I Painted a Bird

All right, so it’s not a complete bird. I won’t argue with you over that point. It is, however, at least part of a bird, and for a beginning watercolor artist… well, personally, I considered this head of a hairy woodpecker to be a sort of triumph.

Hairy Woodpecker (2)
This bird’s head actually looks like the head of a bird!

I love birds. My husband and I enjoy feeding the birds each day. We spend our evenings sitting outside watching the jays and cardinals and sparrows gather around. As you’ve seen, with the help of one grandson we’ve painted and hung a cheerful little birdhouse in the apple tree, and my husband recently built and hung a larger house in the apricot tree.

Along with the sparrows and wrens, the redbirds, and blue-jays, we’ve also had a woodpecker visiting. We’ve seen him a few times. Even though I have my trusted old copy of Roger Tory Peterson’s Field Guide to Birds of North America, I’m never able to identify birds. They refuse to sit still long enough for me to measure them or take note of their specific markings. Mostly they sit in among the leaves and branches of the tree, making it hard to even see them!

This woodpecker, however, is a bit easier to spot since he sits on the trunk of the tree as he routs for bugs beneath the bark. I’m calling it a Hairy Woodpecker — Leuconotopicus villosus — although I most certainly could be wrong about it. It could be a Downy Woodpecker, a Ladder-Backed Woodpecker, or a Nuthall’s Woodpecker, or maybe one of the other woodpeckers of North America. I’ll try to get a photograph of the bird when he next comes to visit, but until such time, he’ll be known as “Hairy”.

Painting “Hairy” was a challenge for me, but overall I was pleased with the result. If you participated in the 30 x 30 Direct Watercolor Challenge, you may have seen this little painting before. I painted it on the tenth day of the challenge, following a sleepless night of tossing, turning, and fretting over what I could possibly paint in watercolor that might be suitable to post the next day.

The previous day, I’d spent a little time drawing “Hairy” in graphite. I’ve drawn a woodpecker before, so it wasn’t completely intimidating. I think I’ve actually improved a bit with the shape of this bird’s head.

Having successfully sketched “Hairy’s” head, I decided to give it a try in direct watercolor — no underlying pencil sketching allowed. I used a very fine detail brush with a bit of grayish-tinged water to make a basic outline. I started with the beak, then gradually shaped the head.

Then came the moment of truth. Adding color. More specifically, adding watercolor. Again I started with the beak, wetting it slightly and adding in orange, yellow, brown, and eventually even a touch of black. I used a dry brush to suck up excess water when it threatened to overflow, and I breathed a sigh of relief as I moved on to the eye and then to the head.

Overall, I was pleased with Hairy. He may be incomplete, but I like him all the same.

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