In autumn, I like to watch for birds that are migrating south, but I also enjoy the rear-round regulars that visit our yard. With mating out of the way and young fledged, songbirds focus on the singular task of eating to prepare for the long, lean winter. A harvest of flowers gone to seed and fruit on wild vines, supplemented by bird feeders set a welcome table.goldfinch-fnl_900px

Drawing birds takes some practice and a bit of study to familiarize yourself with anatomy, feather groups, and the correct placement of legs and eyes. I spend time drawing birds from mounted museum specimens, study skins, and photographs, as well as from life. For a piece like this, all of those things combine to inform the finished artwork.

I typically start with a light pencil sketch so that I can refine the lines, and then add ink. I like a Micron 005 so that the lines are very fine and I can suggest feathers here and there. Then I paint a loose wash to map out major areas, followed by increasingly detailed layers of color and value. I go from a size 5 or 6 brush at the start and finish with a size 1.

21 Comments on “Goldfinch

  1. Beautiful, Jean. Thank you for the details about your process. I like the use of the 005 Micron. I hardly notice the line.

    • I like the combination of ink with watercolor, but don’t want the ink to be too heavy. It’s a balancing act. Sometimes, more ink, sometimes more details done in paint. Keeps me learning. Thanks for your feedback. It always helps to know what information is useful.

  2. A lovely painting and your technic makes the composition very delicate. Thanks for explaining your technique in painting this composition, using a watercolor wash over colored pencil. I have never tries this method; something new.

    • Just to clarify– no colored pencil here. Just regular watercolor after a initial sketch in pencil and ink. I think you could try colored pencil…I just can’t get my watercolors sharp enough to use them much when I want fine lines.

      • Oooops, Jean, I apologize for my misreading your blog post. I should have reread your comment more slowly. Knowing now that you did not use watercolor over colored pencil makes sense. I think the oil in the colored pencil would have resisted the watercolor paint but I’m going ahead and give it a try.

  3. Hi Jean. This is gorgeous, as always. You may be amused to hear that I’ve abandoned my Platinum Carbon pen and have gone back to the good old Micron .005 like you used here. Just can’t beat that super thin line.

    Melissa Van Ness

    • Well…you’ve got to use the right tool for the job. I want to try the Platinum Carbon on better watercolor paper and see how I like it. Thanks again for the gift!

  4. Lovely Jean. It is fascinating to know about the bringing together of accumulated knowledge to produce this. Do you get regular visit from Goldfinches ? They are quite small ? I imagine that they do not stay still for long !

    • Thanks Alissa. Yes, goldfinches are frequent visitors to our feeders and they sit still longer than many birds while eating. They are the same size as sparrows and other small songbirds. Overall, a “cooperative” subject without as much detail in the feathers as many other small birds.

  5. Beautiful work Jean. I also like the micron 0.05 pen. A too thick line makes the art look like a cartoon. I love the way you are able to capture the bird’s alert expression. Has it seen a cat perhaps or is it just checking before tasting the nectar or seed.

    • Thanks Anne. I sometimes like the graphic look of a thick line, but I don’t seem to have success with that approach much. I used to like the bold line of the Micron Graphic 1 when working very fast. But I much prefer to work more slowly and carefully.

  6. Love this, Jean, alas our goldfinches in Ohio are back to winter plumage… I’ve been working on birds, but need to go back and revisit my notes from Jonathan. Thanks for the reminder, and the tips, now can I lay out of work to try? 🙂

    • Yes…finding time is always tricky. A balancing art where, for me, work always seems to tip the scales and I struggle to get art in. Keep at it!

  7. Jean,

    You really captured the head and the little finches expression – up here they’ve all changed to their winter plumage.

    Hope all is going well – a big hug to you,


    Juanita Roushdy President Friends of Hog Island P.O. Box 242 Bremen, ME 04551 207-529-2355 910-233-8548 (cell)

    Friends of Hog Island – Promises made; promises kept.


  8. I love the composition – it tells a story of the bird. Your goldfinches obviously like the same sort of food as our goldfinches in the UK. It is interesting to see the difference.

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