Let’s Paint the Heron!

Let’s both paint the night heron that we saw at Lake Katherine a few posts ago! I believe with good instruction and practice anyone can learn to paint. How do you know you can’t draw or paint if you’ve never tried?

OK, here we go!
First, I have a blown up picture next to my watercolor paper (140lb cold press) which has been stretched and securely fastened to a wooden board. Next, I mask out the spots that need to stay white, which are his thin white feathers on his back, above his eye, below his eye, on the rim of his wing, and a dot in the middle of his eye for light reflection. My masking fluid is light orange. Masking fluid comes in blue, orange, white and pink. !Let masking fluid completely dry before you continue painting or you’ll have a big yucky mess!
Because I’m inpatient, I started painting his legs while the masking fluid was drying. His legs have light yellow in front and ocher yellow in back.

Next, do a wet on wet wash on his body. For his neck use light yellow and pink. For his wing use ultramarine blue, and alizarin crimson with a heavier emphasis on the blue. For his head and back just use the blue. Remember, if you get carried away (me, always), and you use too much paint, you can blot it with a towel or Kleenex and you will really be able to lighten a mistake. For the rock, a wet on wet wash of indian yellow, sap green and ultramarine blue. Let everything dry completely!

Next, we need to darken his back, wing, and bill. Make a black mixture, never use tube black…it’s so flat and lifeless, mix ultramarine blue, alizarin crimson, the sap green and a little dark brown to make an almost black color. Paint his back, head and bill, going right over the dried masking fluid.
For his wing, use less water and mix a purple color with um. blue and alizarin crimson. Paint the edges of his wing. To smooth the wing area (while wet) out take a clean brush, add clean water and touch the edges and move around. Paint his eye red. Let everything dry!

Next, give him shadow on his “cheeks” and throat with water and a touch of um. blue and a touch of brown, just a touch…mostly water to get a light color. Remember every time you layer with watercolors your color gets darker. Add another layer of paint to the rock (same colors), blue and green to the right represent the wonderful moss growing on a wet rock. Detail his feet with brown markings on his “knees” and talons. Don’t forget his claws!
For the water in the background, mix a lot of water and prussian blue or thalo blue. Make sweeping strokes back and forth. With a knife, scrape wave lines while the paint is wet, it will make a nice pattern when dry. Let completely dry!

Finally, take the making fluid off by rubbing it with you finger or rubber eraser. Now, if your painting isn’t fully dry when you do this you’ll have a nightmare, so be patient or dry it with a hair dryer. Darken his eye with some dark brown on top of the red but leave some red show through. Darken his bill with more homemade black. Darken under his wing with a thin line of of that same black.
Lastly, make another layer of paint on the rock with the same rock colors except less water and more paint.

Two secrets for success: Always let dry in between steps and let little pockets of white paper show through for breathing room. If you make sure to do these two steps with every painting, you’ll surely have a better painting! It took me a long time to learn that with much frustration in between. I wanted to save you the trouble!

TA-DA! Job well done!

Don’t forget to sign your masterpiece! You did it!


  1. I love this post! πŸ™‚ You explain everything so well.

    I don’t have the patience to wait … and I have a need to fill in all the white space! lol My water colour instructor would get so frustrated with me!!

  2. Thanks for taking us step by step to making a watercolor. I haven’t done a watercolor in a while so this is very helpful. I like the new site.

  3. Beautiful picture and painting of the Heron, Chris! Your words are so encouraging – it makes me think that maybe I’d like to try it. A good winter project perhaps – when we’re snowed in. I was wondering – can the background be done first? Very interesting tips and instruction. Thanks for this. WELL DONE!

  4. Kudos! I often try to imagine how I’d teach someone about something, only to always end up realizing that I wasn’t born to be a teacher. *L* You’ve done a great job of it here.

  5. Drowsey: Thanks so much, it was really fun! I know how you feel when painting…I have no patience as well..I want it done NOWWWWW! lol.

    Bets: Thanks for stopping by and thanks for the kind comment! πŸ™‚

    Joan: Ooooo, watercolor painting is so much fun! You must pick it up again! Thanks for the nice comment! πŸ™‚

    Shelley: Thank you! It was fun to do, but halfway I thought…what if I mess this all up? I’ll have to start over and delete all these pictures! lol!

    Ben: Thanks Ben, that’s so nice!

    April: YOU CAN TRY IT!!! I bet you would do a wonderful job! Yes, you can do the background first, but leave a big white spot for your bird or else everything will look a little dark. Thank you April!

    Lana: Thanks so much! I hope it’s easy to understand and makes one feel like they want to try it! πŸ™‚

  6. That is one of the best tutorials I have ever seen about painting. My dad always said to make your own colours too – especially black. I remember him using lots of ultra marine blue, prussian blue and yellow ochre. I knew the names of all those tubes of paint at a very young age. There was another I recall now – vermilion? – I’m not sure if that was red or green. Hmmm. I need to get back to the drawing board…

    Great post. And I wish I could get over more often.

  7. Crazycath: Thank you! That’s so neat how you knew all of the artist named paints at such a young age, and your dad was so right about having to make your own black. Oh yeah, vermilion is a red color….do you paint as well? Don’t worry about not getting over often….I know how hard it is to fit all of the wonderful blogs into a busy schedule!

    Monarch: Thanks my pretty butterfly! Opps, I mean handsome!

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