This weekend’s freezing temperatures sent me packing my sketchbook and paints and seeking shelter in the natural history collection at a nearby museum. Amidst a long wall of bird specimens, I found these four fledgling Eastern screech owls. Most collections typically display adult birds, so it was unusual to find an entire set of young siblings. I was grateful for the chance to study these common, yet elusive owls up close. And yet, they haunt me, too. Their life in the wild was so brief, their time behind glass so long. My goal with this painting was to try to bring a bit of life back to these young owls and to share a glimpse their wild, wary beauty with you.
Tips and Techniques– When you have a lot of detail in your subject, it’s easy to get lost. Start with bigger shapes and values first. Once you have established larger structures, you can work on refining the color, deepening the values, and then adding smaller details. This holds true whether you are painting landscapes or buildings or birds. After sketching the owls, I did a wet-in-wet wash of cobalt blue and burnt sienna. Once that was dry, I began deepening the values and refining the larger feather groupings. I added the detailed barring on the feathers last, paying the most attention to the faces.
Screech owls are common throughout much of North America. Learn more about them at The Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s All About Birds.