A wren painting in 5 detailed steps....

A wren painting in 5 detailed steps....

Hi in this blog I am going to attempt to describe this little wren painting , and how I painted it. It is painted on bockingford watercolour paper,which is 21cm x 15cm , the paper is described as rough, which means it has a texture. I usually paint on this paper with Winsor and Newton artist quality paints. That said I do use other paints I have acquired over the years , but I have become used to Winsor and Newton . The colours I reach for, are then the colours I expect.

Step 1

I draw out the wren and very carefully mask out some white markings on the wings and tail feathers.


Step 2

I begin with the eye, I like to get this right. I use yellow ochre and then add browns and reds .Finally I use a dark, sepia and indigo mixed together. It is important to leave a spot of white for the light and a tiny touch or cerulean blue to reflect the sky. I have become quicker at painting eyes as I have painted a lot in my time. But go steady, this part really brings the bird alive , and if it goes terribly wrong I would advise a restart.

I find if I am unhappy with the eye I will never be happy. If you are a beginner practise a few times , study the eyes as much as you can. I have also painted in the legs.


Step 3

Next I paint the beak, again concentrating on the detail. There is yellow in there ,blue and purple. I use series 7 Winsor and Newton brushes. These are expensive but come to a lovely point,so you can really paint the detail. When buying brushes have a good look at them and check they are not damaged . I, like many artists, have lots of brushes and then have a few favourites I use over and over.

If you can avoid buying too much to start with, more stuff doesn't make you a better painter ( I have discovered this for myself) , unfortunately there is no substitute for practise 

I have also started to fill in around the eye, look carefully at the markings and where you need to leave space. I did an under wash of yellow ochre then dropped the brown into it. You need to judge the wetness of the wash and the paint, so it doesn't all merge in together.


Step 4 

As with most of my work, even these little studies I get much looser as I move through the painting.Fill in the underside of the bird, I use a generous amount of water and drop colour in and take colour away . Use a clean wet, then dried brush to wipe away paint in the wrong place.

Then when you are happy , leave it!!! This is the hardest thing to do, go away , have a break, hang the washing out. This gives the painting a chance to settle.



Step 5 

Now for the tweaking, have a good look at your painting and see where it needs more darks, more colour, a shadow? You can define some of the feathers add some splashes and flicks of colour. Be the editor of your work, these are the finishing touches that make the painting pop!


 I like to leave it to dry and rub out any obvious pencil marks and rub off the masking fluid. But make sure it is properly dry and use an eraser it is more gentle than you finger.

Happy painting x


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I tried this today 4 times & my colors just don’t come together like yours. You’re a wonderful artist & thanks for sharing your techniques

Elaine Staten

Hi yes sorry the dark is a mix of sepia and indigo

Rachel Toll

Hi Julia, I interpret what she says is that the dark colour is a mix of sepia and indigo. There is no dark sepia on the market. You will have to mix one. Hope that helps.


Rachel, you say you use dark sepia on the wren, is that a Winsor and newton? I have been looking on various sites and can’t find this colour. How you can help, thank you. Also what size brushes would you use?

Julia ford

Thanks so much for this, it’s really helpful. I use pastels for animals but I’m having a go with watercolours.

Paula Smith

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