How to Paint Birds With Feathers in Acrylics

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Paint beautiful birds of all types in acrylics. All it takes is a basic knowledge of bird anatomy and some familiarity with acrylic paint. Painting birds with colorful feathers is a worthwhile experience since you will learn to paint with a full spectrum of colors. Mixing colors is also a skill that you will learn in order to get the perfect colors to represent different-colored feathers. Acrylic painting is useful to beginners because it is a fast-drying medium that can be easily cleaned up with soap and water.

Things You'll Need

  • Water
  • Bird Photo Reference
  • Acrylic Paint
  • Brushes
  • Palette
  • Pencil
  • Spray Bottle With Water
  • Palette Knife
  • Canvas Or Other Painting Surface

Look at your bird reference photo and, using a pencil, create a contour drawing of what you see on a canvas or other suitable surface. The contour drawing should capture only the basic shapes of the bird. Aim to outline all the important shapes you see, such as body, head, and feet.

Study the photo and decide on a base color that can be used to create the overall impression of the bird's color. The base color should reflect whether the bird's hue is warm or cool. A warmer hue may require a base color such as tan and a cooler hue may have require a base color such as light blue.

Mix some colors together with your palette knife to create your base color. The base color will usually not be a color straight out of a paint tube, as these colors are too intense to be applied first in a layering approach.

Decide which colors you will layer on top of the base hue. The colors should become stronger in intensity and more opaque with each new layer, as you create the solid color for the bird. Mix these colors on your palette before painting them on your canvas.

Apply the base color to your canvas, mixed with water to create a light wash. Paint over the entire body, head, and feet of your bird. Allow the paint to dry.

Brush the next layers of paint onto the bird, using less water each time. Less water will allow the top layers to be stronger and more opaque. Stop painting when you have a solid overall color. Do not allow the paint to dry anymore. Acrylic dries fast, so you will have to work quickly, and use a spray bottle full of water to keep things flowing.

Choose the area of the bird you would like to detail first. The ideal approach is to start with the body and paint the details, such as feathers, on top of the other layers. Feather texture can be shown by painting V shapes that protrude from the bird's body.

Refine details such as the eye, beak, and feet by painting over the original layers with colors that match what you see in the photo reference.


  • As long as the paint is wet, you can use the brush to move it around and shape it on the canvas anyway you wish.