Two Swallows

No turtle doves here this Christmas, and no partridge in a pear tree. Just two tree swallows and a bird house I’m giving as a gift. I started the first painting on traditional watercolor paper and then decided to paint a second to test drive the new Nova series toned paper from Stillman & Birn. Doing the paintings side by side gave me a perfect opportunity to compare papers while painting the same subject using the same materials and techniques. Which do you like for the gift?

Tips & Techniques: The toned paper is 150gsm and labeled suitable for dry media, light wash, and ink. I used white gouache for the breast and regular transparent watercolor for the rest and was surprised at how well the paper took the paint. It buckled only slightly, so I kept the watercolors on the dry side. In contrast, the painting on watercolor paper (Strathmore 400 series 140lb) enabled me to work a little wetter. Here, I let the white of the paper serve as my white and added only pale shadows on the breast. Though the colors are cleaner on the white paper, I like toned paper for the impact of subjects like this that have strong whites. I wish the Nova paper was a little heavier, but I like it enough that I may do a series of birds on it.

21 Comments on “Two Swallows

  1. I prefer the Nova, as the grey complements the bird’s coloring. (I just bought a small Nova sketchbook myself, to test it out. But since I normally use S&B’s Alpha series, I am used to the weight and it’s really about the color change for me!)

    Lovely gift.

  2. So hard to choose here because they are each so beautiful and have different blessings. The one on the darker paper shows much more detail in the wing feathers and the one with the gold background feels warm and inviting. So cheerful and glad. I do love them both.

  3. Both are gift worthy but it’s the top one on the Nova paper that really catches my attention and my heart. That one is outstanding.

  4. Both are beautifully painted but I prefer the second one on the white paper. Just my very personal preference simply because the overall painting is lighter and brighter – I am always irresistibly drawn to the light, I can’t help myself….

  5. I like them both but prefer the one with yellow background. Could you comment on whether you drew each bird separately or did you trace one? and do you draw from your own photography? and if not, do you try to obtain permission from the photographer. I find the whole copyright thing confusing. Thank you for sharing.

    • Hi Sandy- I’m enjoying all the comments today. To answer your questions: I drew each bird separately from a free photo obtained from I do try to be careful about using my own photos, drawing from specimens or from life, or obtaining permission to use other’s photographs. I also spend a lot of time “in the field” observing birds, and this is critical to informing my work. Professional photographers are artists, too, and they don’t appreciate it when people copy their photos. I have several friends who are excellent photographers and they are very generous in letting me draw from their images. Hope that helps.

  6. Both are beautiful. The Nova one is very sophisticated because of the subtle palette, but thte other is lighter and more cheery. I am sure your friend would be thrilled with either as a gift.

  7. Gorgeous work, Jean, and I’d have a hard time picking one over the other. They have different feelings, as I’m sure you know, so since it’s a gift I’d choose based on the recipient – which you think might please them more. It’s cool that the toned paper didn’t buckle much – I look forward tos seeing more work on it. Have a great holiday!

  8. Another really beautiful post. It’s a tough call to say which background/paper I would prefer, as they’re both wonderful. But I do think the bird’s Beauty is highlighted more in the bottom drawing. I hope that you will create a series on this new paper! I must watch for it!

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