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  • Yufen Zha

Tutorial: Bird In Snow - Feel Good Watercolor on Paper

Updated: May 10, 2021

Hello, my creative friends! Since we've been having a lot of stormy and snowy weather around here lately, I dedicated our last live paint along session to painting this sassy little bird in snow. This is a fun and easy painting for watercolor beginners to get a taste of the wet on wet as well as the salt technique (both unique to watercolor) while having fun finishing a beautiful project.

"Bird In Snow", watercolor on paper, 5" x 7"

If you missed this lighthearted paint along, here is the time-lapse video of that session which accompanies this tutorial very well. In order to get notified of future live paint along sessions (they are free and stream to your device in real time), subscribe to this site at the bottom of our home page. To register for any live paint along sessions, please visit the events page.

I usually paint with my tube watercolors, however for this demo, I opted for the Sakura 30-color palette that I recommend for beginners who just want to try out watercolor to see if it's a good fit for them or for people who just want to dabble in watercolor once in a while. For a complete list of watercolor, mixed media, and drawing supplies that I recommend, please check out the supplies page on this site.

Below is the list of supplies for this painting. I’ve included a few affiliate links so you can find the products I love.


Supply List

1. Sketch the horizon line and the bird. Try not to have the horizon line in the middle of the page (for design reasons which is another post in and of itself). Using clean water, wet the portion above the horizon line including the bird tail but avoiding the bird body.

2. Mix Burnt Umber into Ultramarine Blue for a slightly grayish blue. I mixed two separate puddles. One puddle is more watery like the consistency of skim milk whereas the other puddle is more like the consistency of whole milk. Drop in the more watery grayish blue into the wet sky area making sure you leave some areas almost or completely white. Since the paper is wet, the paint will move around on its own to create variations in shades which mimics the real sky.

3. While the sky is still wet, drop in some table salt, kosher salt, or both. The salt will absorb the moisture and pigment out of the paper; creating beautiful patterns and textures on the page mimicking a snowy sky.

4. For best results, leave the painting to dry on its own once you've dropped in the desired amount of salt. If you are in a hurry or just can't stand to wait and watch paint dry (seriously, who can??), you can use a hair dryer to speed up the drying process. Here you can see the dried painting with the salt still on it.

5. Salt usually gets stuck to the painting during the drying process (especially table salt as the chunks are fairly small), so you will need to remove it by gently rubbing it off. You can now admire the surreal salt pattern you just created.

How pronounced the salt pattern comes out is somewhat unpredictable and varies based on the amount of moisture and pigment on the paper. This unpredictability could be a bit nerve-wrecking for some people but it truly excites me.

Before moving on to painting the bird, I usually like to soften the edges using a clean damp brush. Depending on the pigment, sometimes the edges created by a wash can be pretty harsh but a damp brush usually does wonders for me. I also took this opportunity and dropped some blue mix and Burnt Umber into the snow-covered ground for shadows as well as reflections.

6. I painted the bird's head, beak, and wing using wet on dry technique first with the darker blue mix from the first step as well as Burnt Umber. I then followed up with blending the pigment with a clean damp brush. The bird's stomach was painted wet on wet using Permanent Orange, Light Red, and Vermillion Hue.

7. The feet were painted using a liner brush and Burnt Umber; I threw in a tiny amount of Light Red as well followed by some water to blend out the harsh edges.

The tail was painted using dry brush technique with Burnt umber and dark blue mix. Since the tail area was already blended with the light blue mix while we painted the sky, the darker dry brush strokes provide a nice contrast to the rest of the bird. I especially like the flying white created by dry brush; makes me very happy.

8. Time to add some grass! An easy trick to adding grass in snow that yields believability is to paint the grass over a piece of torn paper. Here I tore a piece of printer paper, put it down on the painting where I want my grass to be, and flicked in a few grass blades from the torn paper onto the painting. I then followed up with some water to blur out some of the edges.

9. The final step is to splatter white gouache paint onto the painting in order to create the snow effect. Don't forget to cover up the head of the bird so it doesn't get lost in the "snow". I will have another article dedicated entirely to the when and how of splattering.

Here is the final painting again. I know it might be hard to visualize how the bird came together in paint by just following a written tutorial... especially for beginners. That's why I created the accompanying video tutorial. Please hop over to my YouTube channel for the video and everything will make a lot more sense, I promise.

That's it for today. I hope this written tutorial in addition to the video tutorial on my Youtube channel give you a good starting point for trying out this painting, as well as in helping you improve your painting from the session.

To see the work from fellow artists of this session or to share your work from these paint along sessions / tutorials, please follow my Facebook studio page "Yufen Zha Studio" and request to join our private group "Friends of Yufen Zha Studio".

Please remember to subscribe to the site so you won't miss any future tutorials.

Until next time, happy creating!

- Yufen


Mar 04, 2021

This was such a fun project! Thank you for posting the video & instructions, as I’d love to try this again with my kids. You’ve inspired them to watercolor ever since the Hamilton Elementary Valentine card paint session. Thank you for sharing your gift & passion for art, and inspiring us all, Yufen!

Yufen Zha
Mar 04, 2021
Replying to

Thank you for your kind words, Brianne! These projects are so much fun for me to create. So glad your kids are enjoying them with you!

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