American Robin

Sketchers place a lot of emphasis on being about to work fast to quickly capture what they are seeing. I work with the same time pressures when working outside or when sketching on the go. However, I find the exact opposite is needed when I sit down to do a detailed painting. Then, there is no substitute for taking my time and working slowly and carefully. Here’s the third painting in my perching bird series. It took me several days of drawing in fits and starts to get the bird’s position the way I wanted it, and then I painted it over the course of a week, stopping to breath, observe, think through color choices, and take things one step at a time.

Tips and Techniques–  Here are two images of the American robin in progress. You can see the underlying loose wash on the robin that helps make the colors interesting and lively. The initial wash on the gray back and head is a mix of ultramarine blue and burnt sienna. Second washes included more of the same mix, as well as washes of ultramarine with alizarin crimson to create purple tones. The breast began with burnt sienna, but later washes included a mix of aureolin yellow and pyrol scarlet, which gave it a warmer orange color. My choice to paint the word Robin in yellow ochre came after taking a hiatus in order to think through possibilities. I made some color swatches of other contenders before settling on ochre, but I think it makes a perfect complement to the eggs and the bird. (Click to view larger; sorry the image quality isn’t better)

48 Comments on “American Robin

  1. Jean, I am always touched by the delicacy of your work in color and line. There is something that reaches out – a fragility, an endurance, a fleeting beauty caught on paper, a joy in life. Thank you for sharing your work with the world!

  2. Beautiful! I’ve loved this Perching Bird series! And love reading your Tips and Techniques…thank you for sharing!

  3. Absolutely beautiful. I want to say more but I am at a loss for words. It just occurred to me that I could look at it on my iMac desktop and enjoy it even more.
    Perhaps I am surprised that I am “wowed” by such a familiar bird that I often watch and think I know so well.
    Apparently I am NOT at a loss for words. ;D
    It is the composition of this one. He really is breathtaking. I’m glad you took the time and, of course, stopped to breathe. By the way, the image quality for me is great.

  4. This series is magical… and this newest image is just beautiful…

  5. Really like this series. Thankyou for sharing the tips and techniques. Very different to our rounder,redder, dumpy British Robin! Look forward to your posts each week. Thank you

    • Ah– the British robin “dumpy”? No! You have a perky little songster in your robin. I would paint it for the series if only it lived here. Glad you’re enjoying Drawn In, Mair.

  6. I love everything about it! Thanks for sharing the process. Even though I just dabble for fun with watercolor, strictly hobbyist, it’s intriguing to see how a true artist works!


  7. This piece really speaks to me Jean. Robins are my favorite bird. I love their symplicity
    Of shape and color. And that yellow beak! You’ve really captured her! Your lettering is so fun!

  8. Delightful, as always, Jean. Like others here, I appreciate the reminder to slow down and take it one step at a time. I’m always impatient and often it shows up where I didn’t let the paint dry! Keep on sharing your artistry, please.

    • Letting the paint dry between layers makes a big difference. But I think learning when you can still add to a wash and when its too late takes a lot of trial and error. Keep working at it.

  9. This is gorgeous for all the reasons the others have already said….. thank you for sharing.

  10. I love the eggs in the lower left part of R for Robin!! Thank you for sharing the process. I have been trying to practice everyday and I am finding I stay on a piece for a long time.

    • Hi Mary! I liked the design of this with the eggs and just a hint of nesting material. I’m glad you are finding time to paint every day. It can take a long time to draw accurately and paint expressively, and to find a balance between fresh and overwrought. All good challenges, I think.

  11. this series is stunning….seeing this third one and reminding us that slowing down is sometimes the only way to achieve the elegant breath of bird…brava, again and again..

    • Thanks Sanda- Doing the robin made me think about ways to portray the character of birds for this series. New ideas and possibilities! Haven’t yet decided what’s next.

  12. Wow! Beautiful. Your design has captured the robin exactly as one sees them at alert before flying to their nesting site-perfect. And many thanks for the words of wisdom on slowing down and taking things one step at a time.It helps to be reminded.

    • Thanks Holly- I find that there is so much emphasis on working fast and fleeting– which have their merits — but working slowly is sometimes the only way to build up a painting and get this kind of detail.

  13. This is awesome and I can relate. My first two books were just get them done because I overthink so much. This book is about me taking my time and learning.

  14. This is very beautiful and I like the balance of the eggs diagonally opposite. I have a little robin who accompanies me when I am gardening in Wales and he has that same perky and cheeky look in his eye as you have captured here.

  15. I enjoy these so much, Jean. I agree, the yellow ochre is perfect for the lettering. I also love the way the beak is crammed with nesting material that’s echoed in the corner, even wrapped around the “R” – wonderful work! I and so many others benefit when you take your time. 🙂

  16. I can’t wait to see that sight – for real. Did you know robyns don’t actually fly south so the real harbingers of spring are the red-winged blackbird!

    • Hi Lisa- Yes…I suspect the RWB will return within the next week or two (or three) here. Then I’ll watch for skunk cabbage and salamander migration …and then spring ephemerals and migratory birds.

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