Painting a woodpecker, (wings of happiness)

Painting a woodpecker, (wings of happiness)

Today in Mid Devon we woke up to  snow , my 10 meter commute to the studio in my garden was a little scary ,



but once safe inside I decided to paint a woodpecker in flight. A woodpecker visits regularly and they are always a joy to watch, there are many paintings ( mine included) of them on trees, this time I wanted to capture one on the move.


So a sketch of the subject , making sure I had the wing right. I want to convey movement but I don't want too much of a blur. 



At this point in any painting you need to plan your moves. I need to retain the white markings on the wings, so I do that carefully with masking fluid. Go through the sequence of events in your mind. This way you know what is going to happen, but always allow for the flexibility of watercolour and those 'happy accidents ' then you can be spontaneous too.

Next I paint the head and the eye and beak carefully, these are the hook the painting needs. When i paint eyes I want them to look real, I like the tension between the detail and the looser work that follows


I can get much looser now, really wetting the paper. I use Bockingford paper, with a rough texture, I find it quite forgiving and I have become very used to it. 

I add a lot of water because I like the way things happen that I can use, but when asked exactly how wet it is, I can't say , experiment and paint things again and again until you get a real feel for it .

I want the bird to 'really' be moving so the body connects to the wings and paint things in one fluid movement. 


The masking fluid helps here as I can paint those wing feathers in one go, not being hindered by the white markings. I use a lot of colours and let my brush dance around, I also flick some clear water onto the page and let the paint spill over the edge.


It is a wonderful process to see the bird emerge, wondering how much I can leave out and still have the painting I can see in my mind's eye. Things go wrong and things go better than expected, adapt as you move through the painting 

Wait until the paint is completely dry to rub off the masking fluid, then I added some shadow to the wings so the white blends in and the wings look real 


I added a hint of sky too, there are no hard and fast rules , just go with the flow ( very apt in watercolour ) and see where it takes you 



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Great insight on how you use masking fluid. Loved your step by step. Woodpecker is beautiful!

John Hughes

Love the blog – fascinating stuff! Thank you. I think you would make a very good teacher, but don’t stop painting! I enjoy seeing your work very much.

Christina Sharp

If a picture paints a thousand words. It’s a wast of a thousand words. it only takes one word and that is Wow.


Lovely and thank you. An interesting read and the painting is beautiful and inspiring.


Thank you so much for sharing your talent, expertise, and amazing unique style of watercolor. I attempt a looser style, but have a lot yet to learn! Your posts help me to see how to proceed! Thank yoy!

Pat Dolan

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