View Full Version : The Spotlight - May 2016 - Birds

04-30-2016, 08:34 PM
Welcome artists!

Here is a quick recap of what The Spotlight is all about!

The Spotlight is an activity thread for pastel artists of all experience levels working from photos chosen by a monthly host. Most months, the host will choose photos from only one subject, putting that subject into “the spotlight,” so to speak! For example, one month the subject will be painting water, another month will spotlight flowers, etc.

Some months, rather than spotlight a subject, the focus will be on a challenge of some sort. In those cases, we might have a wider variety of photo references, but “the spotlight” will be on the challenge itself.

Since this is a group activity, we can pool our knowledge and resources, and grow as artists in a fun, “no-pressure” atmosphere.

And, remember, no critiques unless specifically asked for.

The intent is to have fun, try new things, experiment, and perhaps most of all, to see what our friends and colleagues are painting from the same reference material!

Please note: The photos this month were taken by me or are from the Reference Image Library. You have permission to use the photos as reference to create your artwork and to sell them and/or exhibit them. The actual photos still retain the copyright of the photographer. So you cannot copy the photo to your blog, for example, without the permission of the photographer, or digitally alter or reproduce the photo for any purpose other than for your personal use, with the exception of crops, digital alterations and posts of these photos within "The Spotlight" thread.

This month’s Spotlight is on…Birds!

As spring has arrived here in the Northeast, one hears the song of many songbirds! Although I am a photography enthusiast, one subject that I rarely take pictures of is birds. I manage a few photos here and there, but there are many folks who really put a lot of time and effort into their pursuit! And I really admire their perseverance, for over the past two weeks, I have been in pursuit of the lovely cardinal!

There are actually a couple cardinals in my neighborhood that have been gracing the morning air with their songs! A couple weeks ago as I walked my puppy dog in the early morning hours, I saw a cardinal that was brightly lit by the first rays of the sun. For the 5 or 10 minutes that I walked my dog, the cardinal sat on the same branch and was not bothered as we walked by. As we returned home, I thought I should try and get a photo. The sun was beautifully lighting the bird, the trees were still without leaves; it would be a beautiful shot! Grabbing my camera, I quickly walked out to the same spot and luckily the cardinal was still there! And as I raised the camera, and focused…the cardinal flew away!

The next day, another sunny day, same cardinal, got my camera…flew away!

Now I was more determined than ever! But unfortunately, not every day was sunny. Some days the cardinal was in a different tree, too far away. Other days, another different tree and I was facing into the sun. But, wait, there was a second cardinal at the other end of my townhouse complex! He, too, was out there almost every morning. Since his favorite spot was farther away, I took my camera with me on my early morning dog walk. A couple days ago, I had this cardinal in my viewfinder and snapped a picture…just as he began to fly away. A little blurry but not too bad! But, still, I knew I could get a better pic! And then, finally, this morning (as I write this) I got him in my sights again…and was able to get a number of photos! And as I looked at the photos on my computer, I thought, why not do a Spotlight on…Birds!

There are, of course, a wide variety of birds. But I thought that I should choose really colorful birds. Along with flowers, birds offer the artist one of the rare chances to use pure, bold, color!

Using, bold strong color can have its own challenges. Often, our brains see that strong color, let’s say red, and we see strong, pure red from one end of the bird to the other. For whatever reason, it is easy to lose sight of the areas of color in shadow when we see strong color – or that’s the way it seems to me.

Another challenge in painting strong intense color comes when the color is also light in value. Often when painting, in order to get light values, we add white when color mixing. With pastels, of course, the white pigment is already mixed in. So, our light values are often rather pale and not very intense. Good advice that I have read in numerous places, is when painting intense color, if you can’t get the value as light as it is in your reference, then sacrifice the correct value in order to get the correct intensity! So don’t be afraid to go a bit darker if that’s what you need to do to get the intensity of color that you want!

Another comment regarding color. Often color in the most direct sunlight can be paler – as if the sunlight washes out some of the color. This can often be exaggerated by the camera, as it might be over-exposing the lightest areas, making them whiter than they actually are. So beware of that inability of cameras to capture the right exposure throughout the entire photo. They also, as I think most folks are aware of, turn dark colors or dark grays into black due to this same inability to capture the correct exposure all the way from the darkest to lightest areas of a photo.

One last comment on color intensity. The most intense color is often just at the point in the light area where light turns to shadow.

Here are a couple birds with nice bright colors!

Photo by smudged-blue

This bird has lots of lovely, bright, intense red-orange! But at the very left edge, where the sunlight is the strongest, the color is paler. As we move from left to right, we then have strong intense color in the light. The third color swatch is in shadow and we see a noticeable color change. The deeper shadow is an even deeper red/brown. So we can see how the color changes from light to shadow!

Another example, photo by WthrLady:

Here we see a similar progression of yellow as we move from light to shadow.

None of the comments I made regarding color should be looked at as hard and fast rules. Just keep them in mind as you make your observations!

Here a couple links that have many nice paintings of birds (along with other subjects) for inspiration!

Elizabeth Blaylock:


Many artists:


Even if you have never painted birds, remember, all subjects are painted by painting shapes! And as we saw in our simplifying Spotlights, you don’t need to worry about adding too much detail either! So, if this is a new subject for you – just paint birds as you would paint anything else!

Here are our references, taken (with one exception) by some very talented photographers who have contributed them to our Reference Image Library! Thanks to all!

We'll start with our two example photos:'

Photo by smudged-blue

Photo by WthrLady:

Photo by Dave Slaughter

Photo by Mustang202

Photo by ArtsyMom

Photo by Dewi

And finally, my elusive cardinal!


As always, feel free to modify the references. And have fun painting these wonderfully colorful birds!


05-01-2016, 12:51 PM
Oh Don... what a colorful way to bring me back to painting after the months long hiatus!

Thank you! :)

05-01-2016, 07:09 PM
Oh good, glad to hear you're going to be painting again, Nick!

Thanks for the great references, Don. I'm not supper crazy about the result of my attempt here, but I figured I'd get the ball rolling.


05-02-2016, 08:24 AM
Nick, Looking forward to seeing your paintings!

Kim, Thanks for starting us off! Very nicely done!


05-04-2016, 12:41 AM
Don, wonderful theme! I love birds, but haven't been able to get good photos of them. Not even really good ones of the chickens and ducks, though the creepy Muscovy ducks are like Tim Burton created the breed. But if I manage anything from life I might post that anyway, there are several cardinal couples here along with thrushes, blue jays, bluebirds, sparrows, mockingbirds, finches and I've even seen a hummingbird. Thought it was a large bee at first glance!

Nick, I can't wait to see what you do with this! You are the birds master, you capture such lively character and accuracy that I'm awed.

Kim, good painting of the blue bird. I love the texture of the bird itself. The bird is great. It's very impressionist. Play with the background if you want but please don't mess with the bird!

05-04-2016, 07:16 AM
Good topic Don.
Kim, your bird is very sweet. Very sensitive. I'm fascinated with the gold background. Nice!

05-04-2016, 12:36 PM
Kim, he is glowing! I really like the effect and have no idea how you created it :)

Rob...uh, I don't think so, but I admit I am already sick of being afraid to paint. And Don posted so lovely pictures that I am eager to start. My weekends are going to be colorful again! :)

05-04-2016, 06:39 PM
Great job on the bluebird, Kim! He is shimmering! Nice soft look.

Things happen for a reason. I have been taking photos of local birds and decided to try painting them. I can't remember ever painting a bird in any medium, but thought I needed a change from landscapes. I then stumble upon The Spotlight for this month. Don, you are a mind reader! You picked some awesome references and I had to take a stab at at least one of them.

I think this will make the third pastel piece I have done in the past year and a half. My sticks are packed away in two Dakota boxes, so all I had on hand were Pans, pastel pencils and some Conte sticks. It was done on 8 x 10 dark grey Pastelmat.

Thanks for looking!



05-05-2016, 07:13 AM
Very nice, Doug! Unpack those sticks!

Thanks for the kind comments everyone. Robert, I'm afraid I did rework bith the background and the bird ... Not really for the better either :)

05-05-2016, 11:40 AM
Nice Doug! Funny, I did the same ref with pans and pastel pencils too. Mine is on the smooth size of MT. Tried to keep him loose.
Don..I really tried to keep the dogwood from fighting with him. Are they ok?
All C and C greatly appreciated!

05-05-2016, 12:30 PM
Oh wow. Two more beautiful variations on the blue bird. Doug, yours is gorgeous and has lovely detail and accuracy, nice textures especially on downy belly feathers. Background has a nice gradient that fits the direction of the light. Jay, yours is great too and looks quite different, a cool interpretation. I love the dogwood flowers you inserted to make him stand out!

I might have a go at this one if I get a good day, not sure yet which bird I'll go for. Have some ideas.

05-05-2016, 01:03 PM
Oh Jay! The only thing it misses is a "buy it now" button...
Absolutely perfect.

05-05-2016, 01:46 PM
Robert, thanks. Hope you feel well enough to do one.

Nick! You are just too funny. I've missed you. Thank you. Come paint!

05-05-2016, 02:05 PM
jay, that's absolutely lovely! The dogwood is a really nice addition and are so well done!

05-05-2016, 02:38 PM
Thanks Kim. A friend sent me some photos of her wild dogwood. I'm not sure if mountain bluebirds find wild dogwood but there is always a first.

05-05-2016, 03:06 PM
LOL Jay,

I have tried to get the values right first, now I "just" need to make him colorful :clear: :lol:


water girl
05-05-2016, 04:36 PM
Kim, Doug and Jay, nice work and we're only 5 days into the month.
Nick, black and white works as well as color. This is beautifully done.

05-05-2016, 06:14 PM
I love him in black and white! So sophisticated!!! You should considered keeping him!

05-05-2016, 06:35 PM
Wow, Nick, that's gorgeous!

05-06-2016, 08:11 AM
Nick, I've been thinking about your drawing. It must be so difficult to work in pastel over that precise and perfectly done work. How do you do that? This is one of the things that perplexes me about pastel.

05-06-2016, 08:14 AM
Doug, I wish I was a mind reader, but alas, it must just be coincidence that this month's Spotlight is on birds! Very nice job on this!

Jay, Another lovely blue bird! The dogwood fit in very nicely!


05-06-2016, 08:15 AM
Nick, Beautiful black and white version! Excellent drawing! I would keep this one and do another one in color!


05-06-2016, 11:47 AM
*sigh* God, I am so very sorry. It was unintentional, but unfortunately I misled you :( I thought it was obvious that it was just a pencil, not pastels. I struggle with the right value so I thought this could be a good reference.
Thank for your kind words, if you think that something like this can be painted with pastels, I'll try.

water girl
05-06-2016, 12:25 PM
Nick, do it again, but with black, gray and white pastel pencils. Snap! I know you can do it!

05-06-2016, 12:43 PM
Thank you Karen, that's nice of you.
What color of the paper would you suggest?

One day, I would like to learn how to use just black/brown and white and use the color of the paper as the middle value. Those paintings, or maybe better call them sketches, are enchanting.

05-06-2016, 01:27 PM
Karen, maybe show him your daffodils.

water girl
05-06-2016, 02:02 PM
Thank you, Jay, I forgot I did that in both color and black and white WIPs! Nick, here is a WIP from a while ago black and white WIP (http://www.wetcanvas.com/forums/showthread.php?t=1097872) I'd go with either a medium gray paper, or medium blue gray. I also posted the same still life in color for Charles's birthday. color WIP (http://www.wetcanvas.com/forums/showthread.php?t=1288702) I hope this helps.

05-07-2016, 04:10 AM
First of all, Jay, thank you for the tips and Karen, thank you for pushing me into doing it now and not "someday". Sure, it looks very different from what it looked like in my mind (doesn't it always? LOL) but it has been a great learning experience!

Your daffodils are...magical, for lack of better words. Paintings like those, especially when posted as WIPs are something that keeps me focused even in the times when my frustration reaches the sky. Because if anything at all is certain it's the fact that giving up will not get me there.

Any tip is very welcomed! I still have doubts about certain areas. I am posting it large, so that all the flaws are visible :lol: I realized that my paper supplies were quite limited, so it's dark brown Daler Rowney pastel paper smooth side. The size is the same as the drawing, the bird is 4.8" high.

Thank you! :)



05-07-2016, 07:17 AM
Nick, you're fast! Are you going for a finished pastel in black and white? He looks good. What areas are you unsure of?

One thing I just loved about the drawing was the expression in his eye. Somehow sultry. He looks at us as if he is so much better than we are. I loved that look. Just a little adjustment here?

You have so much patience. Good work!

05-07-2016, 07:18 AM
Hello everyone!!!!

Thank you Don for your precious patience in hosting this thread. What lovely
birds!! I love birds, but have only painted 2 in total I guess.

So this will be a very nice way to get me started again. I am now painting a cat
for someone but I will make room for painting birds.

There are very nice paintings already in this forum!!

I have never tried Daler Rowney pastel paper but it looks good with the parrot.

It sounds like Robert is surrounded by very nice animals including birds!!!
Some of the names I have never heard of. I have never seen a hummingbird
in real life.

Happy painting!!!

05-07-2016, 09:39 AM
Nick, Absolutely lovely! I used to do many drawings on a mid-value paper. I don't know if you have ever used Conte crayons (not pastels) but they come in various shades of browns and white and work very well on a mid-tone brown paper. They are not as dusty as pastels or charcoal.


05-07-2016, 10:05 AM
I am in on this, just need to figure out what Bird I want to do. Being that I live in the middle of the desert we have some different birds and I am at the moment trying to get a picture of our Road Runner that visits our mobile park daily. We also have many desert quail that I am taking pictures of as well.
I will be back with a painting of at least one of these.

05-07-2016, 11:33 AM
Jay, sultry, huh? :D Every time I draw with a pastel pencil, I feel like I am trying to draw with my elbow... I never get the point sharp enough. :( So, painting something tiny like his eye is a challenge. But I have just found out that I have another "extra charcoal" pencil, it's number 4 (I have no idea what that means :D I was painting with the number 2, but I will try)

Are you going for a finished pastel in black and white?
Hmm, I bet it is more like a sketch, isn't it? More layers to add?

Don, thank you :) I have never tried conte crayons. Some time ago, I bought a "red chalk" from this box
http://www.dickblick.com/products/koh-i-noor-gioconda-soft-pastel-pencils/ The shop were selling just red, white and charcoal, so I thought they would be good for drawings like this one from Shireesh:

But I haven't tried it yet. I have also "Gioconda Professional Artist Negro Pencil by Koh-I-Noor". I am not quite sure what that is exactly, it seems to be somewhere between a charcoal and a graphite pencil.
I will look up conte crayons. Thank you.

05-07-2016, 11:37 AM
I couldn't resist :)


Any comments are very welcomed :) It's on a half-sheet of black Colorfix, Unisons and Senneliers

05-07-2016, 12:00 PM
Arizona Quail
9x12inch Mi-Teintes Paper
Soft Pastels don't know their name.
My photo.


05-07-2016, 12:04 PM
Thank you Don once again for a great Spotlight

Nick - I love the drawing, sketch or painting of the Parrot. How ever you finish it I know it is going to be beautiful. Blue Bird is good too.

Doug - Very nice job.

Kim - Love your bird...

Jay - Good job..

05-07-2016, 12:48 PM
Hi AnnaLisa. Come join us!!

Karen, I'm so happy you posted those links. I'm speachless! (That takes a lot!!!). Take a bow.

05-07-2016, 12:59 PM
Nick, the b and w...it's beautiful. Just as is. Re the eye..I agree. Fine and pastel don't go together easily in my book. I once saw an artist take a bit of pastel on the tip of a very sharp knife and apply it to his design. Or use a color shaper? Learning learning learning is the name of the game for me. AND YOUR BLUEBIRD...OMG. YOU SHOULD GIVE LESSONS.

Shari. Your quail is lovely. Must be hard to get a photo of them. I love his little face. He has personality.

05-07-2016, 01:48 PM
Jay, thank you and yes they are quick but we had a covey of them, males and females out back and this guy was calling them all so I snapped it hehehehe...now to see about the Road Runner heheheeheh


05-08-2016, 04:04 AM
Thanks Don for the wonderful spotlight theme. I also very much like the all the paintings so far by Kim, Doug, Jay, Nick, Shari.

Here's my attempt with crayons. Comments and criticisms welcome.



05-08-2016, 07:13 AM
What a beautiful bird! Good job.

05-08-2016, 07:21 AM
Nick, the bluebird is perfect! I love the color and you also did a great job witH the texture on the rusty stoop.

srineet, beautiful. Very well drawn and so vibrant!

Shari, lovely quail! I love the gesture you gave him

05-08-2016, 08:45 AM
Thank you all for your nice words!
I have been trying to draw a close up of the macaw, but it seems it will take me a while. The bigger the painting the harder it is to keep the measurement right :D But the details will hopefully be easier to paint, so I want to give it a try.

Shari, I like the runner :) I also like the subtle background.

Shrineet, I like how he is watching us :D

05-08-2016, 09:44 AM
Jay, sultry, huh? :D Every time I draw with a pastel pencil, I feel like I am trying to draw with my elbow... I never get the point sharp enough. :( So, painting something tiny like his eye is a challenge.

I would definitely consider painting or drawing larger. I probably would have painted that parrot somewhere around 12 inches tall if using pencils and maybe 18 inches tall if using any kind of "broader" media such as charcoal, pastel or conte. I would consider it much easier, but that may be just me!


05-08-2016, 09:47 AM
Nick, Nicely done blue bird! The bird, post and background, all well handled!

Shari, Nice job on your Arizona Quail! I like the way you have softened the background elements!

Srineet, Very colorful and bold! Nice!


05-08-2016, 10:19 AM
I would definitely consider painting or drawing larger. I probably would have painted that parrot somewhere around 12 inches tall if using pencils and maybe 18 inches tall if using any kind of "broader" media such as charcoal, pastel or conte. I would consider it much easier, but that may be just me!


12-18 inches! I have only letter size papers :angel: Anything bigger would be a challenge to handle and to store after the painting is finished.
Hmm that's probably why people use easels :cat:
I will think about it, Don.

Thank you for your kind words.

05-08-2016, 08:46 PM
I just mention 12-18 inches as something I might do - no reason for you to do so! It depends on the subject and the media. I don't use pastel pencils, so my thinnest lines with pastels aren't very thin! So I paint larger! Letter size paper should work fine!


05-14-2016, 07:12 AM
It's so quiet here...

Do you ever feel when you are starting a new painting that you forgot almost everything? :D
I am trying a close-up of the macaw and half of the time I feel like I don't know what I am doing. Those first stages are so frustrating! :) It doesn't help that I am using the only pastelmat sheet I have ever had. I kept saving it for more than a year.

Are you working on something? :)

05-14-2016, 01:35 PM
Nick, I feel that way often. I've only learned by watching videos. Just believe in your skill. Go cautiously, lightly and you'll get started. The momentum will grow and you'll be fine. It's only a piece of paper. Hugs

05-14-2016, 04:05 PM
Not sure, Nick, if you saw the Spotlights on simplifying. One way to simplify and possibly reduce the frustration of the early stages is to block-in areas of flat color. Not much thinking involved - just trying to create the shapes that you see in the reference and using one color to put in each color shape.

Odd as it may sound, I try not to think and paint at the same time! I try and let my subconscious take over. Thinking is done before (deciding on the composition, how large, what orientation, etc.) and then at the end when you need to decide on where you might want to harden and soften edges, add darker accents and highlights and any other refinements. Not saying other folks do the same, but my subconscious knows what it is doing better than my conscious mind! So I try and learn stuff in-between painting and hope it sticks in my subconscious for when I am actually working!


05-14-2016, 07:02 PM
Oh good, glad to hear you're going to be painting again, Nick!

Thanks for the great references, Don. I'm not supper crazy about the result of my attempt here, but I figured I'd get the ball rolling.

I think it's beautiful!!

05-15-2016, 01:33 PM
Hi everyone, I'm so glad I checked in on this month's Spotlight. All those birds are making me smile :-)

Kim, you got some incredible luminous blues on your guy! :thumbsup:
Doug, same with yours. No pastel-ing for 1 1/2 yrs? Well, I hope you're going to be good and dusty now.
Jay, I love your bird and the dogwood. They aren't fighting at all. My eye goes right to his eye, around the flowers and back to the bird. Well done!
Nick, fantastic rendering of the parrot (macaw?). Someone here once likened painting details with pastels felt like you're trying to draw with a bar of soap (something like that). Really SHARP Exacto blades are key to fine points, and changing the blades constantly. It's a lot of work tho...I could probably transition to brain surgery, I've spent so much time "honing" the art of carving with Exacto knives.
Karen Howard, just "Snap?" Easy for you to say, girl! :lol:
Hi Shari, I lived in Arizona, on the border of Scottsdale and Tempe; love that part of the country (but not the heat). I never got to see roadrunners, that would be so cool! But I love what you did with the quail. What wonderful markings they have!
Srineet, nice job with the parrot (macaw?). Beautiful, saturated color, and that look! He seems to be saying, "yeah, I'm a good looking guy!"
As usual, wonderful lesson Don. I have zero time these days, but I did save the bird photos just in case....

05-15-2016, 03:49 PM
Oh, I am glad I am not alone :)

Don, thank you for the tip! I am definitely going to look up the previous Spotlights. I need to simplify colors too :D I am using to many reds and none of them satisfies me. Long journey ahead... I am afraid my subconscious needs more learning ;) It feels great to let go, but I am often not happy with the results :)
Chuas2, my heart would break if I start to cut my precious pastels with a knife :) You are right though. I can't have my cake and eat it too... Thank you!

05-16-2016, 08:47 AM
Thank you for the kind words, Chuas and Crucibelle

Oh boy, Nick, you are definitely not alone. I feel that way very frequently. Maybe it's more common than I thought.

As far as that one piece of pastelmat... I once read advice from someone who said one should never buy only one of any kind of paper or support for exactly that reason. The feeling of needing to conserve materials can be a great inhibitor to creativity. There is no creativity and growth without the ability to make mistakes.

As a side note... I'm drawn to your profile pic, which fits this month's theme, but it's so small I can't make it out well. What kind of bird is it?

05-16-2016, 12:36 PM
Kedwards, and I hoped those feelings would fade after becoming more experienced... Hmm... :D

The pastelmat - it was a very generous gift from Dorothea, samples of sanded papers, so that I could decide what to order from abroad. But you are right. I once thought that buying 10 sketchbooks would be good to overcome my "I can't use it because I would spoil it" attitude lol. In the end, I decided to use really cheap sketchbooks so that I would be comfortable to use them :rolleyes:

The bird is a Silver Breasted Broadbill. I had to look up its name again, we don't have them around here.

Sanfix paper was so great btw.

05-16-2016, 01:11 PM
maybe it fades with experience, with the accumulation of successes and failures that enable us to put any individual result in to broader perspective. On the other hand, there is something freeing about being a beginner for me, when I have no expectation. I find a fear of failure can intensify a little when I start acquiring skill and expecting more of myself. Sometimes I'll change things up just enough to give myself that "beginner mind" again, for example, I'll try a new style, method, technique...

05-16-2016, 01:35 PM
maybe it fades with experience, with the accumulation of successes and failures that enable us to put any individual result in to broader perspective. On the other hand, there is something freeing about being a beginner for me, when I have no expectation. I find a fear of failure can intensify a little when I start acquiring skill and expecting more of myself. Sometimes I'll change things up just enough to give myself that "beginner mind" again, for example, I'll try a new style, method, technique...

Well said. 2014 was a happy year because I didn't know anything about painting.
I took almost a year long break after the happiness disappeared. And now thanks to Don's Spotlight, I am trying to get back into the comfort zone :)

05-16-2016, 04:14 PM
Comfort is a good word, Nick. Not perfection zone. Just comfort.

Chuas2, thank you for the kind words.

05-16-2016, 10:14 PM
Well said. 2014 was a happy year because I didn't know anything about painting.:)

Well, there is an old popular quote attributed to Edgar Degas:

Painting is easy when you don't know how, but very difficult when you do.

So, yes, the more you know, the harder it gets!

Perhaps on odd thing to say as the host of the Spotlight for now a number of years, but I think there is WAY too much information about painting out there. While there are some topics where there is good information to know, most (yes, MOST) of the information in books, videos, etc. is stifling to creativity and can be ignored, in my opinion. Those that have known me for a while here on WC may know me as the person who detests rules. I see so many rules that are - for the most part - baloney. All they do is hinder beginners. "Don't put the horizon in the center, don't center anything, don't have equal spacing, don't, have too many hard edges, don't have too many soft edges, etc., etc.

It's how you sell books. "10 secrets to great painting", "5 rules of composition", and so on. The real books about painting would be, "here a few guidelines - sometimes they are useful, other times you may not need them." I wouldn't sell too many books with that title!

That's why I always urge folks to try things out - experiment - see what works and doesn't. Each painting is different. The most important thing is learning to use your materials so that you can say what you want to say in your painting. You might want to say - look at that red cardinal! - I want to make that red SING! If that means exaggerating the red, try it! If that means using a different red than you see in the photo - try it! If that means using a different color background so that the red is more vibrant - try it!

So, yes, it is important to learn many fundamentals that will then allow you to manipulate your painting to accomplish certain goals. But that is a different approach than using a sort of checklist to make sure you don't break any rules or do anything "wrong." Think instead, what works in this painting! What will make someone say, "Hey, I like that!" What works is far more important than what may be "wrong".

Maybe it's just me, but when I look at my favorite Renoirs, or Monets, I notice the things that I like about the painting. If I wanted, I could find things to critique, but those things don't matter if the overall result is positive!

If I can encourage people to have more of this approach, then I have been successful with my hosting the Spotlight.


05-16-2016, 10:58 PM
Hi all
Very true Don, I know I get caught up with all the rules sometimes and it stops me from painting, which is what I should be doing to get better.
Anyway I couldn't resist this fella, that look in his eye is great. I don't know if I did him justice but I wanted to keep it a bit loose,

05-16-2016, 11:00 PM
Hi all
Very true Don, I know I get caught up with all the rules sometimes and it stops me from painting, which is what I should be doing to get better.
Anyway I couldn't resist this fella, that look in his eye is great. I don't know if I did him justice but I wanted to keep it a bit loose,

05-17-2016, 06:43 AM
Deanna, you caught it! That look! Good job.

Don, You're a great host! Giving and forgiving. We love your "no rules" of painting.... Thank you

05-17-2016, 09:07 AM
Deanna, you definitely caught the expression and the color. I love the loose style and the vibrancy of your piece.

Don, beautifully written! Thank you

05-17-2016, 12:00 PM
Deanna, his look made me chuckle :D

I like the colors you chose for the background. Thank you for the inspiration how to paint him loosely! I always end up fretting over details :)

05-17-2016, 12:11 PM
The quote is priceless.

When I came here, I kept saying Tell me what I did wrong - so that I can do it better next time.
It helped me a lot. But perhaps it's time to move on a bit and use suggestions from the others to experiment and not as a rule to obey.

I am putting your post into my favorites! :)

I liked this post from SparrowHawk7 from Drawing board as well:
Just keep in mind that any techniques or methods you see here or anywhere on WC for that matter, are not THE way to do anything ... but A way to do something. There are always alternate methods which may or may not be better for an individual. The only way to find out is to try them and see how you like them. Sometimes you have to tweak a technique to get it to work for you and that's fine. Eventually we all develop our own methods - a bit here and a bit there. Just like there is no right or wrong way to create art. If it works for you and you like the results then that is the right way for you.

water girl
05-17-2016, 01:32 PM
Great comment, Don! Deanna, I agree that you've captured the "look" quite nicely.

05-18-2016, 02:17 PM
Thanks for the kind words Jay, Kim, Nick, Don, chuas2 on my macaw. Nick, Deanna, I love your macaws, and also really like the discussion going on here.


- Srineet.

05-18-2016, 04:06 PM
Deanna, Lovely job! You've really captured the vibrant color and the bird's expression!


05-18-2016, 11:17 PM
I've decided to call this "don't look at me in that tone of voice" :)
Thanks everyone for your comments

water girl
05-19-2016, 12:03 AM
Clever title!

05-19-2016, 10:36 PM
Well said. 2014 was a happy year because I didn't know anything about painting.

Well, keep learning, because the more you do (IMHO), the more you can eventually let go of the knowing, and start doing again. I think you learn to trust yourself more. And btw, as you observe other people's work, take note of all the wonderful paintings done over "failed" ones.

Heavens to murgatroyd, don't be afraid of failure, or you'll turn out like me (you REALLY don't want that!).

Deanna, awesomely beautiful job on the bird! The gradations of the orange to red are wonderful, and your own interpretation of some of the colors is just spot on. Hooray for you!

05-21-2016, 09:28 AM
Kris :D
I was reading a watercolor thread from 2002 (?) the other day and the posters had seemed to have the very same problems. I wonder at what age we start to be so result oriented and so guarded that we think it would be better to stop painting than to feel embarrassed.

I actually had fun painting the macaw. I will have yet to decide if I am OK with all the imperfections though :) I don't think it is quite finished yet, so every tip is VERY welcomed! :) Thank you

A sheet of Pastelmat, TLs, Senneliers, Unisons. The pastelmat seems to work for me. I was able to not fill the tooth (mostly) and that's something I struggle with on Colorfix. It's good I have only a white Schmincke! I admire everyone who is able to paint using Schmincke only.


05-21-2016, 10:34 AM
I can't edit the previous post any more, so here it is again :angel: I have added some shadows and changed the feathers around his face. I am not sure if and how I should alter the yellow feathers on his body.

I took the picture outside, so the colors are more true (the paper is almost yellow - are all Pastelmat paper the same color btw? If not, what color would you recommend to buy?)

Thank you :wave:


05-21-2016, 01:34 PM
Nick, This is excellent! Vibrant colors and fullness of form! He (she?) is wonderfully 3-dimensional! Time to frame this one!


05-21-2016, 02:06 PM
Hmm, now that was unexpected! lol I hoped to get an advice how to make it look better.
You are very kind, Don. I think that I would like to give it more contrast to make the red feathers more fluffy, but every color I try looks ... not right.

water girl
05-21-2016, 11:29 PM
Step away from the easel!!! Nick, those small changes are just right. I'm afraid that if you fuss with it a minute more, you'll be saying, "Ahhhh! Why didn't I just leave it as it was!" I say that because I've done that too many times. Well done!

05-22-2016, 05:50 AM
Karen, it's nice of you to stop by and take a look. It's probably too late to make those changes. I had the bottom layer dark, but it slowly disappeared underneath more layers.

And lol about your comment! One of the best pieces of advice I learned was: If you need to make a change, do it and then put the pastel down. Otherwise you will be tempted to use it all over the painting.
I believe it was Maggie Price who said it in one of her video clips. Sometimes it's hard to remember it though :)

05-22-2016, 05:58 AM
I can't decide which one to paint next.

I have bought Canson MT sheets but after the Pastelmat it feels so difficult to use.

I was browsing the RefLibrary and came across this seagull:

I kind of like the background as it is, but when I tried to mimic it, it didn't look well at all. I applied just one layer on the Canson and then blended it. It looks dull and uneven. But if I don't blend it, I will not have that blurred look (?).
I had blended the background of the bluebird and it doesn't look bad, maybe I do need to use a sanded paper for it?

Thank you for any tip :)

05-22-2016, 10:28 AM
Like many folks here, once I used a paper with more tooth (like pastelmat) then I found it hard to use Canson MT. I only used Canson MT when doing portraits and figures - in those cases I don't really layer much. For any type of painting where I need to layer, then I will use anything else!

After you blend, if the color gets dull (and it will) then you might try lightly adding some of the original color(s) over the blended color to re-vitalize it. Just a light touch, often with the side of the pastel might work.


05-22-2016, 10:39 AM
Thank you very much, Don :)

05-22-2016, 03:54 PM
He looks good, Nick. Looser than you are used to doing. But he looks good. He also took a nip out of my finger!!!

05-23-2016, 08:34 AM
Nick, this is really nice portrait! Keeping the background and lower feathers simple draws the focus on that fantastic face. He looks so proud! I love the eye and the way you handled the beak too. I am not sure how you did it, but the black on the beak really captures that layered look that parrots beaks have.

05-23-2016, 09:09 AM
I asked for permission to post this since it's off topic but I tried to use Don's concepts in painting this request for my granddaughter. This is the view from a window looking across town at 54th street in New York City. 11 x 14, dark pastelMat, pans and pastel pencils. Very very difficult to simplify. (I'm sure there is a bird flying in there somewhere.)
The painting is very dark. I guess that is because of the dark paper? I put two versions. Close, unframed does not show up as dark as it looks. I added my signature on a building and popped in a frame. I can still change. Can you find my signature? Comments and crits MOST welcome indeed! Always trying to learn. I'm not sure how I could have made it a night scene and lighter also.

05-23-2016, 11:50 AM
First of all, thank you very much Don for being so generous with us. I love to come back to your threads because they are not only filled with information but also very friendly. Thank you!

Jay, wow! what a gorgeous eerie town! The buildings look like moving and living life of their own. I love it!
And I like the way you have framed it!

05-23-2016, 12:14 PM
Kedwards, thank you very much for your kind words.

The beak - I am not sure, perhaps the white pastel pencil marks? I used three dark colors plus the pencil.

05-23-2016, 01:34 PM
I think I made Don's elusive Cardinal angry. (Thanks Don.) I made an angry bird. This is sort of 6 by 8, pastelMat. Hard pastels. Suggestions to bird anatomy needed please! Of course, all suggestions welcome.

05-23-2016, 01:36 PM
Thanks Nick. The building do sway in the wind. But I'm happy that you think they are alive and moving.

05-23-2016, 02:46 PM
Oh, now THAT is eerie indeed! I had a room on a hotel's 25th floor once. But it stayed put! No dancing around.

The cardinal :D :D :D :D
I like the tree as well!

And now I see your signature in the previous painting :)

05-23-2016, 02:53 PM
Thanks Nick. I think the bird's wing is off but not sure how to fix. Was fun to do the tree. Been a while. I love trees.

05-23-2016, 03:02 PM
I have been watching video streams of nesting birds for couple of weeks now. It's interesting to see what funny and weird poses the birds took, how they flex their wings and tails. I have snapped about 400 pictures already. I wonder about the copyrights though. I bet I can use them for painting inspiration but can I post the "print screen" images too? Hmm
Anyway, it has been a great learning material!

water girl
05-23-2016, 03:27 PM
First thought, Jay....angry bird....this is so timely! Love it!!!

05-23-2016, 04:08 PM
Thanks Karen. I sorta stole the title.

05-23-2016, 06:27 PM
I like the Cardinal. The background and tree came out beautifully too.

But jay, that cityscape really knocked me out! I love the patterns and abstraction of it. The light frame is a nice balance with it

05-23-2016, 08:30 PM
Funny, I thought I just answered this! Thank you Kim. I was afraid of that cityscape. Now I'm really glad I did it.

05-23-2016, 10:13 PM
Jay, A couple lovely paintings! That cityscape has some real powerful atmosphere! It is alive - not static! And the cardinal has real personality! Probably angry at me for following him around with my camera for days!


05-24-2016, 07:19 AM
Thanks Don. On both counts. I thought the bird was angry about this cool spring we're having. I made him a cold background. He was muttering about a photographer......

And thanks about the city. So so much there that there were many decisions on what I could get away with leaving out. The paper shows in many places. That's the view from my son's old apartment.

Mike L
05-24-2016, 09:48 AM
LOL Jay,

I have tried to get the values right first, ...


I bet I've read that advice 10,000 times. Alongside the well executed drawing of the parrot it just might sink in. :clap:


05-24-2016, 11:17 AM
LOL Mike, you are right. It's so easy to get distracted by the beautiful colors of pastels!

05-26-2016, 02:06 PM
I found about this thread yesterday and I love every single bird you guys did! I was tempted and did a bird last night too. I was hesitating to post though, because I don't like my piece that much. But this morning I think, oh well, I should just participate and I still have the 'I'm a beginner' excuse. :P
The more I touch it, the less I like it.The feather looks duller and duller, so I give up and here it is. :crying: Any C&C welcome.

This is super cheap Mungyo set on Strathmore 400 Pastel paper. I'm waiting for my order of Canson MT, Uart and Colorfix paper and in the hunt for some better pastels.


05-26-2016, 02:45 PM
My goodness, if you did that with supplies you don't think are good...what will you do when the good stuff arrives??? What a lovely bird. All it needs is a frame.


05-26-2016, 03:01 PM
honestly, I think it is very nice. I like its head and expression very much. I like the gradation on its belly.
I don't know the name of the bird but I don't see anything to change :)
If the pastels look duller you probably used too much layers for that type of paper.
Keep it and date it :)

05-26-2016, 03:03 PM
Looking at it again, I actually LOVE its head :D

05-26-2016, 03:08 PM
My goodness, if you did that with supplies you don't think are good...what will you do when the good stuff arrives??? What a lovely bird. All it needs is a frame.


Hi Jay, thank you so much for your nice words!
I didn't know about so many different kinds of papers and pastels until I found all the information on WC. I'm pretty sure it's not just the supplies that I'm using but also mainly my beginner hands, but after reading all the threads about paper and pastels I think I probably should try some better ones to see how it will turn out. I hope it will worth it. :)
I'm still debating what pastel sticks to get. My set is 64 half sticks for only 8 bucks. The good ones are pricey! :(

05-26-2016, 03:12 PM
honestly, I think it is very nice. I like its head and expression very much. I like the gradation on its belly.
I don't know the name of the bird but I don't see anything to change :)
If the pastels look duller you probably used too much layers for that type of paper.
Keep it and date it :)

Hi Nick, I like the feather on the head too, that's the part that I didn't touch much. The body feather I did try add more layers, mainly to cover up the tiny little holes that you know I don't like. :P But it ended up dull looking.

I took the picture of the bird but I forgot the name too. :D

05-26-2016, 03:14 PM
btw Nick, I looked at the bird (http://www.wetcanvas.com/forums/showthread.php?t=1393908) you did last year and I love it. Yours got a lot of details and after looking at yours I felt mine looking like a kids drawing. :o

05-26-2016, 03:26 PM
Lol and if you read the thread, you know that I wasn't happy with it either :)
You could try to cover the paper with the first layer (blending it with fingers or package peanuts or a paper tissue or anything else) and then you wouldn't be bothered by the paper showing through.
Or embrace it :)
I have bought a pack of Canson. I know I am going to struggle with it as well, but I want to give it another try.

05-26-2016, 08:20 PM
Stillwater, Thanks for joining us! You've done a fine job on your bird painting! Although the supplies may be on the cheaper end and harder to work with, you've manged to layer a few colors and get a nice shimmer on the bird's feathers! There are lots of papers and lots of different pastels, so just enjoy the journey!


05-27-2016, 09:00 AM
Welcome, Stillwater, I love the colors you chose for bird and background. The bird is really nicely done. You will have a great time testing out all your new materials. I look forward to seeing what you create as you do.

water girl
05-27-2016, 10:41 PM
Welcome, stillwater!!! You have jumped in with lovely painting. Don't be shy everyone here is very supportive.

05-28-2016, 01:12 AM
Welcome, stillwater!!! You have jumped in with lovely painting. Don't be shy everyone here is very supportive.

Thanks Karen! I'll keep painting and keep posting. :)

05-28-2016, 05:53 AM
Wow, so many beautiful birds! I'm sorry I came late to the party this month. I wish I could comment on each individual painting but suffice to say I have enjoyed looking at each and every one.

Since birds are my absolute favourite subject to paint and draw, I could not resist joining in this month. Here is my quick painting of the yellow budgerigar, done on Hahnemuhle Pastellfix with mostly Rembrandts, about 20 x 30 cm.


This is my first pastel painting in months. I was doing some work in coloured pencils and then have been exploring digital painting on my Ipad, but it felt great to get a bit dusty again!

05-28-2016, 06:11 AM
Oh, Sarah, it's beautiful! Yellow is so difficult for me to get the values right.
I love especially how you painted the upper body and its form. I like the background. And the twig. I always struggle with twigs :D

Beautiful! It's great you could join us!

What is the surface of Hahnemuhle Pastellfix like? Is it a sanded paper? Or something like Canson MT? Thank you.

05-28-2016, 08:03 AM
Sarah! Nice to see you. And you get points for knowing what the bird species is!!! Very soft and lovely. I love the glow of light around the edge of the bird. Makes it look so soft. You did a very, very good job.

05-28-2016, 09:58 AM
I have tried another one. I am not really sure about it. If you think something is off, please do tell :)
After painting on sanded papers I feel great respect towards Canson :clear: :lol:
I am still looking for the right balance of painterly/detailed work.

Critique is very welcome! Thank you.

Half of sheet of Canson and mix of pastels and pencils


05-28-2016, 10:19 AM
I find sanded paper VERY hard to get detail.

May we see the reference? I feel like I'm missing something toward the bottom of his tummy. (And not just because of the hungry look he is giving those berries.). He is really cute...a blue titmouse? Maybe?

05-28-2016, 10:35 AM
I find Canson very hard to not fill the tooth :D

Before you look at the reference, what else do you think is right?
I stopped looking at it halfway through to not get obsessed with it LOL. Maybe it was a mistake. I know it's not same, but I am not sure what is it exactly that bothers me. Perhaps many little things together? Or something about its head?

Thanks :) Oh, and yes: a blue titmouse!

05-28-2016, 10:43 AM
Before the reference: you made him look "little" (as he is...) He is darling. His colors are beautiful. I love his eye and beak position.

Now I'll look at the reference: In the ref, I see his body as more egg-shaped and his back foot seems more substantial. His colors are softer but he is less interesting then you made him. What do YOU think isn't working?

05-28-2016, 11:07 AM
Thank you very much, Jay. I know his head and expression is not the same. And I am not sure what exactly makes the difference and if the painting works anyway. I kept changing things, but never had that "that's it!" moment :)
I think I will have to paint him again to find out.

I will correct the belly and the leg, thank you.

https://pixabay.com seems to be an interesting reference library btw.

Thank you again!

05-28-2016, 11:12 AM
Thank you, Nick and Jay!

Nick, Pastellfix is an odd paper. It is not sanded, it is basically pastel paper with one side coated in a sort of rubbery substance. This helps the pastel to stick to it, which I like. It probably takes a similar number of layers as Canson MT but the pastel doesn't fall off as easily. Unfortunately there aren't many colours and you can only get it in pads, not single sheets. :(

I love your painting of the blue tit! You captured the cheeky personality of this bird, which is common here in England (it is related to chickadees and titmice). I like the addition of the berries, it gives a reason for his pose. The one thing that bothers me a bit is that I think his feet are probably too small. This is a problem I *always* have when drawing birds. His tummy could perhaps be a bit fluffier/rounder as well. But his face in particular is just delightful. :clap:

05-28-2016, 11:26 AM
There you go, Nick. Two thumbs up!

05-28-2016, 11:27 AM
Sarah, thank you! I have just bought La Carte. I haven't used it yet but it looks a bit similar to Sansfix so I hope we are going to be friends :D
I will put Pastellfix to my list of papers to try.

Yes, feet and twigs... It's funny I start to judge other people's paintings by these two things that I struggle with LOL I kind of know to draw them in pencil, but with pastels I always want to simplify way too much.
Thank you again!

Here is one that I painted a year ago. Their expression is really funny :)


05-28-2016, 11:28 AM
There you go, Nick. Two thumbs up!

I am so thankful for this month's Spotlight. I was already afraid that I strayed too far from painting. It's great to be back.

05-28-2016, 11:49 AM
Nick, another pretty bird! I like it's head and the expression. He looks adorable!
Maybe the shape of his wing can curve a little bit more like in the ref pic?

05-28-2016, 11:52 AM
Sarah, love your fluffly yellow baby! She is glowing!

05-28-2016, 12:11 PM
Thanks, Lily, I will see what I can do! I have just found a nice macaw. Hopefully I will manage to paint him as well :)

05-28-2016, 12:43 PM
Nick, the one from last year is too cute! His feet spread apart like that makes him look precious! He's fluffy, love his face. So glad you're painting again and that ref link is very nice.

05-28-2016, 02:19 PM
Sarah, Very lovely! Glad you found us in time for this month's theme!

Nick, I think you've done a fine job on your new painting! I see that the bird is tilted a bit more in your painting - but I think that is fine! I notice a couple small things that may or may not be what you find to be off - I'll end you a PM.

And I remember that painting from last year! Lot's of personality in this one!


05-28-2016, 02:42 PM
Thank you very much, Don!

I remember that someone (Karen?) had said that he could be a star of a book for children. It took me months to start to like him though. Some paintings need time I guess.

05-29-2016, 10:50 AM
I have managed to paint one more (I haven't done much else over the weekend though :angel::lol:)

La Carte (wow, what an abrasive surface!) and mix of pastels and pencils.
Critical comments are very welcomed.

I also wonder how to crop the left side. Would you cut off the upper part, or fill up the empty space in the lower part?


05-29-2016, 11:06 AM
That's beautiful, Nick! Looks so much like my own greenwing macaw, Bert. :) I cannot believe the detail you were able to get on the La Carte paper. About the cropping question, I think I might try to fill in the lower left blue area to keep the eye at the sweet spot where it is, but it would probably work well either way.

05-29-2016, 11:06 AM
Don and stillwater, thank you for commenting!

05-29-2016, 11:13 AM
Oh, you have a macaw, Sarah!
I can't imagine having such a big noisy bird at home :) Also the longevity would be a problem probably :) But they are so wonderful to look at! And paint :)

Thank you, great to know he is believable!
I am not sure about cropping the dark shadows at the left, so maybe filling up the lower part would be the answer.

05-29-2016, 11:47 AM
Nick, he is wonderful. I love this spaces between the feathers in his neck. So believable! And his green, blue tipped feathers! And...I could go on and on. He is great. But I think, since he is grooming, he is saying, "Privacy, please."

05-29-2016, 01:21 PM
Oh, you have a macaw, Sarah!
I can't imagine having such a big noisy bird at home :) Also the longevity would be a problem probably :) But they are so wonderful to look at! And paint :)
He's not actually very noisy, thankfully! :) Most of the noises he makes are fairly quiet, except on rare occasions when he is startled by something he sees out the window. They certainly are beautiful birds, and I have drawn him many times. Haven't done him in pastel yet for some reason.

Your painting is very believable and clearly a greenwing macaw. It's the face and eye that make it, and the way the feathers on the neck are fluffed out. The green on Bert's feathers is a bit brighter and bluer than in your picture, but that could either be the monitor or the individual bird in your reference, as they do vary. In any case I hope you will either complete it or crop it and frame it. :)

05-29-2016, 02:11 PM
Thank you very much, Jay and Sarah. Macaws are joy to paint.

Sarah, I hope we will see your painting soon! :)
I think I have made him even brighter than I should have:
It must be really great to have such friend. Any interesting story you would be willing to share? :)

05-29-2016, 03:31 PM
Nick, Wow, another beauty! Here's how I would crop it when I put it in a frame!



05-29-2016, 03:46 PM
Oh, wow, Don. Thank you :)

And thank you so much for this Spotlight thread! It has helped me a lot.

05-30-2016, 08:34 AM
Gorgeous!! great crop and just stunning painting. The gold frame looks great

water girl
05-30-2016, 03:01 PM
Gorgeous, Nick. The crop is spot on, Don.

05-30-2016, 04:26 PM
Thank you very much, Kim and Karen!

Karen, I can see now why you like La Carte :)

I hoped to paint another bird, but it seems that I am not going to make it till tomorrow.

water girl
05-30-2016, 05:57 PM
Nick, I'm also lazy :lol: :lol: and impatient. La Carte comes in colors, so I don't need an underpainting or have to deal with waiting for a wash or underpainting to dry. I'm not comfortable, painting on a white surface. And honestly, I've only had one incident with liquid on La Carte, and I've been using it for 9 years. Just no sneezing near the easel.

05-31-2016, 04:32 AM
Not in a million years I will believe that you are lazy, Karen :D Your work tells a different story.

05-31-2016, 05:48 PM
Sarah, I hope we will see your painting soon! :)
I think I have made him even brighter than I should have:
It must be really great to have such friend. Any interesting story you would be willing to share? :)
Off topic :) but I have managed to teach him a few tricks, including "playing" basketball:

Please ignore the state of the kitchen. :eek:

05-31-2016, 07:13 PM
Sarah! How cute! He's adorable. He needs some sneakers. (Trainers?).