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Medium: Oil Category:

This oil painting demonstration/tutorial of an American Robin is from the book, Painting Songbirds by Sherry C. Nelson, published by North Light Books, an imprint of F + W Media, Inc. Reprinted with permission of the publisher. All steps included.

American Robin
by Sherry C. Nelson



Surface: 9" x 12" (23cm x 30cm)
hardboard panel, 1/8" (3mm) thick

Delta Ceramcoat acrylic paints: Moss Green, Desert Sun Orange, Light Ivory, Flesh Tan


Winsor & Newton Artist's Oils: Ivory Black, Titanium White, Raw Sienna, Raw Umber, Burnt Sienna, Sap Green, Cadminum Yellow Pale

BRUSHES: nos. 2, 4, 6, 8 red sable brights
no. 0 red sable round

PREPARE THE BACKGROUND - Base the hardboard panel, using a sponge roller with Moss Green. Let dry, sand well. Rebase, and while wet drizzle on a 1-inch (25mm) stripe of Desert Sun Orange and a 1-inch (25mm) stripe of Light Ivory side by side near the edge of the surface. Blend into the basecoat with the same roller, moving colors here and there primarily around the edges of the surface to distribute the color and soften into the background.

Then, in the center of the surface, drizzle 1 to 2 inches (25 to 51mm) of Flesh Tan. Blend here and there to distribute this highlight and to intermingle with the rusty tones. Let dry, sand well, and spray with Liberty Matte Finish.

Step 1

Step 1 - Tail and Rump

Tail: Using a no. 4 or no. 6 bright, base dark value with Black + Raw Umber.

Rump and Back: Using the no. 4 bright, base the back with Black + Raw Umber + a little White. Add a bit more White to the mix and base the rump.

Undertail: Base with White using a no. 2.

Step 2

Step 2 - Tail and Rump

Tail: Streak feather lines with dirty brush + White.

Rump and Back: Blend where values meet, then highlight with White, applying color in several irregular patches.

Undertail: Shade with a little Raw Umber, with short choppy strokes.

Step 3

Step 3 - Tail and Rump

Tail: Accent with a little Burnt Sienna between some of the feather lines.

Rump and Back: Blend the first highlights with choppy strokes to give a feathery texture. Then highlight again with White. Chop final short strokes with growth direction, leaving feather texture for realistic look.

Undertail: Blend just a little between values. Connect the edge of the undertail into the bottom edge of the rump with a few choppy strokes.

Step 1

Step 1 - Wing Feathers

Primaries: Using the no. 4, base all but the edge of each feather with Black + Raw Umber.

Secondaries: Using the no. 4, base the darker half of each feather with Black + Raw Umber. Then base the lighter half, leaving all but the edge of each feather open, using Black + Raw Umber + White.

Coverts and Scapulars:

Using the no. 2, base the dark area with Black + Raw Umber and the lighter value with Black + Raw Umber + White. Draw in covert feather lines with the stylus as you base over them.

Step 2

Step 2 - Wing Feathers

Primaries and Secondaries: Fill in open edges of feathers with Raw Sienna + White, or dirty brush + White.

Coverts: Blend where the values meet, with the growth direction, within each feather. Then add feather lines with Raw Sienna + White, using the chisel edge of the no. 2 and beginning with the bottom row. As feather edge lines are completed, add central shaft lines on a few feathers with the same mix.

Scapulars: Highlight with slightly dirty White.

Step 3

Step 3 - Wing Feathers

Primaries: At tips of primaries where the feathers widen out, there's just enough room for a little lateral growth direction. Use a dry brush squeezed to a chisel edge, and pull a bit of paint from the light edge into the dark feather. Make lines close together so they form the feather fiber.

Secondaries: Do the same for the secondaries as you did for the primaries.

Coverts: Where space permits, pull a few close-together lateral feather lines from the edge of the feather inward. Where the coverts meet the bird's breast, there are two feathers that are highlighted with an area of clean White.

Scapulars: Using choppy strokes of the brush, blend the highlight. Then chop some shorter, more indistinct rows of feathers above the defined coverts to make a gradation of detail as you move up the wing.

Steps 1 and 2

Step 1 - Head Using the no. 0 round brush, base the eye-ring with Raw Sienna. Base white markings around eye with White + a tiny bit of Raw Sienna, using the no. 0 bright. Base the beak with Raw Sienna + Cadmium Yellow Pale, using the no. 2. Base the chin with Black + White.

Step 2 - Head Base eye with Black using the round brush. Shade the base of beak with Raw Umber using the no. 2. Shade the underside of the lower mandible with Burnt Sienna. Base the nape with Black + Raw Umber + White. Base rest of head with Black + Raw Umber, carefully connecting the mix to the areas around it with chisel edge zig-zags thaat conform to the growth direction in each area.

Step 3

Step 3 - Head

Highlight the eye with a dot of White. Highlight white eye markings with White, stippled on with flattened tip of the round brush. Blend where nape and chin meet the dark value of the head. Use a bit of the dirty White you pick up to apply a faint gray feathery highlight on top of the crown. Accent the auricular with Burnt Sienna. Blend the beak where values meet. Highlight beak with White, and stipple color a bit with flattened tip of the round brush for texture. Highlight under the chin with a little White. Finally, using the round brush and slightly-thinned Black, pull a few fine lines over base of beak.

Steps 1 through 3

Step 1 - Moth Using the no. 2, base all green sections with Sap Green + Raw Sienna + White. Base sections on hind wings next to body with a mix using slightly less White. Base body with Raw Sienna.

Step 2 - Moth Highlight wing with tiny chisel edge strokes of dirty brush + White. Stipple White highlight on body with flattened tip of the round brush.

Step 3 - Moth Blend highlight on body with dry tip of round brush. Detail irregular section lines with tip of round brush + White. Add detail on body and do antennae with Raw Umber, slightly thinned, applied with round brush.

Step 1

Step 1 - Breast, Belly and Phlox

Breast and Belly: Base with Burnt Sienna, following the natural growth direction as you stroke in the sparse paint, using a no. 4.

Phlox: Base with White + Raw Sienna using the no. 2 bright.

Leaves and Stems: Using the no. 4, base dark value with Black + Sap Green and light value with Sap Green + Raw Sienna + White. Base light value of leaves at edge of design with Raw Sienna + White.

Step 2

Step 2 - Breast, Belly and Phlox

Breast and Belly: Shade with Raw Umber. Highlight with Raw Sienna + White.

Phlox: Shade with darker green mix in more shadowed areas and the lighter green mix in lighter areas. Highlight with pure White.

Leaves and Stems: Blend where values meet, following the natural growth direction of the leaves. Highlight leaves with White + Sap Green + Raw Sienna. Use the same mix to highlight down center of each stem.

Step 3

Step 3 - Breast, Belly and Plox

Breast and Belly: Blend where values meet. Use choppy short strokes of the chisel and follow growth direction of the feathers in each area of the bird's breast and belly. Create form and shape by not overworking, retaining individual values. Think texture! Flip up a few soft feathers from breast over the edge of the wing.

Phlox: Blend where values meet, carefully following natural growth direction of each petal. With point of round brush create star-shaped center of Burnt Sienna. Fill in with a dot of White.

Leaves: Blend the leaf highlights. Add off-white flip turns with palest light green mix. Add veining with light green mix using the chisel edge of the brush. Accent with Burnt Sienna in a few shadowed areas. Blend with growth direction.

FINISH: Before painting is dry, clean up any graphite lines or messy edges with the no. 8 bright dipped in odorless thinner and blotted on a paper towel.

9" X 12" (23cm x 30cm)
Sherry C. Nelson

Demonstration from Nelson's book, Painting Songbirds
published by North Light Books, an imprint of F + W Publications. Reprinted with permission of the publisher.

See Painting Songbirds listing at Amazon.com

Sherry C. Nelson's Web Site


Artwork and Text Copyright 2013 by Sherry C. Nelson. All Rights Reserved.

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