'Birds of a Feather' Demo By Scot Howden

I am fascinated with how other artists go about creating their art so I have included this demonstration section with work in progress sample pictures and notes on how I went about painting ‘Birds of a Feather’. 

Custom 'Rembrandt' watercolour palette.

Current favourite materials

 'Saunders Waterford' 200lb High White paper

 Rembrandt Artists’  Watercolours 

 'Horadam Schmincke’  Watercolours

 Daniel Smith Extra Fine Watercolours

 Da Vinci ‘Maestro’ round brushes 

 Winsor & Newton ‘Series 7’ round brushes

 Large flat brush (Hake)

 Faber-Castell Albrecht Durer Watercolor Pencils

 Faber-Castell ‘Polychromos’ Color Pencils

 Derwent Lightfast pencils

 A soft white eraser

 Winsor & Newton Colourless Art Masking Fluid

 Pentel Graphgear 1000 .3 & .5 Mechanical Pencil

Concept drawing for ‘Birds of a Feather’. 

1. For me the design stage is the most important and time consuming stage involved in producing a painting. It lays the foundation for everything that is to come. Due to the often unforgiving nature of working in watercolours I like to have an accurate, detailed drawing before I start painting. I use a 3b mechanical pencil for sketching and typically work through many design and pose variations before I am happy with a composition. I prefer to use the white backs of mount board cut offs for drawing on as this stands up to a lot of erasing and reworking. Once I have settled upon my final design I trace the image lightly onto my watercolor paper. For larger paintings I often do this in stages, drawing only the section that will be worked on at that time. I do this to avoid smudging the pencil lines as my painting hand rests on the paper. Similarly, when I am painting I tend to work from top to bottom and from left to right. By doing this I reduce the risk of smearing already painted sections. 

Atmosphere & Background

2. I wanted ‘Birds of a Feather’ to have a gothic atmosphere. I thought that the best way to establish this would be to start with a cloudy wind-swept background.

For the background paint I prepared separate mixtures of paynes gray, prussian blue, rose madder and a touch of Naples yellow. Before adding the color I carefully applied a clear wash of water over the entire top portion of the sky with a large flat brush. You want the paper to be damp, not saturated. I then applied the color to the damp paper and allowed it to spread (This process of adding wet paint to wet paper is referred to as the wet-in-wet technique). Working wet-in-wet will help to give the background a misty look. Usually when painting clouds in watercolor they are primarily made up of the white of the paper and their shape is determined by the background sky color mixture so defining the clouds really means painting what is around them. In this painting I did the opposite and used a darker mixture to paint the clouds and create a shadowy, twilight effect. I gave a hard edge to some of the clouds and added a dappled effect to the sky by gently lifting some of the wet pigment with a tissue. I try not to overdue using a tissue as I have found that this can give clouds an overly craggy ‘rocky’ look.

Painting Procedure

3. After laying in a background base I prefer to work on small areas at a time starting with the face and working down from the neck, then the chest and so on. The main reason for starting with the head is that I find the face one of the hardest parts to paint so if anything goes drastically wrong I wont have wasted as much time if I need to start again. 

When coloring skin observe the many different colors that make up a complexion. Here my primary skin tones consisted of Naples Yellow, Cadmium Red, Cobalt Blue and Cobalt Turquoise Light (one of my fave colors) but there are dabs of many other shades of blue, green and red that help to give the figure a realistic look.

I create the details of the face by applying multiple layers of paint, allowing the paint to dry between each layer. Take your time and build up layers gradually. You can speed the drying process by using a hairdryer (be gentle as you don’t want to blow the pigment across the paper). I painted the background Raven silhouettes using a darker mixture of the background colors.

The Raven

4. The Raven. You might think of raven feathers as being a solid black color but if you look closely you can observe a glossy petrol-like plumage with blues, greens, and purples. As I suggested earlier it is important to observe and think about these tonal values and to use them in your painting as it is these colors that will help to add life to your art. When painting the feathers try to observe their structure, direction and the way that they overlap to create a shadow on the feather below. I like to think of this as being similar to the roof tile effect. So every time a feather overlaps, darken the one underneath. I started painting the prominent Raven by adding a weak foundation wash. I did this by applying a clean wash of water to the bird outline and then separately adding thin mixtures of prussian blue, rose madder, cobalt turquoise and a little purple. I let these colors mix freely and on the paper. When the loose foundation wash was dry I built up the shape of the Raven in layers. I try not to start with a dark, heavy mixture of paint but instead start light and gradually build up. The more layers that you add the brighter the color will become. For the finer feather details, particularly around the eye and beak, I used an extra sharp size 0 brush. 

To further enhance the gothic feel and the raven aesthetic I gave my figure talon-like finger adornments/armor and colored them purple, prussian blue and gold to match the circlet, clothing and shoulder guards.


5. I wanted my character to show strength and attitude with a dark fey edge and this needed to be reflected in her outfit. As well as being attractive to look at I like to think of clothing as being functional too. I enjoy researching historical armor and clothing design and find this reference material a great help in designing outfits.  Did you know that finger armor/nail guards came from the time of the Qing dynasty and were used to protect long fingernails that were a sign of beauty and power?

The color of her outfit also reflects the overall color scheme of the painting. I added gold highlights as yellow tones go well with purple and also provide warmth to the scene. 

I painted my figure’s wings using mixtures of paynes gray, prussian blue and rose madder. When the paint was dry I added small details and highlights with White and Light Cobalt Turquoise pencils.

Knowing when a piece of artwork is finished can be difficult to decide. It is easy to overdo work with muddying colors and excessive detail that doesn't add to the story being told. When I feel that a painting is complete I like to put it aside and come back to it a couple of days later with ‘fresh eyes’. When I do this It is often surprising how errors become clearly visible.