View Full Version : JTMB's Birds - Water Media

06-20-2010, 04:34 PM
Hi everyone,

This is a new thread because I started a new sketchbook, but I wasn't sure it should be or not, so hopefully a moderator will let me know what is appropriate here. The 'Local Birds' thread is in a Moleskine sketchbook which doesn't work particularly well with watercolor or gouache as I found out in working with it. Which is fine, because most of the birds in there are in colored pencil, and I'll continue to add pieces in there when I use dry media. So...this sketch is the first one in a new Moleskine watercolor sketchbook - 5 x 8" approximately - and the paper in that book (though still not in my opinion equal to Arches regular watercolor paper) is much better for gouache and watercolor than the sketchbook.

So, since it's a new book - I started a new thread. However, since it's the same topic, I wondered if the moderator would prefer that I keep two books on the same theme and load the images into the same thread...? Let me know! :wave:

The Steller's Jay is a very beautiful metallic blue on its dorsal (top) side, with a blackish head and black horizontal stripes on its back (not visible here). As with most corvids (jays, crows and ravens), it is loud, brash, aggressive and can be tough on other birds in the area, including raiding nests. But it is also highly intelligent and entertaining to watch.


06-20-2010, 07:10 PM
New sketchbook, different media - my guess is that it's okay to start a new thread. I like your Steller's Jay. Do you sketch your birds from life, or from references, or both? Are you an active birdwatcher?

06-20-2010, 08:21 PM
Hi Michelle,

Thanks for looking! Right now I am mostly sketching from photos that I've taken or from magazine photos, though I have done some sketching from life. Birds are about the worst possible subjects to sketch from life until you are very familiar with them. Actually, I'm very familiar with them, and they're STILL tough to do...:) ! I want to do more of that, soon I hope.

Yes, I am a serious birder. I retired about two years ago, and right before I retired I went through Seattle Audubon's very intensive master birder program - the equivalent of two semesters of advanced field ornithology, essentially. Heavy emphasis on visual ID, birding by ear, habitat, breeding/nesting and migration characteristics of all the species that have been recorded in Washington state (about 500 species in total). I lead field trips for both Seattle Audubon and Eastside Audubon in the area and do volunteer bird survey work for the city of Seattle in their primary watershed, plus monthly bird counts in one of the major parks in Seattle.

In a way, knowing the birds well is a handicap as well as a blessing for drawing them from life I think. For most of the species in WA, I know very well what they're supposed to look like, so I'm highly sensitive to something being wrong about the drawing (bills are still giving me major problems for some reason). Obviously it's easier to get a good likeness from a reference photo than a live bird, so I haven't cut the umbilical cord yet. That's one of the reasons I jumped on this new forum - having the motivation of a regular journal will (I hope!) drive up my abilities at least a little.

My wife is studying to qualify for the master birder program as well, so it's a joint activity. Three years ago we re-landscaped our backyard from essentially nothing but bare lawn and (fortunately) seven fir trees to a bird-friendly yard with almost no lawn and a bunch of shrubs and some additional trees, plus a small recirculating stream. In the six years I've been keeping a life list for our yard, we have ID'd 85 species in the yard (this counts flyovers and 'heard-only' birds where the ID is positive).

06-20-2010, 08:57 PM
John, that is so beautiful! I've seen photos of a Stellar's Jay, and you got it spot on. You captured a metallic look that didn't come through in the photos I've seen, that's where your experience really matters.

I did the same thing with multiple threads for different sketchbooks by medium. Even if the subject is the same, this one's all in Water Media, so it's different. I like being able to know which one's which and I've got five threads going which I was encouraged to do by moderators. So relax and keep your water media birds in here.

If you do any on loose watercolor paper, they probably ought to be in this thread though.

I've got my Water Folio in one, and Folio One which is the Moleskine sketchbook (mostly pen drawings), plus All Media Book which is getting full, Itty Bitty Book of Kitty which is themed on subject and a Scribble Sketch Books thread for "all other sketchbooks." So don't feel too bad about just having two, so clearly different!

I think it helps when it's a specific art journal to see it in order in its own thread, that's like leafing through that book.

06-20-2010, 09:23 PM
Stellar jays are very aggressive. Years ago when I had a cat, there was a mated pair that would nest in the maple in the backyard. They terrorized that cat. This is a very good likeness. The background and tree add a lot to the picture.

06-20-2010, 09:40 PM
Thanks Robert and Debby! OK, I now officially have two art journal threads going...:) .

Hopefully folks won't mind me putting on my Audubon trip leader hat and opining about birds on occasion. So...

Steller's Jay is one of the most-misspelled bird names on the planet. It is with a 'er' at the end, not an 'ar' - it is named after a biologist who also gave his name to Steller's Sea Lions and possibly some other bird species as well.

Here in WA state, we have three resident jays - Steller's, Western Scrub-Jay and Gray Jay. We could possibly have a few Pinyon Jays in the far southeast area of the state, but they would be rare. Occasionally we get an eastern Blue Jay that strays into our state, causing a rush of birders to see it to put it on their state list of species. The Western Scrub-Jay used to be fairly rare in the state, but has been expanding its range dramatically over the last decade or so. It is now not all that unusual to see one or more in the Seattle area, and within ten years they will probably be fairly common. Gray Jays are the notorious 'camp robber' jays of the north, and here we have them only at higher elevations in the mountains or in the central and northeastern tier areas bordering Canada.


06-20-2010, 09:58 PM
85 species identified in your own back yard! Awesome!

06-20-2010, 10:18 PM
Hi Michelle,

Yes, we are fortunate in that regard. Although our back yard is relatively small (about 80 x 70 feet) and our front yard smaller yet, we have a variety of habitat nearby and also live on a ridge overlooking a valley that is a flyway for a lot of migrating waterfowl in spring and summer. We border a golf course, and the rough on each side of the fairway is good for some of the more open or edge habitat species. About a quarter mile up the course from our yard is a very nice water management pond and we get a good variety of duck species (and Great Blue Herons, and the sporadic cormorant) flying behind or over our yard to get to the pond. On the other side of the fairway is a heavily wooded, mostly coniferous (120 foot-tall Douglas Firs, plus some cedars and hemlock) ravine and so the mature woods species live there and fly to the yard to eat at our feeders, or we can hear them when they're calling or singing. There is a pair of Peregrine Falcons that has nested successfully now five years running on the cliffs by famous Snoqualmie Falls, which is only about a mile as the falcon flies from our place, so several times per year we see them in a snag near our yard, or flying over while hunting. There are lakes in the area so we get the occasional Osprey and Bald Eagle flyover, and in migration we get multiple species of geese, and we even had a lone Snow Goose fly over once. The best flyover ever was a flock of eight Sandhill Cranes.

A number of the 85 species, of course, are 'one-day wonders' in migration that just happen to stop in for a drink of water or a morning of eating before they head on elsewhere. I just looked at my spreadsheet and 12 of the 85 species we have only seen one time - the other 73 are two or more times. Our most recent exciting additions were a Nashville Warbler in migration (common in the mountains and east of the mountains, rare where we are) and a Lazuli Bunting male on two days (quite uncommon on this side of the mountains).


06-21-2010, 10:33 AM
That is so cool you have such a perfect spot for variety in birds. I don't get many birds in my yard here because we have Zoe, a Siberian Husky who's very good at catching them. They learned to stay out of our yard or up at high altitude, which makes it a little easier for me if they're in the tree by my window. But still, I don't see as many as I did last year and I'm pretty sure it's the dog.

Sorry about that misspelling. I'm usually good at spelling but I'm bad at names, so that cancels out. I'll try to remember Steller's jay and Steller's sea lion from now on. Thanks for letting me know. I think I've seen the Stellar spelling so many times that's what stuck.

06-21-2010, 11:45 AM
Beautiful colors put together here, John! It's a great idea to move on to wc paper that can withstand more washing punishment. :D Keep up with the bird info too!

06-21-2010, 06:23 PM
Seems I misspelled it too. Sorry. I will correct that.

06-21-2010, 07:14 PM
Thanks, Raymond. Debby and Robert - no problems at all on the misspelling; I'm sure I misspell many things in my posts. I just did the post for educational purposes. :)

06-22-2010, 12:17 AM
I tried another gouache in the Moleskine, and it turned out so-so, but I figure I'll post the not-so-good with the hopefully-a-little-better tries. :)

This is a Spotted Towhee, one of my favorite woods species that is actually biologically in the sparrow family. In old guide books, this species was called Rufous-sided Towhee, but then the powers-that-be in ornithology split the species into Eastern Towhee and Spotted Towhee. The Spotted Towhee is the species in the western half of the US. The two species looks somewhat similar but as the name suggests, the Spotted Towhee has white spots and the Eastern Towhee largely lacks these. This bird has a range of vocalizations, and its contact note sounds similar to a cat meow. They are ground-feeders and (like some other species), they do a double-legged hop-and-scratch to stir up the ground cover and find bugs and seeds to eat. This species is what birders call 'skulky' - tends to be shy and is tough to get good pictures of.

This was painted from a photo I took in our yard several years ago.


06-22-2010, 10:41 AM
John, these are both great! I love the tree in the first one, terrific textures. We have the Eastern Towee here. They are always on the ground around the feeders waiting for seed to drop.


06-22-2010, 11:26 AM
John, love the new journal so far! The Stellar's jay is lovely, love all the colors in there! And the towhee is "spot on"! :lol: We get those here also, both kinds, but wish we had the stellar's! They're beautiful!
So your favorite yard bird is Nashville huh? Pretty things! I get those here on migration every year. Being in TX most of our birds are migratory and just past through in Spring and Fall, but it helps with the yard list! I think my favorite yard bird (OK I have a few!!) would be Bell's Vireo... cause I just wasn't expecting it! I saw this little thing in the tree behind our house and thought ... "naaaa.... not around here..." although it looked like one, (I live on a little 1/4 acre lot, sub-urban) and practically dismissed it. Wasn't till 10 mins later while pottering around the garden I heard it! Unmistakable! I'm more of an auditory birder, trust my ears much more than my eyes! Sure enough it was a Bell's. I was soooo happy cause I love seeing the little guys every year in Big Bend.
My next best I think would be a Magnolia that came 2 feet in front of my face on a tree branch to "check me out"!! Curious little thing and just GORGEOUS! It was my pond that attracted him, as it does many. Creating a wildlife habitat is so rewarding! I also have mine certified with the NWF and TX parks and wildlife. It makes such a difference to the local wildlife and no place is too small. Like I said ours is tiny, only 1/4 acre total with house. :-)
Looking forward to seeing more your birds... great job!

06-22-2010, 02:42 PM
These are wonderful!

06-22-2010, 03:42 PM
The Spotted Towhee is great! Thanks for the background on it. I had no idea there were sparrow relatives that bright and colorful. Nice background with the leaf too.

This journal's great, keep going! I like your painted birds as much as your drawn ones.

06-22-2010, 06:30 PM
Thank you Reggie and Rachel!

Rachel - actually a quarter acre is a very nice size for a yard. Ours is tiny by comparison - the back yard about 80 x 70 feet, the front yard half that size. What we do have, though, is good habitat nearby, and a couple of 60+ foot tall fir trees in our yard and the neighbor's to draw in a number of species. We are a certified wildlife habitat with NWF as well, and have a recirculating stream that is about 15 feet long, plus a couple of other birdbaths spread around the yard, plus feeders and a couple of nest boxes. We have a pair of Tree Swallows nesting in one of the boxes at present.

The 'best' yard birds of course are so variable depending on where the yard is located. A good example (not a yard bird, but nearby) was a Gray Catbird that showed up in a park nearby where I lead birding trips periodically. Growing up in PA, catbirds were only one step above grackles and starlings as far as commonality went. Well, in our county, that bird was the first verified record since 1931. People came from all over the western half of the state, and British Columbia, to get a look at the bird.

My best - in terms or rarity in our area - yard birds are:

American Tree Sparrow - very common in most of the country, rare here
Mountain Chickadee
Nashville Warbler
Northern Pygmy-Owl - got some great shots of this bird with a House Sparrow it caught - see the following link http://www.tubbsphoto.com/-/tubbsphoto/detail.asp?LID=&photoID=7036815&cat=38981 and click next twice for additional images.
Sandhill Crane (flock of 8 flyover)
Snow Goose (a large flock flyover)
White-throated Sparrow - again, common many places in the US but not here

Thanks again for looking! :wave:

06-22-2010, 09:15 PM
I agree, and sometimes it's the very common ones, the ones you see daily and get to know that can bring the most joy!
I wish our yard was a little deeper. But I like it! It's a pie shaped lot, 150 long by 25 feet deep in the back, long and narrow, curves around the house. Front is about 30x70.
Very impressed with the N. Pygmy! Love those, my lifer was in AZ. :-) Draw on... :-)

06-22-2010, 11:34 PM
Hi John!

I'm not very knowledgeable about birds, but I think your bird paintings in this journal are fantastic. I love the rich color your have achieved. It's so neat that you were able to complete that Audubon master birder program before you retired and develop it into such an interesting and engaging activity for your retirement years. Also, really neat to hear that your wife shares your interest.

Thanks for sharing these beautiful birds with the rest of us. Hope to see more!


06-23-2010, 01:41 AM
Thank you, Jean! I am really enjoying doing the birds, and considering there are almost 900 species recorded in the US, I think I'll be able to stay busy for quite some time. I have my own pictures that I've taken of about 240 species.


This bird is a type of flycatcher - an Eastern Kingbird. (Yes, there is also a Western Kingbird that I'll do sometime down the road.) This is a fairly common bird in the right habitat, but in the western part of Washington it is somewhat rare and only seen around migration time. There were just two of these for a day in a park near here. I do an annual float trip down the Deschutes River in central Oregon every year, and in summer the river has hundreds of these - they breed all along the river.

This is done in gouache in the Moleskine watercolor book. The reference photo was one I took along the Deschutes River a couple years ago.


06-23-2010, 02:02 AM
Beautiful Eastern Kingbird. Gouache is a great medium for you. I love how you've done the shading on its breast and the patterns on its wings and tail. Great eye and beak too. These are wonderful.

06-24-2010, 06:00 PM
Thanks again for sharing the bird information. Getting an education and enjoying your paintings. Lovely stuff.

06-24-2010, 10:46 PM
Thanks Robert and Debby!

Robert - yes, I'm liking gouache, although I've got a long way to go with all the mediums I'm using...:lol: . To prove that, this painting is more than a little shaky.

Debby - happy to provide a few facts about each of the birds that I paint. It keeps me sharp on the details about the various species, and...I like birds and sharing info about them.

So, here we go again. These paintings are also gouache, and are on facing sides of the Moleskine watercolor sketchbook page. This is a Spotted Sandpiper and the two quick flight sketches give some idea of what they look like when they fly. I decided to do this species because I saw three or four of them yesterday when I took my dog and did a birding walk on some of our neighborhood trails. This species is the only shorebird species (except the Killdeer) that nests anywhere near us. There are a number of mitigation ponds in the neighborhood, and that is sufficient for this species, which is fairly non-discriminate about where it nests.

A couple interesting facts about this bird...

First, the large picture here is of its breeding plumage, showing the belly and breast spots after which it is named. Its non-breeding plumage doesn't have spots. Second, it has the interesting habit of always 'bobbing' its rear end while feeding or walking. Pretty humorous, and also diagnostic, because there is only one other species (which is not a shorebird) that has this behavior.

And finally, the women reading this post will chuckle (and envy) the Spotted Sandpiper for its unique breeding and rearing behaviors. This species is what is known as polyandrous. Polyandrous means that the female of the species mates with multiple males. And, very interestingly, the male of the species handles all the parental duties - incubates the eggs, feeds the chicks and protects them until they fledge. The female stakes out a territory and defends it while the male does all the work. There are some other avian species which have this breeding system, but more are polygynous, in which the male is territorial and has multiple mates while the female does all the chores (hummingbirds use this system). Other species are monogamous and a pair mates for life until one of the pair does. Yet other species are seasonally monogamous, in which the two birds pair for a breeding season with a single mate, but may or may not have the same mate the following breeding season. Most species probably share parental duties to at least some degree, although I'm not totally sure of the statistics on this.

Anyway, here is the rather marginal painting of the Spotted Sandpiper. (Males and females have the same plumage, so are tough to distinguish - females are slightly larger.)

In flight, these guys kind of flutter just above the water or ground, almost like they have a hard time gaining altitude (although they can fly fast if they want to).


06-25-2010, 03:36 PM
The breeding plumage painting is very good. You've got a lot of detail there.

06-25-2010, 04:15 PM
Thank you for all the information! I like the paintings, especially the two loose flight sketches for comparison with the spotted mating plumage painting. The proportions are perfect.

I've noticed that in gouache though, you don't seem to shade the bodies of the birds to round them as much, is that deliberate? There's markings, part of local color, and modeling shadows. When I'm working from a photo it's easy to get both but it's a bit harder painting from life.

For identification it wouldn't be important to use the modeling shadows, it's a style choice whether to do that or not. I've seen you do it in your colored pencils birds though, so that's why I'm questioning your different style in gouache. Your "shaky" strokes on the bird's markings give them a very lively, natural look though, both broken color on some patterns and jiggly lines look more real than precise spots.

06-28-2010, 09:52 PM
Thanks Debby and Robert!

Robert - I should have done more modeling shading on this image, and pay more attention to it in the future. It probably is because I'm paying more attention to the field marks than the aesthetics of the image, but even though I'm not spending a great deal of time with these images, it's enough that I should take the extra couple minutes and make sure the modeling is decent.

This series of images is a Black Oystercatcher - a unique type of shorebird in its own family (with only one other species - the American Oystercatcher, which is quite similar except for some plumage differences). This species occupies a very specialized niche - coastal rocks in tidal areas along the west coast. As the name (and the bizarrely bright coloration of its bill) suggests, this bird has a unique feeding strategy. It forages for bivalves (limpits, mussels, clams and presumably oysters from the name) and pries open the shells with its massive and powerful chisel beak.

The reason I picked this species to paint (these are done from various field ID references) is that my band played this past weekend on Lopez Island in the San Juan Island chain between Washington state and Canada, and we found two of these birds while walking along Sharkreef point toward the southern end of the island. They are goofy-looking birds (even taking away my unintentionally goofy depiction - :lol: ) because of the overall black body coloration set against the bright red-orange bill. Because of the bill, one would think they would be extremely easy to find when you're looking for them but that surprisingly isn't the case often. It's small enough that from a distance the little spot of red-orange just looks like a speck of color on the rocks. They are most active at low tide, since they are not diving birds, so they scramble about on the rocks and pluck their prey off the rocks, pry it open and consume it. At high tide, they find a nice spot on the rocks and rest until the next low tide. They are not a rare species, but they are not common either - lots of places where you would think the habitat is perfect for them, they're just not around, so I would call them sporadic in distribution. The American Oystercatcher is mostly an east coast (plus the Baja peninsula) species that we never see up here. To my knowledge, the Black Oystercatcher is only found on the west coast. They are generally not migratory, either - they stay mostly in a territory or wander just slightly.


06-28-2010, 10:26 PM
Interesting bird. That beak is something else. Amazing that they aren't visible because of it. Great job on the pictures.

07-04-2010, 02:41 PM
Thanks, Debby!

The next entry here is a Belted Kingfisher. As the name implies, its food source is fish, and although a pretty small bird (13" in length vs. 17.5" for a crow) it is an efficient predator of small fish. The bill is obviously adapted for grabbing prey, and the bird is able to dive a short distance underwater to grab a fish. When they have a fish, they will retire to a tree along the stream or ocean and fairly comically whack the fish against a branch or the trunk to make sure it is ready to be swallowed. This species is a bit of an exception in the plumage coloration department. Usually males have the brighter plumage, to attract mates and also distract predators from going after the nesting female. In this species, however, the female (as here) has more coloration. The rusty colored band around the belly only occurs on females - the males have a white belly without the band. This bird is quite territorial over its hunting territory and frequently emits a raspy, unsynchronized-sounding 'rattle' while flying in its territory.

This image is gouache in the Moleskine watercolor sketchbook again. I think I overworked it a bit, but overall I'm happy with how it came out. The reference used was a photo I took several years ago.

C&C always welcome.


07-04-2010, 04:31 PM
Hi everyone,

So, since it's a new book - I started a new thread. However, since it's the same topic, I wondered if the moderator would prefer that I keep two books on the same theme and load the images into the same thread...? Let me know! :wave:

John, these are beautiful renderings!

As for two threads or one, it's up to you. If you would like all your bird books to be viewed together, it's fine to put them in one thread. If you've got two (or more) going of different mediums/paper and would like me to merge them into one, I can do that for you. If you prefer to keep them separate, so that they are seen as a more cohesive unit like they are in each book, that's fine too.


07-04-2010, 11:41 PM
Thank you so much for the information on the Black Oystercatcher and the Belted Kingfisher. Both paintings are extraordinary. I like the accuracy when you're working from references and can take your time with them. I don't think the Kingfisher's overworked at all, she's beautiful. The descriptions of their habits and feeding strategies are fascinating too.

Fantastic work, keep it up! Gouache seems to dance in your hands, you get such beautiful effects with it.

Vivien Maloney
07-05-2010, 01:33 AM
Wonderful bird sketches John. I particularly like the Kingfisher but all the sketches are great.

07-05-2010, 03:31 PM
That kingfisher looks like a serious bird. Don't know how you got such an expression on a bird. But it certainly looks like it's saying "Don't mess with me." Love the painting, don't think it's overworked as it looks quite convincing as is.

07-05-2010, 08:13 PM
John, my faves are the Stellar's Jay and the kingfisher I think, but your whole sketchbook is wonderful and will be a fantastic reference book.

07-27-2010, 10:28 AM
Thanks Jamie, Robert, Viv, Debby and Jackie for looking, and for the nice comments! I do think that the Belted Kingfisher is my personal favorite so far. Here are two more I did as quick gouache sketches late last night.

The first is a Western Tanager male, which I chose to do because I've had one of them in the yard three times over the last week - and they are gorgeous birds. Very brightly colored and tropical in appearance. They are migratory and therefore only a summer breeder for us. I led an Audubon field trip yesterday morning, and we had great looks at one of these for about five minutes.

The second is a Green-tailed Towhee - also a male. This is not a very local bird in my area, although one was found 'off course' in migration a few years back not too far from my house. The reason I picked this one is that I will be going on an annual river float trip in central Oregon shortly and always make it a point to find one of these birds as I find them very handsome and delightful. They are a skulky bird and tough to find - they hang low in shrubs and on the ground. However, the males respond quickly to a recording of their song and if there are any in the area, they pop up to the top of a bush to take a quick look at the new neighbor. Birding ethics call for minimizing the amount of song recording playing you do (especially during breeding season) but species like this one that respond reliably and quickly don't require much use of that to get a good look. The 'green' on this species is definitely a yellow green, though my color here might be a tad too much toward yellow.

Done in gouache in the Moleskine watercolor sketchbook, using photo references from a field guide.

C&C always welcome.



Vivien Maloney
07-27-2010, 03:28 PM
The Western Tanager is beautiful - what lovely colors! I like the history of the birds that you include with your sketches. I hope you do get to see a Towhee on your trip to Oregon. Do let us know if you do.

07-27-2010, 05:14 PM
These are lovely bird paintings John. I love your paintings of the Black oystercatcher, and the Belted kingfisher is striking and full of character and extra special as its fom one of your photos. The two new birds to arrive on your pages are lovely looking birds, you really have an eye for their unique shapes, and lucky you to see these in life. When i want to paint a bird in my imaginary paintings I'll look your thread up, there's lots of really great source material here for colourful birds with beautiful colour and patterning..

07-27-2010, 05:22 PM
That tanager is certainly colorful. Nicely done. The towhee is one I've not seen before, but after your description, I can see why. Lovely, both of them.

07-27-2010, 05:26 PM
Thank you Viv, Xina and Debby!

Viv - I almost certainly will see one on the trip, now that I know a spot where they have nested for years. A fellow birder who lives in Oregon told me where to find them a couple years ago, when I still didn't have one on my life list. Sure enough, I went to that spot, heard their contact note, played their song once and two of them popped right up to the top of the sage.


07-27-2010, 10:33 PM
hmmmmm always gives me a chuckle that the males of some species are always so colourful! Lovely work John!

07-27-2010, 10:37 PM
Typical male vanity extends to the bird families as well...! :)

07-31-2010, 10:40 PM
I am in Oregon for my annual raft trip for which we leave tomorrow. Did some birding the last three days here and Viv was curious if I saw a Green-tailed Towhee. The answer is yes - I played the song once and the local male popped up right away and scolded me! Quite humorous. Saw and drew an Ash-throated Flycatcher but don't have a way to process and upload the image here. Later...

08-10-2010, 02:44 AM
Hi everyone,

On the raft trip I just finished, I saw a ton of Common Mergansers, a species of diving duck that eats small fish - and as a result has a long and serrated bill to hold onto its typical prey. I want to do a larger piece showing several of the ducks on rocks and with one peering below the water looking for fish. But, never having painted one before, I figured I'd start with the wet media sketchbook. So this is in the Moleskine watercolor sketchbook and in this case is done with watercolor, not gouache. Sorry about the color cast on the image - probably should have waited for natural light tomorrow instead of using flash. I tried using the color balancing function in Photoshop but wasn't able to get it completely correct.

C&C always welcome.


08-10-2010, 12:12 PM
I like the description of the finished piece you want to do and am looking forward to seeing it.

The duck is delightful. Like the way you handled the water.

08-10-2010, 02:02 PM
John, the merganser is gorgeous. I love the way you shaded the markings on the back, they're so beautiful. Like the tanager and the green-tailed towhee too. It's so cool that you give background information on the birds and their habits as well as painting them. The soft shading on the neck of the tanager is wonderful.

08-10-2010, 05:46 PM
Thank you, Debby and Robert!

08-25-2010, 10:25 PM
Hi everyone,

Here's tonight's quick effort. This is a White-headed Woodpecker, a species that I wish was closer to my home. It is a high-elevation, dry Ponderosa Pine forest species found on the east side of the Cascades and near the Cascade crest in the Pacific NW.

There is a funny story on this image, which is based on a photo I took near Sisters, Oregon (at Camp Sherman, along the Metolius River). I wanted to get a picture of this species - in fact, at the time, I don't believe I had ever seen one for my life list. I went to a campground near Sisters where there are often White-headed Woodpeckers. I found a family group of them right away, but was unable to take pictures because they were very high in a Ponderosa. So, disappointed, I went to Camp Sherman to pick up a snack. It was early in the morning and there aren't many people around there anyway, and when I drove up to the general store, there was a White-headed Woodpecker taking a bath in a puddle of water right in the middle of the road. I got the camera, and got this image of the bird after it was done with the bath and started working on this tree.

This was done in about 30 minutes in the Moleskine watercolor sketchbook, in watercolor. The feet and claws came out poorly but otherwise I was ok with it for the amount of time in it. :)

C&C always welcome!


08-25-2010, 10:32 PM
Always have your camera ready. You just never know... This is a great painting. I like how you did the background. And the bark is spot on for a ponderosa pine.

08-25-2010, 10:53 PM
Thank you, Debby! I totally agree about the camera. I feel helpless if I forget to take one along when I'm out and about. Now that I'm painting, I rarely take my long lenses and high end gear out, but I always have a good superzoom digicam that does a passable job in a lot of situations.

08-28-2010, 06:18 PM
John, this one's gorgeous! I love the accuracy. Even the feet aren't too bad, you really captured this species. It's so cool. Thanks for the story too - love the way it turned out for you!

09-01-2010, 09:35 PM
Thanks again, Robert!

Here is another species in the flycatcher family. This one is a Western Wood-Pewee (weird name, I know). This was done from a photo I took of this bird in a very typical situation for them (and other flycatcher species) - sitting on a perch with good visibility, actively moving its head and gaze all around looking for a bug to chase. As soon as it sees one, it flies out from the perch, grabs it in the air, then flies back - often to the exact same perch, but sometimes to another nearby suitable perch. Flycatchers in the Empidonax family are notoriously difficult to tell apart. This is (generally) one of the easier ones, because it often has a noticeable crest (as shown here) and a 'vest' where the center of the chest and more of the belly are a dusty yellowish or beige and the 'vest' is gray. Its song/call is a distinctive single-syllable PEEeeer that descends in pitch and is raspy sounding. These birds are a common forest breeder in our area during the summer.

This was sketched lightly in graphite from the photo, then Albrecht Durer watercolor pencils were used to add color, then washed to get the final image.

C&C always welcome.


09-01-2010, 10:04 PM
Thank goodness for them. Love the birds that catch flies and mosquitoes. Not too fond of the ones that like to eat my honey bees. You really caught an intense gaze on this one.

09-02-2010, 08:40 PM
John, the Western Wood-Pewee is gorgeous. I love the color wash you got with it, very accurate washes and soft transitions where his markings change. Thanks again for the background information too, that really helps. Beautiful bird sketch and painting!

You're inspiring me to get out that birds book and do some more!

09-02-2010, 09:01 PM
Thanks Debby and Robert! Be careful, Robert - birds are very addicting, as you've seen with me...!

09-03-2010, 01:54 PM
Here is a Cooper's Hawk, a smallish hawk whose prey is smaller birds. This is a juvenile who showed up at my bird feeders at work a couple years ago, and I spent several months watching him try to learn how to hunt. It was rather comical at first (serious for him) because he was clumsy and had a very low success rate. I actually didn't think he would be able to catch enough to make it through the winter, but he surprised me and did. (The mortality rate of young raptors in their first year of life is as high as 80%. It's a pretty unforgiving environment in which they live.)

This was done as a graphite line drawing, then I added watercolor pencil and washed with water.

C&C always welcome.


09-03-2010, 06:35 PM
Wow, I had no idea raptors had such a low success rate, I thought they just had a low birth rate compared to other birds. He's a fine looking fellow. Glad he made it.

09-03-2010, 09:53 PM
More great work John, I love looking at your work - I have never heard of, let alone seen anything like some of these birds being in Oz! I am rather taken with your Wood-Pewee (yes - an odd name for sure!), I really like the lightness of the wash on this one.

09-06-2010, 02:29 AM
Thanks Debby and Jackie!

Debby - all birds have a challenge in their first year, but raptors in particular have a steep learning curve before they can 'make a living'. It is complicated by the fact that virtually all raptors are territorial, and so at some point, the parents drive the youngsters out of their territory if they haven't already left on their own, so they have to find a viable territory on their own. In many raptor species, the first-year birds have slightly different plumage than the adults. There is speculation that this is to aid the youngsters by giving adults a way to know that a bird is young and cut it a break when it strays into the adult's territory. Also, a lot of birds (not just raptors) lay more eggs than they can raise unless it is a good year for food. So the Peregrine Falcon pair that has bred near our house for six years hatched four chicks this spring. If the adults were unable to provide enough food for all four, the weakest one or two would not survive. This year (and last) were good ones for those falcons, as all four in each year fledged successfully.

Jackie - The feeling is mutual...there are a lot of birds in Oz that us US folks would really love to see as well. Birding is really location-intensive. One person's common bird is another person's (in another location) extreme rarity.

09-06-2010, 01:34 PM
I really like the Pewee. I like the woodpecker too, heard one going to town on a tree during my hike Thursday but couldn't get sight of the little devil.


09-08-2010, 12:17 PM
Thanks, David. I think my favorite time of year with woodpeckers is prior to nesting season when they are out looking for a mate. The males 'drum' on things that resonate to advertise their presence. Often, people panic when the birds are drumming on a part of their house, thinking they are going to destroy the wood, but in most cases they are simply looking for something that makes the most noise. Red-breasted Sapsuckers in our area seem particularly inclined to use metal road signs for that purpose - I see it every year, and the birds seem particularly proud of themselves (and so focused on the drumming that people can walk quite close to them before they fly). This year, I heard this amazingly loud metal-sounding drumming when I was walking on a woods path in our neighborhood. I tracked down the sound and here was a sapsucker that was banging on the metal corner flashing of a nearby house. The house was constructed so that the entire corner was encased in a metal edging sort of thing, and so the entire two stories worth of metal flashing was amplifying and resonating the bird's drumming. I thought it was pretty cool, but I'm sure the homeowners were thinking lethal thoughts about the poor bird who was simply looking for love...!

09-09-2010, 10:44 PM
Beautiful young Cooper's Hawk! Thank you for the background information too. I had no idea so many of them died just learning to hunt. I know some predators have a harder time than others, but didn't realize raptors were in that category.

Your technique with the watercolor pencils is splendid. I wouldn't have known if you hadn't mentioned it, you dissolve the color completely and it looks very natural and watery. Gorgeous effects. Perfectly sensible to sketch in graphite first, most good watercolorists do.

I've never seen them, but we have woodpeckers nesting in the wall of our house. Right on the outside wall of my room, actually. They bang around in there, enlarge the nest sometimes (or hunt bugs), they've nested pretty continuously from early spring to late fall. My cat goes nuts when the chicks hatch and chirp in there begging for food. He claws the walls and meows.

I think they thought twice about banging through all the way into the house after hearing him though. He might be preventing a complete wall breach!

I know exactly where the nest is by watching where he crouches and stares, or where he paws the wall. It's always the same spot too.

09-17-2010, 06:47 PM
Thanks, Robert! Sorry to hear about the woodpeckers in your house. It's pretty uncommon, as they are usually just drumming, but sometimes they decide to nest and then it can be destructive. Hopefully in your case, they've drilled enough to feel comfy but not enough to be a problem with the house.

Here is the latest quick one I did this afternoon. This is a Bonaparte's Gull. As you would logically expect, we have a lot of gulls in the Puget Sound area, including the occasional rarity that shows up in the winter. (Although Seattle is pretty far north, a number of arctic species fly down to our area to spend the winter here.) This gull is a small, and (by gull standards) delicately-shaped bird, with a small bill and a small, pigeon-like head. It is common in some local areas of Puget Sound, but not in the places I bird regularly. This was done from a photo that I took a few years ago, in watercolor, using an initial light pencil sketch.

C&C always welcome!


09-17-2010, 10:16 PM
John, this one is so beautiful. I love the perfect form and soft shading on him. The strong dark accents and the lifted foot are elegant. Perfect beak too. Well done!

09-17-2010, 11:30 PM
Definitely have to call this gull painting cute. Especially with the little foot up in the air.

09-18-2010, 12:16 AM
Thanks Robert and Debby!

Cute works for this one, Debby. These guy's are much smaller than the large gulls. Bonaparte's average 13 1/2 inches in length. The most common gull in our area - Glaucous-winged Gull - is 26 inches in length.

09-21-2010, 07:27 PM
Here's another one for this thread - a Pectoral Sandpiper. This one was done in watercolor pencil and wash from a friend's reference photo. I liked the unusual pose for the bird, getting ready to preen. I tried to keep this one looser than my normal style, and I think I did but it got sloppy in a couple places. Also, I've concluded for a beamy bird like this species, trying to get a decent watercolor - even when only intended as a sketch - I probably need bigger paper than the roughly 5x8" Moleskine watercolor sketchbook.

With the few watercolor pencil/wash pieces I've done, I struggle with whether they are a water media piece or a dry media piece...??? I settled on water media - any countervailing opinions out there?

C&C always welcome.


09-21-2010, 07:47 PM
Wow! Your feathers look soft :-)

09-21-2010, 08:02 PM
The bird is so cool.

Water color pencils are considered water media. Tho' they are recognized by the CPSA as colored pencils as well.

09-25-2010, 08:39 PM
Thank you Bootz and Debby!

Here is tonight's quickie sketch in watercolor. This is an Orange-crowned Warbler, which is pretty bland in coloration and plumage, which is why it was quick to do...:) . The bill is a bit too dark here, and perhaps a tad big, but overall, this shows the bird pretty well. This is in the A5 Moleskine watercolor book.

C&C welcome.


09-25-2010, 09:29 PM
Beautiful Pectoral Sandpiper. That's spectacular. I love the feather texture and detail on this one, he looks all fluffed up and so natural in that preening pose. You find such natural, original poses for them, it's great! Cool orange-crowned warbler too.

I think of watercolor pencils as water media when they're washed and colored pencils when they're not, or if it's an underpainting for colored pencils.

09-25-2010, 11:11 PM
Amazing. You get such detail with whatever media you are using.

09-25-2010, 11:30 PM
Thanks Robert and Debby! :wave:

09-27-2010, 08:11 AM
Ummmmmmmm WOW!!!!!!! The jaw has hit the floor and I am unsure if will ever come back up!

AMAZING works, each so beautiful and so informative, and THANKYOU for the information on each bird.

Although I'm an Aussie, it is AMAZING to see what other countries wildlife looks like through such a competent artist.

THANKYOU for these wonderful paintings and wanting to see more!!!!