Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Tutorial: Super Easy Watercolor Birds

Hello! (Carla Sonheim here!)

This little tutorial will hopefully dispel some myths about watercolor being "impossible." Yes, it does have kind of mind of its own sometimes, but that's part of the fun (and is usually completely "fixable," as you will see)!

These birds are super easy. Follow the steps below, but remember your birds will (and should) come out differently than mine! The way you lay down the paint, the colors you choose, the shape of your bird, and your unique "hand" when adding pencil detailing will all contribute to a bird that is uniquely yours. And that is a good thing!


1. Gather your supplies. You will need a pencil, a set of watercolors (cake or tube is fine), some watercolor paper (I like using a "hot press," which is smoother), a rag or paper towel for blotting paint, a container with water, and a watercolor brush (I use a #12 round).


2. Using lots of water, mix up a little pool of the color of your choice. Test the paint on a scrap piece of paper. The pigment should be watered down and the color should be quite light. (This will feel strange to Bright-Color People, but don't worry! It won't stay this pale.)


3. Load your paint brush. Blot a little of the excess water on to your rag or paper towel. Your brush will still be quite wet; this just takes the drippiness out.


4. Start painting a bird. I usually do not draw in pencil first, as I like to see how the bird unfolds using paint only. (But you are allowed to draw it in lightly first if you must!) Work fairly quickly; you want the paint to remain wet as you move it into the shape of your bird. If desired, leave a space unpainted for the eye, as shown here:

In the case of my first bird, I the paint was a little too wet... I wanted it to dry a bit more before I added the next step, so I used this time to paint in a second bird.


5. While the paint is still wet, go back to your watercolor palette and grab some darker pigment with your paintbrush (not watered-down this time). Dip the heavier pigment into the wet paint here and there (I like to go around the eyes and on the bottom edge of the bird). Just dab it; the watercolor will begin to spread out on its own. Repeat with the second bird:


6. Let dry completely. (Very important!) You can see here that the green spread out quite a bit when it dried. This wasn't exactly what I intended (oops), and occurred because my original layer of paint was "too wet." No worries, though! We can fix it on the second layer.


7. Now you are basically going to repeat steps 2-6, but with different colors. In this case I used a very light orange-red for my second transparent layer (steps 2-4)...

... and a darker blue for my more pigmented drop-ins (step 5).

Repeating now for the second bird.


8. Once the second layer of paint is COMPLETELY dry (very important!) you can add details with pencil. I usually add the eyes, some shading around the eyes perhaps, and some shading on the wings and bottom of the bird.

Keep your hand loose; if the pencil lines seem too harsh, use your finger to soften the effect:


10. Finished! Here's a detail:

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This tutorial is part of Make It Easy, an 11-day tutorial blog-hop journey! But I thought I"d post it here as well. I can't wait to see your birds! Leave a link in the comments if you end up trying this.



  1. I LOVE your birds! You make it look so easy :) Must give it a try!

  2. I have to wait until I get home from work to try this...darn! I'm excited...I'm also excited because I just realized I just bought YOUR book the other day...Drawing Lab"....can't wait to get started on the first lesson...I think I have a date with my bed and your book Sat. morning!;)

  3. You do make it look easy! Great birds and your book is great, too.

  4. Hi Carla,
    Love your little birds. I will be one of those having to draw a few light lines first to get the shape down. Love how you just do it so spontaneously. Thank you for sharing with us.

  5. I am in love with these little birds! So sweet, I had to try them right away. Thank you!


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