90 min

What you need:

Goldfaber Aqua watercolour pencil

Introduction & Step 1

Using photographs in place of live models has some advantages too. You don’t have to worry about inclement weather or shifting light, and you can be sure that your subject won’t change position as you work. Once you find a subject that inspires you, take snapshots of it from different angles and viewpoints to make sure you have a comprehensive range of reference photos. Then, when you return to your studio, you can compare the various shots to find the most inspiring one to draw from. Here Debra K. Yaun uses a photo reference to render a colourful tropical bird as it preens. When an artist alters the reference photo to create a more pleasing scene, it’s called “taking artistic license.” In this case, Debra K. Yaun decided to add some leaves behind and below the bird to help the composition and to add interest. She also decided to adjust the branch the bird is perched on, and open up the eye a little more.

First use a graphite pencil to draw the bird on watercolour paper. Then apply ultramarine blue to most of the head, the dark feathers on the body, and the shadows in the leaves. Also use helio blue to indicate the shadowed edge, as well as the knots and rough areas of the branch. Next apply permanent carmine red to the outer eye, part of the beak, and a few feathers.

Step 2 & Step 3

Now add dark cadmium yellow to the tip of the beak, and then use cadmium yellow on the wing, the body, and the head, as shown. Next add permanent green to the neck, the lower part of the tail, and the feathers near the feet, and apply permanent green olive over the rest of the body. For the fluffy feathers under the tail, use burnt ochre. Also add a layer of permanent green olive to the leaves, going over the areas that already have helio blue, referring to the photo for accuracy.

Using a small brush, apply water over the feathers in colour sections, washing out the brush between colours. Be careful to leave the white reflections in the eye and beak by painting around them. Also add water over the leaves and shadows on the branches. Once the paper dries, layer Van Dyck brown over the entire branch. Occasionally turn your drawing and photograph upside down and compare the two side by side. This makes any inconsistencies between the two much more apparent. It’s better to compare with the reference photo more frequently at the beginning stages of the project, when it’s easier to correct any mistakes you might have made.

Step 4 & Step 5

Use a medium round brush to stroke water across the branch to blend the colours. Next add details to the feet and eye with helio blue and use orange on the chest and the feet. I apply helio blue and permanent green to the leaves and blend the colours with water. Then use Bluish turquoise to brighten the feathers in the light areas of the head and apply helio blue to darken the shadows; then blend the colours with water. While the colour is still damp, add a few more white highlights to the head. Also place some dark details on the bird’s feathers with helio blue and apply a little white over the red wing feathers. Then use permanent green olive, permanent green and burnt ochre to add details to the bird’s neck and chest.

Next apply layers of permanent green, permanent carmine, and permanent green olive over the centre lines in the tail feathers. With a dull point on your helio blue pencil, lightly shade in the background. Also add permanent carmine, permanent green, and permanent green olive to the feathers on the bird’s back. Then erase any remaining pencil lines before you finish the drawing.

Step 6

Now brush water over the background to blend the colours smoothly. Once the paper is dry, apply helio blue to a few areas that need a smoother transition from light to dark. Also use blue violet to add some more detail to the feathers, and build up a little more colour in the feathers with permanent green and deep cobalt green. Finally redefine a few lost edges on the feathers by scraping off the colour with a utility knife, being careful not to tear the paper as you reveal the underlying white paper.

More ideas

Focusing on flowers
If you’re looking for a good subject to start with in watercolour pencil, flowers are an excellent choice.
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Drawing a seascape
For many reasons seascapes are popular subjects for artists. They are also ideal for beginners.
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Creating the Appearance of Texture
One of the best ways to practice drawing different textures is to set up a still life.
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Conveying depth in landscape motif
Nature offers a wide range of intriguing and colourful scenes that almost beg to be captured on paper.
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Excerpt from "Watercolor Pencil Step by Step", published by Walter Foster Publishing, a division of Quarto Publishing Group USA Inc. All rights reserved. Walter Foster is a registered trademark. Artwork © Debra K.Yaun. Visit