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  • Yufen Zha

Tutorial: Blue Bird Blizzard - Feel Good Watercolor on Paper

Updated: May 10, 2021

"Blue Bird Blizzard", 9" x 12", Watercolor on Paper

Hello, my creative friends! This tutorial is a follow-up on the "Bird in Snow" tutorial I shared last week.

I prepared this painting for one of the virtual paint-along nights I host every other week. During these paint-along events, I come up with an art project (mostly watercolor and mixed media) and lead the group step by step demonstrating how to create the piece in two hours (check out our "events" page for the next free paint along session). Unfortunately, this painting took a bit longer to finish (I guess I was over-zealous). Instead of a paint-along, I decided to use it for a tutorial here. I did film the painting process in preparation for an accompanying video tutorial, but unfortunately, one of the video clips (where I painted the two birds) went corrupted :(. I know, technologies...

For this painting, I mostly opted for Daniel Smith watercolor paints, especially the heavily granulating Primatek line. I started out using M. Graham paints. For the longest time, I thought they were my one and only love but Daniel Smith paints are quickly becoming another favorite of mine because of the amazing color selection as well as the unique patterns each paint creates on paper.

In case you want to use it, here is a link to the preliminary sketch of this painting.

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


Supply List

To start this project, loosely sketch your birds and branches on a piece of paper then transfer it to your watercolor paper. In general, we don't want to draw directly on our watercolor paper to avoid excessive erasing which could damage the integrity of the fiber in the paper. If you don't know how to transfer a drawing to another surface, please read my how-to post here.

Once you have the drawing on your watercolor paper, wet the surface with clean water and drop in the pigments; avoiding the birds and branches. For the background, I mostly used Hematite Genuine and Moonglow with some Thalo Blue Turquoise and a touch of Quin Burnt Scarlet and Quin Gold. Yeah, it looks like hot mess right now, I know. Just wait. It all comes together in the end.

There is no need to be super neat here. If some pigments seep into the bird or branch area, do your best to wipe it up with a tissue. You can see that my birds and branches were definitely invaded by the background colors but the invasion is light in value so it was ok.

Once you have the desired background wash, leave it to dry. However, I was not happy with the value of my background after it dried. Since I planned for a snowy scene, I wanted the background to be fairly dark so that the white snow flake would show up nicely. I opted to give the background another layer of Hematite Genuine and Lunar Violet (instead of Moonglow) for their dark values.

You can see the beautiful watermarks and granulation patterns these paints produced here. Hematite Genuine and Lunar Violet are both heavy in granulation which adds intense visual excitement. Moonglow is such a versatile color; it has a purplish pink undertone when it hits water so you get a multitude of different shades with a single paint.

Once this second layer on the background is dry, it's time to paint the birds. I decided to paint the top of these birds a very dark shade using Hematite Genuine with a touch of Lunar Violet and blended them out to the rest of the of body. For the beak, I painted wet on dry with the same two colors. Don't forget to leave some white of the paper here for highlights.

Continue to the rest of the bird body, avoiding the eye as well as the feet. For the body, I wetted the area first then dropped in Thalo Blue Turquoise, Quin Gold, Quin Burnt Scarlet, and Dioxazine Purple. For the wings and tail, I dropped in a thin layer of Quin Gold, Quin Burnt Scarlet, and Moonglow, let it dry, then dry brushed on some Hematite Genuine.

Once the eye area is dry, I painted a thin layer of Thalo Blue Turquoise in the eye circle first, waited for it to dry, then followed with a touch of Hematite Genuine for the pupil. Mix Quin Burnt Scarlet with some Green Apatite Genuine to tone down the intensity of the red for the branches. Once the branches are dry, you can proceed with the birds' feet, using Hematite Genuine with a dab of Quin Burnt Scarlet.

We are close to the finishing line! The only thing left to do now is adding some leaves (or pine needles) using Green Apatite Genuine on the tree and the snow flakes using Titanium White gouache.

Here are the birds with the leaves painted in. I just love Green Apatite Genuine; especially when it's next to a background with mainly Moonglow. These two pigments compliment each other so very nicely!

We are finally ready for the last step which is splattering on the snow. For this I used the Winsor & Newton Designer's Gouache Permanent White paint with varying sizes of brushes as well as an old toothbrush. The toothbrush will produce tiny little speckles of white dots whereas a big brush that holds a lot of water will produce huge droplets. Make sure you cover up the birds' head area with a piece of paper so the birds' head is not covered in white, especially the eyes. If you don't know how to splatter paints, please be on the lookout for a tutorial coming out soon dedicated to the "how and why" of splattering.

There you have it: two blue birds in blizzard.

I hope you enjoyed this tutorial. Please remember to subscribe to the site so you won't miss any future tutorials.

Until next time, happy creating...

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