Simple Watercolour Tutorial – Feathers


If you follow me on Instagram, you might have seen me share photos of old paintings I did in my stories last week. I’m moving to a new apartment in about a month time, and so that’s given me the opportunity to do one of my favourite activities — spring cleaning! I actually really like sorting through my things and going through old items, I never know what I’ll find. Sometimes I’ll find gems I forgot I had, other times I find well… trash lol! Anyway… when I was sorting out my things last week, I was pleasantly surprised by old paintings I did about 3-4 years ago that I had forgotten about. Some where really terrible, which made me reflect on how much I’ve learned and progressed in the past few years just by consistently showing up and trying out new styles of painting. Some, however, sparked inspiration in me and made me want to recreate it, such as this painting below of butterflies and feathers. It’s such a fun exercise to do where you get to play around with different colour combinations and watch what watercolour does best — flow! Here, I will take you on a step by step journey on how to paint feathers using watercolour.

Fun paintings of butterflies and feathers from 3-4 years ago.

Here’s a list of the materials I used for this painting, but please feel free to use whatever you have at home, including the colour combinations you love 🙂

Paper: 100% cotton, cold pressed Winsor&Newton watercolour paper.

Brushes: Princeton heritage, sizes 8, 6, and 4

Pencil for sketching: Faber-Castell Graphite Aquarelle

Colours: Sephia brown reddish (Schmincke), olive green yellowish (Schmincke), indigo (Schmincke), and rose madder (Schmincke).

Step 1: Rough Sketch

So, I normally do a rough sketch of the item I’m about to paint, I feel it’s easier this way as I get a feel of the proportion better. If you prefer not to do a sketch first, it’s perfectly fine. So, here I used this water-soluble pencil from Faber-Castel for my rough sketch. I sketched out two different shapes of feathers and will be using two different colour combinations on the two feathers.

Step 1: Sketching out the feathers

Step 2: Add water

Since this is a loose watercolour style, I used the wet on wet technique. So, I added quite a lot of water here. You can see that since I used water-soluble pencil, the pencil marks started to dissolve as I added water. This pencil is great if you don’t want residual pencil marks at the end. Once you add paint, the pencil marks will completely disappear.

Step 2: Adding water to the first feather

Step 3: Add first layer of colour

This is where the fun starts. Make sure you paint is wet, this is to ensure it flows when you add it to your already wet paper. For the first feather I’m using sephia brown reddish and I’m adding the paint randomly all over the feather leaving some parts in the middle empty.

Step 3: Adding the first colour.

Step 4: Add second layer of colour

Honestly, you can add more than one colour or even stick with only one and just play around with different values on the same colour. Here I used two colours that I think really compliment each other. This second colour I used is olive green yellowish. Make sure that your paper is still wet at this point. There’s not much technicality to how I’m adding this second colour haha, I’m basically just adding it randomly on to different parts of the feathers so that I get a nice mix of the two colours. Then I add a solid line through the spine of the feather.

Step 4: Adding the second colour while the paper is still wet — this is important!

So, I followed the same steps with the second feather. The only difference was that I was more intentional on how I added the colours. Meaning that for the first colour, I purposely added more emphasis on the outer part of the feather and focused the second layer on the inner part of the feather. I used indigo for the first colour and rose madder for the second, when mixed these two colours create a really nice purple shade that I really love. This is how it went:

Step 5: Finishing touches

So, you can stop at step 4, or add some finishing touches. For the second feather I left it as is to dry. However, for the first feather I added a few dry brush strokes just to give it more texture. So, I waited till the painting was completely dry, then using the dry brush techniques I brushed a few strokes of sephia brown reddish to resemble the strands of hair on a feather.

Step 5: Finishing touches, adding dry brush strokes to resemble the strands of hair on a feather.

And there you have it! This is a quick and fun way to practice your watercolour skills! Watercolour is cool because you never really know how it’s going to turn out, and different colour flows differently. So, have fun and let the colour flow!


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