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Osprey head study

Step by step work in progress during the making of "On the lookout" (watercolour and ink).​

Pencil sketch and focal point

I start with a detailed sketch, then proceed to build up the colour in the region around the eye, face, nares (nostrils) and beak. These parts have to be perfect first.





Around the ears

The ears are not usually noticeable in birds, or indeed in reptiles, as they consist of plain holes on the side of the head, but in this case the feathers become a bit fluffy around this area, and I wanted to convey that through the use of shadows. 

Base washes

Watercolour painting usually turns out best if you work from light to dark. I use a very light wash of prussian blue on the neck feathers here, just to give them some depth, before starting to lay feather details with sepia. 








Starting the breast feathers

The upper breast/neck feathers are very precisely aligned and coloured, and I try to convey that impression through the use of detailed delineations with sepia and burnt umber, using a size 20/0 sable brush. I find that the bristle type is more important for watercolour painting than any other medium because the amount of water held in the bristles needs to be precisely controlled, and the amount of spring of the bristles also. I find that the tips of synthetic bristles tend to bend easily with use (and stay that way). 











Adding the remaining detail

Here I continue to add feather detail to the sleek dark feathers of the lower neck, upper breast. 











General tone changes

Adding detail can be a bit of a misleading process, because you can get too caught up on the shape and placement of individual tiny brushstrokes, and fail to see the overall picture (or the forest for the trees). In this case, despite the detailed strokes, I needed to add several further washes in order to tie the feathers together, and into a tonal shape on the front of the bird.











Base wing washes

In this case, the feathers on the wings are so dark in comparison with the rest of the bird, that I start by delineating the individual feathers with basic washes. 













Second wing

I do these tonal gradations on the second wing as well, trying to show form as I go, but being careful not to lose the feather outlines. 











Adding depth to the wing

Here I've not only added some very dark washes over the areas of wing in deepest shadow, but I've also added fine brushstrokes to give a semblance of feather barbs. 



Pale breast feathers

At this point I needed some comparison between the darks of the wings and the whites of the breast, so I started adding both washes and fluffy feather details into the breast feathers. 











Final image

I finish with darker washes and details on the second wing.