Let’s Paint Autumn Nest!

On my last nature adventure with my Mom, we spotted this cute bird’s nest which was eye level on a shrub or young tree of which I have not yet identified. Not only did we discover a nest but beautiful blue berries too! Here is a picture of the actual nest:

I fell in love with it right away! I don’t know what kind of bird made it, but the funnest way to study something is to paint it.

So let’s get going…Let’s paint Autumn Nest!

Step 1: Make a rough sketch on wallis paper with charcoal. It doesn’t have to be exact, this just helps break up that big mean white space that everybody has to starts with.

Step 2: Even though this is going to be a pastel painting, we are going to lay the foundation with watercolors. Why? Two very good reasons. First, you cover a lot of ground with little paint, saving you from running out of your pastels too quickly. Second, you can create colors you might not have in your pastel collection. But mostly, I love starting with watercolors because it give the painting a nice soft flow-y effect. In this step I sprayed the background with water and put down big sweeps of cerulean blue. While wet, I painted the main branches and little twigs. Next I made the shape of the nest. No details in this step, details are for pastels.

Step 3: Now it starts to come to life! After step 2 is completely dry, take some rich colors like orange, fuchsia, and a vibrant blue and make some twigs on the nest. Remember, the cool colors on the bottom because they are in shadow and the warm colors on top where the sun hits the rim. Also, take a deep rich brown and make closer more defined twigs growing out of the thicker branches. I like to add some sage green colors to the larger branches. Tree trunks should always have a bit of green in them, never all brown. I don’t know why, it seems to look more believable.

Step 4 Final: Just keep layering twigs for the nest. Take your time…it’s so much fun! Add blue or purple for shadows underneath the nest and the under side of the branches. Add some fun berries, not in clusters though, that’s not how it looked on the field. Next, make the sky right behind the nest a little lighter with a pale light blue.
I can’t explain why I use the colors I do. Sometimes there is no rhyme or reason but it just feels like it belongs. Never limit yourself because you think a certain color will look ridiculous. Just do it. If it doesn’t work, you can always change it by layering with another colors or scrubbing it away with a stiff brush and starting again. Be free. No mistakes in art.

Autumn Nest

This painting will be on display for the LaGrange Art Gallery’s “Unexpected Treasures” show running November thru December, with an opening reception on Friday, November 14, 2008 7pm-9pm. Live music, food and wine! I will be there, maybe you can too?

I hope you enjoyed this pastel painting demonstration!


  1. “No mistakes in art” reminds me of Bob Ross; “We don’t make mistakes…We have happy accidents.” *L* Another beautiful piece of work, hon. I love your colors!

  2. Lana: Thanks Chickie! I always smiled when he said “happy accidents!” I never remember him making an accident though, he always knew what he was doing. I use to watch him all the time 🙂

  3. Beautiful artwork! Just curious, I started painting this past year, self-taught….after your watercolor background, are you then using acrylics?

  4. Nomad: Thanks! This nest painting came out way better than I thought it would..he, he, he! Thank you for your kind comment 🙂

    Spooky Dragonfly: Thank you! After the watercolor background I am using soft pastels. I have Rembrandts and Unison pastels, also pastel pencils for very fine lines. You can only do this (wet background underpainting) on wallis pastel paper (museum or professional grade) or you can use watercolor paper, but the pastels applied on top might not look that good. I hope this helps! Good job on training yourself to paint, you’ll go far if you never give up!
    PS Cool name you got there!

  5. Thanks for responding! I’m afraid I’m not quite as advanced as you! I just enjoy expressing myself, I guess. About the name…long story, but I do have an avid love of dragonflies which I bond with and photograph. It’s my obssession….that’s what happens when you stay way back in the woods so long!! Again, thank you…I’ll be popping back for future visits…love your blog!

  6. So beautiful… I have always loved to look at nests, but I have a hard time painting them… I really admire how you can take a bleak, gray brown picture into a warm, colorful, painting. I myself like to work with pastels. There’s always a way to fix it.

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