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Backyard Bird Sketch, Tufted Titmouse
Watercolor Sketching Tutorial

by Jennifer Branch
YouTube Watercolor Painting Tutorial

Sketching backyard birds is one of the most rewarding activities for any sketcher. It doesn't matter whether you're at the local park or in your own backyard, there is always something to see and paint.

I love to hang a bird feeder outside my kitchen window. Whenever I'm doing dishes, I have wonderful songbirds to look at and I can look forward to sketching them when I'm done. I sketch off my back deck, where the feeder hangs, a few times a month. It's always entertaining!

One of my favorite birds is the tufted titmouse. They have absolutely no fear of me. When the bird feeder is empty, they'll even look around the house until they find me and knock on the window as a subtle hint to fill the feeder!

Backyard Bird Sketch, Tufted Titmouse Watercolor Painting tutorial

Sketching Tutorial Level

Beginner
Intermediate

Skill Building

Sketching
Birds

Art Supplies

5" x 8"
Pentalic Aqua Journal
Isabey Pointed Round Sable, no.8
Isabey Pointed Round Sable, no.14

Paints

(M. Graham transparent watercolors)

Cobalt Blue
Ultramarine Blue
Quinacridone Rust

Painting Demonstration 1

Backyard Bird Sketch, Tufted Titmouse Watercolor Painting Lesson 1

This cute little bird sketch takes less than 20 minutes and only needs 3 paints, Cobalt Blue, Ultramarine Blue and Quinacridone Rust!

Start by lightly sketching the bird.

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Backyard Bird Sketch, Tufted Titmouse Reference Photo
Backyard Bird Sketch, Tufted Titmouse Reference Photo

Painting Demonstration 2

Backyard Bird Sketch, Tufted Titmouse Watercolor Painting Lesson 2

First, I loosely paint the bird's body. The blue gray color is Cobalt Blue + Quinacridone Rust. The variations are simply changing the mix ratio up.

The warm red of the bird's belly is almost entirely Quinacridone Rust. It's amazing how it becomes the perfect soft red when watered down!

Painting Demonstration 3

Backyard Bird Sketch, Tufted Titmouse Painting Tutorial 3

The sunflower seeds are painted in mostly Ultramarine Blue and Quinacridone Rust. A slightly deeper blue makes them a lot darker, in contrast to the chalky Cobalt Blue.

At the end of the first wash, I splatter on some paint drops, very loosely. I want to keep this sketch fun!

Artist's Tips

Don't be afraid to make mistakes.
Just have fun with the paint!

Painting Demonstration 4

Backyard Bird Sketch, Tufted Titmouse Painting Tutorial 4

I let the sketch dry most of the way, then start adding a bit more detail. First, I paint the beak and the little black eye. I use the same mix with a touch of Ultramarine Blue for a deeper dark. Then, I paint the legs, using more Cobalt Blue.

Now, if I was on location in this sketch, I could stop here. I could have not splattered much where I wanted to paint sharper details. It's also not such a bad thing if details blur a bit!

It's difficult to paint without letting the sketch dry between washes. If you have the time, let it dry. Otherwise, those details could have been added with a pen, or later, when you're not on location. There are always options for whatever level you want to take the sketch too!

Painting Demonstration 5

Backyard Bird Sketch, Tufted Titmouse Painting Tutorial 5

I'm in my studio so I want to take it to the next level! I want to keep things loose, but I can't resist adding fluffy feathers texture!

When you're painting feathers, always look at the direction the real bird's feathers grow in. They're around muscle groups, not random. Painting the feathers angled in the correct directions goes a long way toward making the bird feel more real.

Backyard Bird Sketch, Tufted Titmouse Watercolor Painting tutorial

Final Watercolor Sketch!

So I used an extremely limited palette of 3 pigments. Obviously, I could have skipped the Ultramarine Blue as well and done the entire painting with Cobalt Blue only. However, I never restrict my pigments, unless I'm on location and run out of paint!

However, I do limit my pigments to only what I'm going to repeat throughout the painting. If you repeat the same colors all around the painting (or sketch) then it pulls the painting together.

It doesn't look like a coloring book, but a cohesive whole.

In a subject oriented sketch, like a bird, I rarely paint the background, unless I'm trying to work out how to paint the background. But without the background, it usually looks incomplete unless you add something. Splatter is a fun and easy solution!

I plan to paint several bird sketches over the course of the year. I have seen more species in my own backyard in Northwest Georgia than anywhere except the Florida Everglades. I love sketching them off my deck. Sketching backyard birds is one of the small pleasures of life.

I hope this inspires you to sit by your bird feeder and sketch your backyard birds.


Happy Painting! Jennifer Branch

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