A Bird with Character
PART TWO: PAINTING THE SCRUB JAY
I am ready to paint. I will use acrylic paints for this project. Acrylics are durable and work quickly, and I use them for all my carvings. For this project, I used Jo Sonja’s Artist’s Colors, which I like for their more realistic matte finish. Some paints will leave a slight sheen to the finish. I want to control the sheen on my painting, so I add a varnish in specific areas that need it. My colors for the scrub jay are titanium white, warm white, smoked pearl, carbon black, burnt umber, raw umber, and ultramarine blue. I also used other Jo Sonja’s mediums, which included matte varnish.
Since entering his first competition in 1994, Jerry Simchuk has competed regularly at top-level bird carving shows around the country. A full-time artist since 2004, Jerry currently lives in Spokane, Washington, where he continues to build his reputation as a wildlife artist, carver, judge, and instructor. You can reach him at Jerry@Simchuk.com.
Note: Colors may be off due to variations in the printing process. Trust the ratios above even if the colors you mix differ slightly from what you see in print.
Gray Mix: 1 part warm white, ¼ part carbon black
Smoky Gray Mix: 1 part smoked pearl, 1⁄4 to 1⁄2 part carbon black
Tan Mix: 1 part warm white, 1 part raw umber
Light Ultra Blue Mix: 1 part ultramarine blue, 1 part warm white
Ultra Blue Gray Mix: 1 part ultramarine blue, 1 part warm white, 1⁄8 part burnt umber
Lighter Ultra Blue Mix: 1 part ultramarine blue, 2 parts warm white
Dark Mix: 2 parts burnt umber, 1 part ultramarine blue
Highlight Gray Mix: 1 part smoked pearl, 1⁄4 to 1⁄2 part carbon black, 1 part warm white
Medium Dark Tan Mix: 3 parts raw umber, 1 part warm white
Dark Tan Mix: 5 parts raw umber, 1 part warm white
Gray Blue Mix: 1 part smoked pearl, 1⁄8 part carbon black, touch of ultramarine blue
Seal and Apply Base Whites
The first thing is to seal the bird so you have a consistent surface. Apply your first coat of the sealer fairly heavily as wood will soak up a lot of it.
I typically apply two or three good coats. Wait 15–30 minutes between coats. I usually allow the final coat to dry overnight. Next, establish a clean and consistent off-white surface before applying color. I use a couple washes of smoked pearl until I get a uniform look to the white. You want to be sure to cover up the dark burn markings. Then apply a single wash of warm white.
Looking at the live bird, you’ll see the undersides have gray tones. It is also important to create depth with the white feathers. The first step in creating depth is to apply a wash or two of the gray mix using wet-on-wet technique. It is going to be darker on the throat feathering.
With the gray undertone in place, it is important to pull the white back out onto the surface of the feathers. Dry brush smoked pearl over all the white feather areas. Then dry brush warm white on the throat/breast feathering and lower portion of the bird, leaving the feathering near the blue and white throat feathers darker. Then dry brush titanium white on the tips or edges of the whitest feathers, such as the under-tail coverts and vent feathers.
BROWNISH BREAST FEATHER COLORING
Create a darker white/brown tone on the breast, belly, and flanks. Check your reference for color and location. Add a touch of raw umber to the smoked pearl and dry brush this darker tone along the base of the blue and white throat feathers. Bring this tone down softly into the mid-body for a subtle transition to the whites.
UNDER TAIL COLORATION
First, apply a base color of raw umber to the under tail in a couple applications, while wet blending into the lightest portion of the feathers. It is darkest on the outer edges and ends of each feather. Now apply raw umber along and on the quills.
WAVY BAR MARKINGS
Apply narrow and wavy bar markings on the under-tail feathers using the smoky gray mix. You need only one application. You can see the light bar markings on the under tail in the live bird photo below. With the brown tone in place, use a wash or two of the smoky gray mix, concentrating on the outer edges where the color is darkest. Wet blend this application into the quill where it is lighter in tone.
QUILLS AND SPLITS
Apply a thin wash of ultramarine blue to the under-tail feathers to get a blue tone to the gray. Paint the upper edges of the quills with smoked pearl while retaining the brown tone down the center of the quill. You won’t be able to retain the brown where the quill narrows and that is fine. Highlight the edges and splits with the tan mix and then use warm white to brighten the edges and splits where desired. Finally, outline each tail feather and splits with carbon black.
Touch up the under-tail covert feathering with warm white, titanium white, ultramarine blue, and the dark mix.
TOP TAIL COLORATION
Apply a base color for the top of the tail feathers using the light ultra blue mix. It will generally take three washes of this mix to get a nice uniform coverage.
There are narrow and wavy bar markings on the tail feathers. Apply these with one or two applications of the ultra blue gray mix.
MORE TOP TAIL
The feathers are darkest around the outer edges and ends. To create this effect, apply a wash or two of the smoky gray mix to the outer edges and ends of each feather, more toward the ends than near the body.
Add a blue tone back to the tail feathers with a thin wash of ultramarine blue over the entire tail.
TOP TAIL FEATHER DETAILING
Highlight the edges and splits on the tail feathers using the light ultra blue mix. To provide a brighter highlighting, apply the lighter ultra blue mix to the edges and splits as needed. Once you get the highlighting to the desired level, apply a very thin wash of ultramarine blue over the entire tail to get a slight blue glow. Paint the quills with the dark mix. Outline each feather and split using carbon black. Touch up the tail covert feathering with warm white and blue tones as needed.
WING FEATHER COLORATION
It is time to establish the base color for the wing feathers using the light ultra blue mix. It will generally take three washes of this mix to get a uniform coverage. There are narrow and wavy bar markings on the wing feathers. Apply these with one or two applications of the ultra blue gray mix.
The wing covert feathers do not have markings. Instead, they have darker bases. Use the ultra blue gray mix to darken the bases of the wing covert feathers.
DARKEN WING FEATHERS
The feathers are darkest around the outer edges and ends. To create this effect, apply a wash or two of the smoky gray mix to the outer edges and ends of each feather, more toward the ends than near the body. For the wing covert feathers, apply this mix to the base of each feather.
HIGHLIGHTING WING FEATHERS
Use the highlight gray mix to highlight the ends and edges of the wing feathers. Concentrate more on the ends of the feathers and the lower few primary feather edges. If the highlighting doesn’t appear light enough, apply a little more warm white to the mix and re-highlight. Apply a thin wash of burnt umber to the primary feathers as they need a slightly darker brown tone.
FINISHING TOUCHES TO WING FEATHERS
Highlight the edges and splits on the wing feathers by using the light ultra blue mix. To provide a brighter highlighting, apply the lighter ultra blue mix to the edges and splits as needed. Add more warm white to the highlight blues if you desire a lighter highlight. Use warm white to highlight the primaries and lightest gray highlight areas. Once you get your desired highlighting, apply a very thin wash of ultramarine blue over the entire wing for a slight blue glow. Paint the quills with the dark mix. Outline each feather and split using carbon black.
Highlight the wing covert feathers with the blue tones from the previous step plus warm white by using an ultra round paintbrush and feather lining or feather tipping. Use the brush to paint lines from the tip or edge of the feather inward, following the carved texture. Stay on the top surface of the texture. When lining, concentrate the color on the end of the texture/feather and gradually fade the line as it approaches the base.
Add two or three applications of the medium dark tan mix over the cape. Wet blend the edges for a soft transition into the wing and head feathers. Apply a wash or two of the dark tan mix to the cape for a darker tone. To add more darkness to the splits with a slight blue tone, apply a single thin wash of the gray blue mix to the cape.
Highlight the splits on the cape by dry brushing four highlight tones. Start with the tan mix with a little extra warm white added and dry brush it over the entire cape.
The next highlight tone is the gray mix with a little extra warm white. Dry brush this tone more toward the back and less around the base of the head. Now use some of the gray blue mix, concentrating more around the edges as the cape feathers transition into the wing feathering. The final highlight tone is the light ultra blue mix, focused more along the edges of the cape feathers. Add some random touches of this blue tone in the main cape area to carry a touch of blue across the entire cape. Go back and forth with these four tones to get your desired effect.
BASE BLUE ON HEAD AND BREAST
It is time to establish the base color for the head and outer blue breast patch feathers with the light ultra blue mix. It will generally take three washes of this mix to get uniform coverage.
APPLY BLUES TO HEAD AND BREAST
Apply a single dappled application of the ultra blue gray mix to the head and outer breast patch feathers. Concentrate the darker tone toward the bases of the breast feathering.
APPLY DARK TONES TO HEAD AND BREAST PATCH
Apply a singled dappled application of the smoky gray mix to the head and outer breast patch feathers. With this tone, apply more around the outer portion of the cheek patches, the eyes, and the nostril bristles. You can darken the feather grouping within the white throat/breast patch with some concentrated washes. The darker portion of the face requires a thin application of the dark mix. Wet blend into the cheek patch areas for a soft transition. Concentrate on the outer portion of the cheek patches, eyes, front of the eyes, nostril bristles, throat, and bill. Apply a thin wash in the darkest areas of the white throat/breast patch as well if desired.
HIGHLIGHT THE HEAD AND BREAST
Highlight the feathering on the head and throat patch by dry brushing the light ultra blue mix. For brighter highlighting, add the lighter ultra blue mix to the edges and splits as needed. When you’re happy with the highlighting, apply a very thin wash of ultramarine blue over the feathers for a slight blue glow.
Dry brush the face’s white tones. Start with the tan mix, concentrating in the areas that are to appear light or white in tone. Follow up with warm white where the face is whitest.
To create the white feathering of the brow, start with a couple applications of the tan mix by feather tipping or feather lining. Follow this up with a few applications of warm white on the outer half or three quarters of each white feather.
You can give the beak more definition by adding a little highlighting along the lower edge and tip of the upper mandible. Apply a thin wash of the tan mix until you achieve the desired brightness. Outline the upper and lower mandible with carbon black.
HIGHLIGHTING THE THROAT AND BREAST WHITES
Re-highlight the throat/breast patch whites by dry brushing or feather lining with smoked pearl, warm white, and then titanium white.
If you are painting a cast bird, you will need to paint the eyes. Apply a base color of burnt umber over the entire eye and paint the pupil with carbon black. If you are using glass eyes, simply remove the paint from each eye, using a toothpick and water to lift the paint from the glass. Then paint the inner eye ring with carbon black.
Clean up the transition areas. You want the darkness of the under feathers to show in the splits of the lighter upper feathers. Also make sure the light tone or whites of the light feathers show up by slightly pulling the feather tips onto the darker feathers. You may want to darken the upper breast by dry brushing a little more raw umber/smoked pearl next to the throat/breast patch.
THE PAINTED BIRD
If you wish to seal your project this is the time to do so. I prefer to use Testor’s Dullcote for this job. Once the sealer dries you can then go back to your bird and apply some shine. Apply one application of matte varnish on the eye ring. For the beak, I use watered-down matte varnish and apply multiple washes until I get the desired sheen. You can also give the quills a straight application of matte varnish. The final thing I do is shine up under the tail using a thin wash of white iridescence.
In the next issue, I will cover the habitat and leg creation for this project.