How to paint a barn owl

Meet a barn owl: I went to the Andover Hawk Conservancy and met little Echo. Ideally, I would have liked to keep him, but at least I got to take away some amazing photographs!

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Grid up your canvas: On this 20 by 20cm canvas, I went for squares of 5cm each, making sure that my photograph was also gridded up with the same dimensions. Then it’s a simple case of putting the basic shapes from the photograph into the same place on the canvas. Some artists may scorn at this approach, but to me it is just planning for success and avoids abortive work later on.

barn owl

Paint the background: For this painting I went for a simple matte violet (violet paint with a hint of white for extra creaminess.)

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Paint the face base coat: I find where you have white fur or feathers, paint a base of a purpley grey, and then use white over the top to add final detail.

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Rim the eyes: use long curled brushstrokes fanning out from around the eyes to create that characteristic heart shaped face.

Eye eye: paint the eyes as squashed circles, with a dark black surround and pupil, and a paler iris. Then put paler grey sheens where the light catches, and white glints.

Paint the beak: I used a pale pink, with a paler stripe down the middle. This then disappears into a darker tip, the same colour as the two (for want of a better word) nostrils. Then use white paint to flick little feathers over the top of the beak.

Body base coat: Start with a base of a slightly darker tan colour, using a mix of sienna, gold and white. Following this, add more white and gold and create areas of highlight and detail.

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Shades of grey: Barn owls have beautiful speckles of grey on their back and upper body. Refer to your photograph and use a mix of black, white and a hint of purple to give the grey an added dimension.

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Speckles on the speckles: I then cross hatched over the grey speckles using a darker grey and a lighter grey watery mix and a teeny tiny paintbrush.

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Finishing touches: Then I put on small black freckles with white tails. Check the photo if you don’t believe me! Bird’s feathers are so detailed and surprising when you look at them up close

Echo ARTbyIMI

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5 thoughts on “How to paint a barn owl

  1. I feel silly saying this, but I never thought to make a corresponding grid on the actual photo. That seems perfectly logical.
    I love to read about your technique. What kinds of brushes do you use to paint the feathers? Or is that a closely guarded artist’s secret? 🙂

    • Hi Jackie,
      It’s just my technique I share as a self trained artist… I think educated artists may disagree or scorn at the ways I work, but if it creates nice art, who cares ay?! I actually use watercolour brushes as they go to smaller sizes than brushes for acrylic. Go for a natural hair round brush in 00, 0 and 2 and you can get such fine detail with them. Acrylic inks are also great for the fine detail as they are more liquid. Have you any art projects on the go at the moment?

      • Ah, watercolor brushes! That’s a great idea. I’ll give that a try next time I’m at the art supply store.
        I’ve been doing more drawing than painting at the moment, but eventually I’d like to paint a portrait of a wolf!

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