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Art Lesson: How to Paint a Nuthatch

Nuthatches are one of my favorite birds. I enjoy watching them creep sideways or even upside down along the sides of a tree; or resting on a stump. In this painting lesson, I will share how I paint a nuthatch from the start.

Step One: Take a photo. This can take hours, and involves “bird stalking” near feeders or in the woods, over a period of days and weeks. Once I have taken about 100 photos, I cull through for the one I like best.

Here’s one I like (and feel free to use it as a reference, if you are an artist):

photograph of a nuthatch

Step Two: Next, you will want to prep the canvas with the background colors you like to represent the time of year (in this painting, it is winter, so there are no greens, mainly grays and browns). Here, I used a mix of titanium white, ultramarine blue, and burnt umber in varying proportions. I create a lighter area in the middle for contrast with my nuthatch. I then start drawing the painting with a light application of acrylic paint:

Step three: Now, you will want to start filling in the painting with more detail, layering in the feather groups and working on the eyes and head. In this example, I used varying proportions of a very limited palette consisting of the colors above, along with a bit of yellow ochre and burnt sienna.

Step Four: Now that the painting is roughed in, at this point, you will continue using the media you prefer, whether acrylics or oils. I switched to oil paints (I like the blends and colors I can get). The palette in oils remains the same as mentioned above: titanium white, ultramarine blue, burnt sienna, burnt umber, yellow ochre.

During this step, you will begin working in more lights and darks, and adding more details. Also, because nuthatches more typically use stumps as a perch, I changed the initial branch into a stump – but you can perch your bird on almost anything (even a windowsill!). I like the sense of dynamic movement that this pose brings to the painting.

Step Five: Next, continue working on details, lights and darks to finish the painting.

Here’s what the finished painting looks like:

oil painting of a nuthatch perched on a stump.

I hope this inspires you to try painting your own nuthatch. If you do, I would love to see what yours looks like!

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