and the knee and the upper leg bone or the femur, is completely hidden on a bird within their feathers. Now if we move on, you can see that what is generally misconstrued as the knee or a backwards knee is actually the birds ankle and it bends in the exact same way that your ankle does. Now, I haven't isolated them out, but the foot, the lower leg bone in the bird, which is what you would think would be the shin bone is not a shin bone. It's actually a bone which becomes one of the bones in our feet. The whole thing from this joint down is essentially their foot. Literally when you're talking about a bird grabbing or perching on a branch with their foot, they're really grabbing hold of the branch with their toes. There was a couple other quick things that I wanted to mention in regards to sketching birds. The first thing, as you can see it when you look at this skeleton, is that birds tend to have much longer necks than humans. Obviously, the number of vertebrae and the size of the vertebrae vary from species to species, but in general, their necks are much longer in relation to the rest of their bodies than in human. This makes their neck very flexible. Obviously the iconic example of this is an owl where they can turn their head almost all the way around, or perhaps an ostrich or an emu that have extremely long necks. But this also applies to smaller birds and songbirds. Their body shape can seem to change dramatically depending on how they're holding their neck. This point about changing their shape gets really tricky because they can also fluff their feathers. They can really impact the volume or amount of space that they take up. In this final image, this bird looks like a pufferfish. He has puffed himself up and that is like a big and round as he can get. I guess that's the point I'm trying to make, is that birds can change their shape fairly dramatically. I think that does it. I hope that wasn't too technical for you, but I just feel very strongly about having a basic understanding about your subject before you try to draw it. Even if you want to exaggerate the features or draw in a more cartoony fashion, you should still have a basic underlying knowledge of its anatomy. 5. Lesson 4: Observation: Already. In Lesson 4, we're going to be talking about observation and basic shapes, and then some tools for proportions. Even though I've drawn birds before, I try to take each painting or each reference photo as a completely fresh start. I'm looking at it from the point of the observer, not looking at it as if it's a bird. I'm simply looking at it in a deconstructive way, don't let your mind trick you into thinking you already know the shapes. Try to approach every drawing session with a beginner's mind. Absorb this moment as if it were completely new. You want to look at everything as if you've never seen it before. That way you have a better chance of capturing what you're seeing in front of you without any filter or distortion happening because of what your brain thinks something should look like. The first thing that I notice is the negative and positive shapes. I go to the largest positive shape, which in this case is the round shape of the body of the bird, which is essentially a circle. That would probably be the first mark that I put down. I'm just trying to get a circle roughly down on the page. Then the next thing I would go to would be the bird's head, which in this case is basically an oval. I would just have these two really, really rough shapes. They don't have to be exact to this point, they just want to be basically proportional. Then the next thing I might do is add some directional lines. Different parts of the body are going to be aligned in different directions, facing different directions. The tail, for example, is centered around this diagonal line that's coming out of the bird. I can't see all of the tail, but I know that it's straight, so the central line of the tail is going to run out of the bird roughly at this angle. Once I have that angle established, then I can illustrate the rest of the feathers and know that they're going in correct direction. Some other lines that I might take note of but wouldn't necessarily draw, would be the eye. This is probably not the best example, but if we zoom in, you can see that this is the point of the eye. The center of the eye is along that diagonal. Then if I make it sit in the bird's head at that diagonal, it will look a lot more realistic than if it was just purely horizontal. If I just stuck the eyeball in there at perfectly horizontal to the page, it would look a little bit like Egyptian art, where it's in the right place, but it's a little bit off, and the perspective is a little bit weird. This just helps to have a little bit more realism in your bird, or whatever subject you're drawing is that if the eye is at the correct angle. Then another line that I would take note of again, but probably wouldn't draw is the body. You can see that the bird is sitting slightly tilted. There's this overall diagonal that runs through the chest, and up into the neck of the bird. Again, I probably wouldn't draw that line in, but I would take note of that to make sure that my bird is situated on that slight angle, and not plumbed straight up and down. You can also see that this line divides the chest, and it's not equal because we're not looking at the bird perfectly straight on. The next thing I would do would be to refine these very, very simple, basic shapes that I have down, and then check to make sure my proportions are correct. These chest shapes, it's almost like two eggs, or two wonky ovals. You can see that the bird is pretty fluffy, and there are feathers protruding on either side, and I don't have it exact, but that's okay. At this point, we're just going again for very, very basic shapes. There's somewhat more refined because they're more accurate than my just generic circle, but they don't have to be spot on yet. Then I would probably move to the head next. Again, establish more of a better understanding of that. At this point, you want to get a few just directional lines for where the legs are coming out of the body. We can fill those other details in later. The beak is in essence just a triangle. Again, as long as we have the directional line of the beak basically correct, we can fill the shape around those foundational lines, and it will be accurate. The eye is a very simple circle. Now at this point, put that line in there to establish where the point of the eye is going to be coming out. Then the tail at this point can just be a very simple like W shape, it can be extremely rough at this stage. The most important thing is getting the proportions down. When I say proportions, I mean, is the size of the head relative to the size of the body? Correct. Angles, if we get the angles and the proportions correct, then the bones of our drawing will be really strong, and they'll set us up to have a better finished sketch. Some very basic proportions because we don't have a complicated image that we're working from, would be the head height relative to the height of the body. The head is roughly half of the height that the body takes up. Then as far as width, the head is about two-thirds the width of the body at its fullest. You have to just guesstimate, but these types of comparisons will help you check your sketch at this very, very basic stage when it's pretty much just circles and lines to make sure that it's correct before moving on to the next step. Because if you move on, and start adding details, and then realized that I made the head way too big, then you have to erase all of your details or stick with a drawing that you know is not proportional. Another quick comparison I would make would be the beak, and then the eye is about a beak's width away from the top of the beak, so this distance, and this distance are pretty much the same, and that's a good guide for where to place the eye. One last thing to consider at this stage would be composition. We have this very strong diagonal line across our page, and we want to consider how we're going to place this on our paper. We do not have to stick with what we've been given, and adhere to the reference photo. I think I might change this up a bit, I want my background to be broken up into a third, and then two-thirds, so do I want a lot of sky, or do I want more lands? I think because of how the branch is situated, I think what I'm going to do is place my horizon line roughly just below the bird's neck. The reason I'm placing it here is because I don't want any intersecting lines with any focal points on the bird. For example, I would not want to put my horizon line dead center because it aligns with the very top of the branch. It's going to draw your eye to that spot. We don't want to draw people's eye to the top of the branch, that's not a focal point of the image. The background is just this subtle backdrop to the bird, the bird should be the focal point. We don't want to do anything that's going to take away from our mean focus. I could place it all the way down here. Again, I wouldn't want it to be intersecting with the where the foot hits the branch, but I feel like this is too low, this is too low for my horizon line. I don't want that much sky, so those two positions don't work. I don't want the horizon way up here above the bird's head because that's not enough sky. Then I wouldn't want to align it with the top of the birds head, that's just really awkward. Again, is going to take away from the bird, it's going to be distracting. I certainly can't put it anywhere here around the beak, again, distracting. As far as I can figure, the best place for the horizon line is going to be about here. It's also really good to consider composition at this stage because all you have are a few basic lines, and you are free to change anything you want. Whereas, again if you wait until a later stage, it may be too difficult to change it. 6. Lesson 5: Pencil Sketching: We're going to continue lesson four on some actual paper and we're going to continue working with our basic shapes. If you don't feel comfortable just jumping straight in, feel free to do some practice sketches and I'm going to start by putting in the branch. I'm just going to check some things. So half of the distance across the page is actually slightly less than the height of the branch. On the right-hand side so just checking proportions relative to my reference and I am still way off with it. I've got it too curved. Checking it again. That's better. I still don't think it's high enough. Then I'm just going to come back in and erase my erroneous lines that I don't need. Now I have my branch established. I'm going to try to indicate some center line here. Doesn't have to be perfect. I'm just going to start with my basics circle. My bird is about the same height as this, which seems giant, but that's what it looks like in my reference photo So we've got that. We've got one foot and the other foot, head up here. These are those basic shapes that I was talking about before, and now I'm going to work on refining these shapes a little bit. I'm just using the side of the pencil and mostly arm motion. So little bit of a wing here and then it's got a very round head. Maybe that's a little too tall. It's really a very fat little bird, honestly. So this is actually right next to the leg but it's not very close to the branch, so it's a really short little tail, and that, toes and can't really see his third toe. But I don't want to get too detailed yet. I'm just still working on these basic shapes. So I know from the proportion check I did earlier that it's head is about two-thirds of the width of this body. So I think I've got that about right. Maybe it's a little bit wider on that side. Then the beak is very abrupt, sticking out. It's not very big, and then just guesstimating. Then this distance, roughly that distance. So the eye wants to go about there. Before I go any further with any more details, or really start diving into this sketch, I want to make sure that what I've established is correct. So I've been doing that as I go. But now I just want to assess everything and make sure that my angles are correct like for this tail and I think that that's pretty good actually. The legs look pretty good. This central body line is going up and down. This could probably be adjusted a little. Now, when I am showing this to you, this is not exactly how I work when I'm sketching on my own. I don't separate each part out and really break it down. I just do it as I go without really thinking about it, and I think that the more you develop this habit, the more you will do it in the same fashion. So it looks like proportionately, things are looking pretty good. My head is falling in the right spot. I think the height of my bird is pretty good. Well, I'm happy with my basic proportions now I'm going to work on refining this sketch. First thing I'm going to do is sculpt my existing line work a little bit by erasing on either side to narrow down where I really want that line to fall. Just a couple of things to keep in mind. One, every sketch starts with just some basic shapes and you build from there. You don't just jump in and start drawing your final lines from the start, and I know there are videos and there are people out there who can do that, but that comes from a tremendous amount of practice. I cannot do that. I cannot just start drawing with ink and have it come out correct the first try. I can't do that and it's okay, I don't need to be able to do that. Some people have that talent, I don't. But I'm not comparing myself to them in that ability. It's amazing that they can do that. But just don't feel like there's something wrong with you or you're somehow not a good enough artist, don't compare yourself. Everyone's different. Everyone has strengths and weaknesses and there are other approaches to drawing. You don't have to get it right the first time. For me, it's a process. It's a building, and I start with a few simple lines and then go from there. Point of that eyes there. Another thing to try to keep in your mind is don't draw too hard. Don't make your lines really dark because we want to be able to erase these later and then do something a little bit better for these feet. Birds have wrinkly toes and they're weird-looking. So trust me when I say if you don't get them perfect, no one will know because bird toes are so weird. So there's that foot. You don't want to overdo this stage, especially in pencil because we are going to ink over our line work. If you do not want to use ink at this point, you would just essentially erase what you've done so that you can barely see it and then paint it in with water colors without having the ink line. I think that that's good. Some little feather lines here and there. But we don't want to go crazy with it. Just adding those few details with the feather texture, making sure the eye and the beak look pretty good. Then I'm going to move on to inking in the next lesson. 7. Demo: How to Create Feather Textures: Before we get started inking our bird, I wanted to quickly demonstrate the type of marks I'll be using to indicate texture and feathers. These marks are essentially small, short tick marks that are slightly curved. I apply pressure in the beginning of the stroke and then lift or flick at the end that it tapers off. These marks are meant to be indicative of fine feathers, and can be used along the edge and in places throughout the bird's body. I would caution you to be careful not to make a hook at the beginning as some of my marks are doing, as this will make the texture of the marks look unnatural. Another thing to note is that these texture marks should also be directional, in that they take the direction of the feathers into consideration. This also applies to fur, hair, eyelashes, etc. It's important with a pen like this to use very light pressure, otherwise you will destroy the nib and trust me, I crushed them all the time without realizing it. But you can also use this technique with a wide variety of mark making tools from pens to pencils, and even your paintbrush, which I will show you later in the painting section. Just to reiterate, you want to apply very light pressure and then lift up as you move the pen. The most important thing again, is to pay attention to the direction that the feathers naturally fall in, and realize that this direction can change as you move around your subject. Lastly, it's also important to note that I'm not making a solid outline of the bird, but rather using these broken textural marks to create shape. It'll look more realistic if it's not completely solidly outlined. Basically, it just comes down to pen control and practice using this type of fine tip pen. Feel free to use whatever kind of pen you want. I'm going to be using a Pigma Micron in size 0.01. Feel free to practice on a separate piece of paper, you don't have to dive right in and ink along with me. 8. Lesson 6: Inking: Moving on to the next step which is adding ink over our line work. So this is really the point at which we're going to refine those details that we worked on. So I'm just using really tiny, tiny lines to create this outline, and I'm not really worried about it being a solid outline. I'm just trying to create a little bit more contrast. Here, where you can see the feathers, I'm just doing short flicking strokes in the direction that the feathers are going. Again, this does not have to be a solid line. If you would like to do that style, be my guest. But that's not what I'm aiming for here. So we're just using our pencil sketch as a guide, just putting some small textural feather marks and just always double-checking, looking at the reference and making sure that my lines are going with the grain of the feathers, or within the direction of the feathers. That's really important as far as making it look realistic. Another thing I'm noticing is that the top of the beak is not the same shape as the bottom of the beak. In other words, it's not symmetrical. So that helps there. Continuing to add those light little strokes, texture marks of the feathers. I'm just going to work my way all the way around the bird in areas where you can see more feathers, I'm going to make my lines a little bit longer, and I'm pressing really, really lightly so that my pen marks are equally light. Because when it gets down to it, I really want the water color to be the star of the show, not my pen work. Sometimes less is more, I mean, you don't have to do everything. There's a little knuckle in there. Before I get too carried away here I'm going to establish the line of the branch. I'm still using sketchy strokes but because of the pen that I'm using, they're just a little bit more refined. You do not have to use this small of a pen, you would like to use something thicker, that's fine, if you don't want to get this detailed, again, that is also fine. It's your prerogative. You can get as detailed or not as you please and that's right there is that little bit of wing that's showing through. I'm trying really not to get too crazy with this, because I am one of those people who will sit here and go crazy with detail. So I'm just trying to get some very basic marks to indicate where the feathers are falling. But everybody knows birds have feathers. So you don't have to draw every single one for that same thing to be communicated. I think the most important thing is just keeping the feather lines in the right direction. We're almost done here. I've got my tail, curves as you can see a little bit of the side of the feather, and it swings back in, gentle little curving, kind of a W shape. There's some shadows in there, but I'm not going to draw those in with pen, I'm going to do that with watercolor. It's got these skinny little legs, skinny little things. There's some folds here on the side of the foot. So I'm just going to make some crinkly lines, and then, again here with this little toe, it's two toes actually, they're knuckely and separated. Like I said, birds have weird clawed feet. I messed that one up. I didn't finish this one, whoopsie. Just going to get those hooks in there. If bird feet seem like something challenging to you, again, feel free to do practice sketches. You can always do a practice run. Anything that you're not confident about your ability to draw, just do some practice sketches before you start, and then you'll be fine. Then you will have a working knowledge of that shape that thing takes. So I think that's pretty good. Then an area of darker color. Birds don't really have pupils and irises the way that humans do. But it's going to just act as a shadow. Maybe there's some really little marks under there like that. So that's all I'm going to do for inking. So now I can erase all of my pencil lines though you want to make sure that you get all of the graphite off of your paper. Any graphite that's left will not erase once you've painted over it. If you drew any of your lines too hard or too dark, again, they will probably not erase because the paper is textured and it holds onto the graphite. Now, we're going to move on to the next step, which is a quick demo in variegated washes. 9. Lesson 7: Applying Masking Fluid: Okay. So in this lesson we're going to be talking about masking fluid, and there's a lot of different kinds. Some have a color or a tint to them. This one is colorless by Winsor and Newton, and it's essentially like a latex that when it dries, it acts as a water barrier. So you're going to need a crappy brush, and do not use one of your good brushes for this step. All right. You will need, your crappy brush, some masking fluid, and some soap. I find that bar soap works better than liquid soap. So let's just get right into it. First thing you want to do, is wet your brush and then dry it off a little bit to tap off the excess and get some clean water. Essentially you're laddering the soap onto your brush, and then I just wipe the excess off with my fingers. Once the brush is coated thoroughly in soap, that's when I get to my masking fluid. Do not shake your masking fluid. If you do, gets completely full of bubbles and then it's extremely difficult to get out, and it then dries all around the inside of the bottle, and it turns into a whole mess. You're going to need a fairly small brush for this, and I'm using the corner of the brush to kind of drag a little bit of it out, and into the feathers, and I'm going to leave it up to you, whether you want to cover the whole bird, or just do about a half inch all the way around. Kind of whatever you're comfortable with. But just remember, wherever you have this, it's going to create a hard line. You don't want to put too much at once, because that will stop it from drying properly. Another thing to keep in mind, in my experience, of masking fluid is amazing at removing graphite. So if you did a pencil sketch and you want to keep your lines, masking fluid may not be the best option for you. At least the masking fluid that I have, will completely remove all of my graphite line work. Okay. I'm going to mask out the little feet, and I'm probably going to do the branch as well, just to make things really easy. Again, if this seems excessive tier, don't worry about it. You don't have to use masking fluid. It's just an option. If you don't have masking fluid, it's okay. You're just going to have a to be a little bit more careful and paint all around the bird and the branch, when we do the background. Now while I'm being careful with this, you don't want to take forever because, it will dry in the container and we don't want her masking fluid to dry out, very carefully doing the beak. I'm just going to fill in the rest, and if you are actually covering your whole bird, you want to try and be thorough with this, because of any areas that you miss, and then if you paint over it will be pigmented. Awesome. Okay, and we're all done with the masking fluid. Now we just need to wait a few minutes for this to dry. It dries pretty quick. Shouldn't take more than five minutes. I will not recommend speeding the process up with a hairdryer. I don't know what kind of impact that will have on the adhering the masking fluid to your paper. You definitely want to clean your brush off right away, and we don't want to start painting until we know for sure that the masking fluid is dry. Once that's dry, we can move on to painting in the background. 10. Demo: Variegated Washes: If you know what a variegated wash is and you know how to do this already, feel free to skip this step or hang around and see, maybe I have some tips and tricks you haven't heard of before. So if you don't know what a variegated wash is, it's nothing complicated or scary. Basically, it's just a wash, a flat wash that graduates or gradually changes from one color to another. That is what we're going to use for our background. We are going to create what is in essence a variegated wash for a really simple background for this piece. So I've done some examples, just practice, and before we get into actually painting the background, I just want to go over this really quickly. It's easy, there's two approaches. One, you can wet the entire surface of the paper and then drop in your colors or you can work wet on dry paper. So I'm going to follow the basic guideline for what we're going to be creating for the painting. But I'm just going to do two colors, and then you can extrapolate the rest. So I'm going to use cobalt and burnt sienna. So I'm dropping some clean water into my palette on both of those colors. I'm just going to come in, I'm going to work, wet on dry. I start at the top, I need more pigment in that. So I'm going to get my blue established, drop a little bit more pigment in. I'm going to rinse my brush and start to pull the wash down. I'm going to rinse my brush completely. So it's just clear water and then just wash that out till it's almost nothing. While that's still wet, I'm going to come back in from the other direction with my burnt sienna, and I came a little strong with that. I'm going to wash some of that up with a dry brush. Basically, you want the two to blend in the middle. This is drying fast on me. I don't really want it to dry quite that fast, but basically, we're getting a gradient from blue to brown with a neutral gray in the middle. It's a little bit of a purply gray. But this is a nice soft transition. This is the same technique we are going to be using to create the sky in our background. If you've never done this before, it can be a little tricky. So I would recommend trying it. It might be easier to try the wet and wet method, where you wet your paper with clean water so that it's thoroughly hydrated. That there's a sheen of water on the surface, and then it's evenly distributed, and then bring in your color. You're going to get a lot more movement this way, but I will give you more time to fuss around with the pigment. Sometimes it also helps to tilt the paper so that the water is flowing down your page, and you get that natural movement of the pigment on its own. In the next lesson, we're going to start painting our bird. The first part of that is going to be masking off the area where the bird is, so that we can do this really nice fluid background and not have to worry about getting paint, unwanted paint onto our bird. 11. Lesson 8: Painting the Background: Okay. The masking fluid has dried. It's slightly tacky but it stays firm. Now we're ready to start painting our sky. I'm going to be using just four colors for this painting. You could use three, but I decided to add in an extra one. The colors I'm going to be using are Payne's gray, cobalt, burnt sienna and Quinacridone Rose. You do not have to use Rose. The pink is an optional color. I'm only going to use a tiny bit of it in the sky. If you don't have a pink, I would say just leave it out. Red is not a appropriate substitute for pink in this instance. The Payne's gray and the cobalt are going to make a really nice neutral gray that we're going to use for shadows on the bird, as well as the darker areas of the feathers. If they're mixed together in a stronger concentration, we're going to be able to get a nice dark that's also fairly neutral. Yeah, cobalt and burnt sienna will make a really lovely gray. The first thing I'm going to do is wet down my entire paper with clean water. I may have to do this several times in order to get adequately moisturized. Loading up my brush, spreading the water around, trying to get an even coat and the heavier weight of your paper, the more water it's going to take to do this. You really want it to be good and saturated so it stays wet throughout the whole process of painting the sky. You want to look at your paper from the side and make sure that there are no dry patches and that the paper has an even gloss or sheen, there shouldn't be puddles. If you've got puddles, you probably got a little too much water. Another thing you can do is to lift your painting up slightly. I'm just using a roll of masking tape and that will help everything flow down the page. I'm going to be following this example that I practiced. Our first color is going to be cobalt, followed by a blend of cobalt and magenta and then the burnt sienna, with a touch of Quinacridone Rose. We want this to be pretty light. We don't want the sky to be too dark and we want our horizon line to fall right around the middle of the bird's chest. I didn't need to wet this down here. But that's okay. You get a little carried away sometimes and this is running. I'm just going to block that and then I have some color already mixed, some really vibrant purple. I can just lay that right over that and for a teeny tiny bit of burnt sienna. I want that right about here maybe little bit more than that. But just a very light touch. We want this to just warm the horizon line. I'm just using a little tiny bit that was probably too much. I'm going to come back in and skip some of that out. Load it, dry brush and I want more of my sky to be purple and I want to make this peachy purple neutral zone. Then as a final touch, I'm going to use a little bit of Quin Rose I'm just going to blend that in to the burnt sienna and so we have this really beautiful pastel sky and it's getting away from me a little bit. I don't want it to extend quite that far, I'm just blotting up a little bit. I'm actually going to dry up the sides here paper towel. A little bit more that was probably too much, I'm going to dry my brush comeback in brush that out and then we're going to use some paints gray. While the sky's still wet and we don't want it super dark. We want a diluted light gray mix. I don't know if you can see these here. I'm just going to drop that in, that's too dark. Now I want to tip this. We want this to be flat. Just drop this in a jagged way. What we want is we want this to look like a distant but blurry tree line and I'm going to blot this edge. This is getting a little crazy on me, I'm going to fold the paper towel and press that down. Fold it, press and it's going to blot and soften that edge and then we can come in a little bit of tissue. Just gently dab at the baseline. This has dried completely and now I'm going to re-wet the bottom half of the paper and do some shadows in the snow. I'm just going to re-wet my paper and I'm going to leave a little bit of a gap at the top, that I can control how and when it blends into the tree line. You could see that the gray pigment for the trees moved a lot and I think it was a little too wet when I added that Payne's gray pigment. That's an indication of how wet something is, is how much new pigment added to a wash travels. If you want it to travel less, you want it to be a little bit drier. If you want it travel more then you want it to be wetter. I think it looks fine, but it is a little bit more elongated than I had initially had in mind. Okay. Then for the snow, I'm just going to use some very pale cobalt and probably a little bit of the purple as well, just for some color harmony. I don't want the background to be purely white because we want the bird to stand out from the background. Since we want to create a little bit of contrast there. We could also probably use little Payne's gray. I'm just going to come back in and soften where these meet and just feather that out. I think I'm going to come back in here and drop a little bit more pigment in places just to enhance the contrast here. I'm using Payne's gray mixed with a little bit of cobalt blue, very pale wash and because I just wet it, it should have a very similar effect as it did earlier. This will the effect of some shadows in the trees and by using the same colors over and over again, we're going to maintain a really nice color harmony. I'm not going to mess with that anymore. I think it's fine as is. Maybe I'm going to introduce a little bit stronger shadows. Get more condensed pigment. That's good. I'm going to stop and let this dry and then when we come back, we can remove the masking fluid and start painting our bird. 12. Lesson 9: Removing the Masking Fluid: Okay, so we're back. Paper is still a little bit cool, but I think it's pretty much dry. One thing about removing masking fluid, you need to make sure that the paper is 100% dry before you start to remove it or it can tear the surface of the paper, especially with lower-quality papers, like student-grade papers or paper that's not meant for water color. If you're using something lighter than, let's say a 140 pound, it's especially important with those layer papers to make sure that everything is completely dry. To remove the masking fluid, you can use a clean eraser, you can use your finger. I'm going to be using a rubber cement pickup, I've had this for ages, so it's pretty ugly looking. But it works wonders when removing masking fluid. You want to make sure you pull inwards from the tape and not push against this. It should be okay. But you don't want to lift the masking tape on the edge inadvertently. I'm trying to do this as gently as I can. Probably used a bit too much masking fluid here you can see this is getting really heavy. Don't want to rush this step and then end up tearing your paper. I'm making sure to hold the paper before I pull away the masking fluid. There's our bird with all of the masking fluid removed. 13. Lesson 10: Painting Our Bird: In the final lesson, we will tackle painting a bird and the branch that his standing on. Okay, so to paint the bird, I'm going to use a slightly smaller brush. I'm going to switch to a size 4 just to have a little bit more precision and control. I'm going to mix up some grays. For that, I want burnt sienna and some cobalt. We just want to make a light neutral gray. If it's looking a little bit brown, you need to add a little bit of blue. If it's looking too blue, then you need to add a little bit of the brown back. Because both of these colors are, I would say medium darks, not super darks, the gray we're going to get is not going to be super dark either, and I think I want it to be slightly on the warm side, like that. I'm going to add some more water because we want to start light. I think that looks pretty good. I'm just going to start laying in some feathery looking strokes, and then I'm going to rinse my brush and soften that out. Don't want to have too many hard edges just yet. My little bird, it's not actually white. Just going to add in a little bit of a warmer wash here, which is just diluted burnt sienna. It's differently darker towards the bottom because my paper is already wet. I'm working wet on wet, but not totally because it wasn't totally wet before I started. You can see he's got kind of little rings of color and I want try and replicate that. I'm trying to make sure that my brush strokes are going in the direction of the feathers, and that will help create the feeling of feathers. I'm just softening out that bottom edge, going back to my palate, getting a little bit more color. I'm just going to feather that up and we don't need to worry too much about this little cap. But there are some lighter hues in there, there's also a little bit of a highlight on the beak, and there's some shadows in around the eye. I'm going to add a little bit more blue back in my mix, and then, I'm going to work on deepening some of these shadows. This is that wing area, so darken that up. Now I'm looking for mid tones. We did our lights. Now I want slightly darker, darks. I'm just using a very fine tip of my brush, but I want him to feel fluffy. To create these feather-like textures with my paint brush, I'm repeating those same strokes that I showed you earlier with my pen. It's just short, slightly curved flicking motions. To ensure that I'm just using the tip of my brush, I'm going to be using very light pressure, barely any at all. We just want to touch the brush to the surface of the paper. We don't want to push down more than that and we do not want to cause the brush to bend, so that the belly of the brush starts to make contact with the paper. Then, I hope the feet are going to be pretty dark, so we can do those, and there's some darks in the tail. Rinsing my brush and softening. I think that this came a little darks, I'm going to feather that out as well. I just feel like there's a little bit more brown in this part. Maybe in the chest, and if there's any hard edges anywhere that you don't like, should be able to smooth them out, just by adding some clean water, like that. Then we need some really good darks, so I'm going to take Payne's gray and get a really strong mix. And then, I'm going to grab some of that burnt sienna, and what that will do is it will just neutralize the Payne's gray. I'm going really slow and I'm being really careful because I'm trying to leave a very small white space around the eye, and I'm going to come back in and darken it later, but I want to preserve it for now because I want there to be some separation between the eye and the rest of the dark feathers on his head. I don't want the eye to get lost in that black cap. I'm taking care to leave some very small white spaces. These are going to translate as highlights on the edges of the feathers. We don't want to color it in as a solid shape. We want to have some texture, so it really captures that natural texture that a bird would have. I don't want to forget the small area underneath the bird's bill and the darker, almost striped pattern that's appearing on the beak. Continuing to add some small very light textural marks, and then, going back in with some darker pigments to enhance the contrast and really make those darks pop. This has been a gradual process where I've been layering first very light shades and then adding more and more pigment so that I have a whole variety, a whole range of shades, and not just one or two dark values. The reason for doing that is because it looks more realistic. Just adding some small details around the beak and some tonal value on the top and the bottom. It's also important to note that I do make mistakes as I'm painting. You can see here I got some of the really dark pigment into the beak and I didn't want it there, so I'm taking a moment to blot it back out. That happens a lot where your brush just goes a little bit over the line or a little bit into a spot where you don't want, and it's pretty easy to correct, especially if you do it right away. Adding some more detail and darker tones to the wing, and then moving on to the shadows on the underside of the tail feathers. These shadows will help define the body of the bird and separate the tail from the feathers of the underbelly. Adding a second layer of darks to the feet and really starting to build some shadow and darker values. As I'm adding more value to the birds feet, I'm trying to create some separation between each of the toes, as well as with the bird's foot and the branch. Again here, I'm coming back and after I've laid down the paint and I've waited a little bit too long, but I felt like I made this area too dark, so I'm coming back in with some clean water and scrubbing the paper very lightly to try and lift up some of that pigment and lighten it. Now that the beak has dried, I'm coming back in and adding another layer of even darker pigment over what's already existing on the paper. Finally, starting to add some detail to the eye. To me, when I'm painting animals, or in this case a bird, the eye is really what brings life to the piece. So I feel like, at this point now that I've put some of those dark values in the eye, it's really starting to come together. Now you can see I'm coming back to those claws again, and I'm just really wanting to darken those shadows, especially on the underside of the bird's toes and really help define the feet a little bit more. Just adding an even darker layer of pigment to really strengthen the contrast in that area. It's a good idea to make sure that you're building up your values and your tones gradually and not starting off with your very darkest colors or your very darkest values. You can't really lighten something once you've made it dark. When in doubt, leave it white and you can always go back in and add pigment, but taking it away is very difficult. Now moving on to the branch itself, and I'm just using a warm gray tone. I do need to be a little bit careful here because I no longer have anything protected by masking fluid. So If I go out of the lines, it's going to impact the rest of the painting. A huge part of painting with watercolor and creating these ranges in your tone and value. It all comes back to being able to control the water to pigment ratio in your paint. Obviously, a mixture that has more pigment and less water is going to be more concentrated and going to create a darker value for a more intense color, and the opposite is also true. We don't use white paint, generally speaking in watercolor. You lighten a color by adding more clean water to that color. By starting with your lights and then gradually adding more pigment, it's easier to control the tones or the shades that you're creating. I would say that this is probably the most challenging, or at least one of the most challenging aspects of painting with watercolor, and if you can master it, you can pretty much paint anything you want. So in general, watercolor is all about controlling the amount of water in your brush, on your paper, and in your paint. This is why I like to have a little test sheet or scrap piece of paper on the side, so that I can test my tonal value as I'm mixing paint and see if I'm at where I want to be, before I go in and apply that paint to my actual finished painting. It's kind of like a little check-in balance place, where I can make sure that I'm making the color that I meant to make. Sometimes things look a little bit different in your palate when it's more concentrated than it does when you actually apply it to the paper. I would also like to mention that if this is too much detail for you and you either just don't like this style or you don't have the patience for it, that's totally fine. I'm just showing you my way of working with this kind of subject, so that if you want to do that kind of style, I'm giving you enough information so that you can. Feel free to do whatever you want and really make it your own. In no way, shape, or form, do I expect everyone to just copy what I do exactly. Art is really about self-expression and I would encourage you to do what makes you happy and what feels good to you while you're painting. Coming back to that branch, I'm just going back in with a slightly cooler and darker pigment, darker shade, and adding some shadows on the underside of the branch. Then once that pigment has been placed, I'm coming back in with a clean brush and softening out the edges. I repeat this process several times to create the amount of shadow and depth that I want. Once the branch is finished, I go back and add some very minor final details, or on the beak, the bird's eye, and in his little black cap, and then the painting is done. 14. Class Project & Thank You!: We made it. I know this was a bit of a longer class, but I had so much I wanted to say, I just could not make it any shorter. I've put a lot of thought and effort into making this class. I really hope that you're able to find value in it as a result. Thank you so much for taking my classes. Every minute you spend watching is helping to support me and allowing me to continue working as an artist. For the class project, I would love for you to create a watercolor and ink illustration. It can be any subject of your choosing, although I welcome you to do chickadees. Please post your project in the project gallery. A huge benefit of being a Skillshare member is the wonderful creative community. Please use your voice and share your work so that others may learn and be inspired by seeing your art and your unique perspective. If you decide to share your work on social media, please tag me @amygiglioart so that I can see what you've created and say, "Hello." I have a lots of ideas for more classes, so you can expect to see more from me in the future. Until then, I wish you the best and happy painting.