In the mood for Coquettes

Festive Coquette (Lophornis chalybeus)
Watercolour on A3 paper

One of the more interesting members of the hummingbird family are the coquettes. There are 5 in the genus Lophornis and two in the genus Discosura. Of these 7 birds I have seen only one in the wild that I managed to photograph about 15 years ago while living in Curitiba. The bird was in the Atlantic Rainforest near the Graciosa road, an historic road built by Jesuit priests from the coast, up the mountainside, to Curitiba.

Frilled Coquette (Lophornis magnificus)
Watercolour on A3 paper

I chose to paint these birds as I had named my ETSY store after the Festive Coquette (the species that I had seen personally) and, to date, have completed three: the Festive (Lophornis chalybeus), the Frilled (Lophornis magnificus) and the Rufous-crested (Lophornis delattrei) all on A3 paper (42 cm x 29.7 cm).

Rufous-crested Coquette (Lophornis delattrei)
Watercolour on A3 paper

By the end of May I expect to have completed all 7 species (plus the Rufous-crested which is not found in Brazil) though I may be interrupted by commissioned subjects (including some Bee-eaters) and a couple of other hummingbirds.

Alan Skyrme Gallery on Facebook

The Graciosa road in Parana, Brazil

Touros Lighthouse

Touros Lighthouse (Farol de Calcanhar)
Acrylic on canvas, 60 cm x 45 cm

For about a year, ten years ago, I lived in a fishing village called Touros. Now a town of about 33,500 inhabitants, it got its name from a rock formation that looked, to the Portuguese sailors who had arrived there, like a bull. Sadly the sea has broken the rock into smaller rocks but the name remains.

Touros is still a base for fishing but its economy is now focused on agriculture and tourism. It is possible to get fresh prawns, a variety of large and small fish, and lobsters. On most days it is possible to see the fishermen put out nets from the beach, hauling them in when, from experience, they know there will be a decent catch.

The scene that I painted is of the beach of Carnaubinha, an extension of Touros on the south side, with the lighthouse in the distance on the northern side of Touros. The sea is the Atlantic Ocean.

The painting is my second attempt at acrylics and contributed to my education with this medium. I need to re-do the sky as I find the blue above the horizon to be a bit too intense. I used two types of blue with too much of the warmer blue. A nice thing about acrylic painting is that mistakes or changes in ideas can be painted over.

I shall repost the final painting once I am satisfied with the sky.

A shot at acrylics

Red-necked Tanager (Tangara cyanocephalus)
Acrylic on canvas
56cm x 40cm

A few years ago, while living in Mexico City, I bought a stock of painting materials that included canvases of various sizes, some brushes and a variety of oil and acrylic paints. The idea was to store these materials till I got back to my home base in Brazil.

Last week I started painting another bird subject (a Golden Pheasant) in watercolour but had difficulty with the legs that didn’t seem natural. The issue was that they didn’t seem natural in the reference picture either – the bird was badly posed! After a few minutes thought I abandoned the watercolour.

Nearly 5 years after buying the Mexican stock I unpacked the canvases, prepared one with a gesso base, opened up the acrylic paints and set to work on one of my favourite subjects – a tanager.

The bird I chose to paint was a Red-necked (Tangara cyanocephalus) as I felt it would be colourful enough for a decent painting. In my mind I knew the acrylic process. I had never completed a painting before but I had practiced with the medium over ten years ago.

The stages I went through were as follows:


The first two coats of primer were done with gesso straight from the bottle – Indart medium gesso, a litre bottle. The first coat was painted on with a two inch brush in a horizontal direction. I left the gesso to dry before sanding it with fine grade sandpaper. The second coat was painted vertically, left to dry and then sanded.

The next day I painted the entire canvas with a wash of yellow ochre watercolour paint, painting the outline of the subject with a thicker mix of the same colour. When this was dry I painted a final coat of gesso over the top and let it dry overnight. The canvas was then sanded and ready for me to paint.

Paint selection

As I don’t have a wide selection of quality acrylic paints I used what I had:

Acrylic paint tubes

Daler-Rowney: Lemon Yellow, Cadmium Yellow, Emerald, Ultramarine, Yellow Ochre, Burnt Umber, Mars Black and Titanium White.

Winsor and Newton: Perinone Orange and Mixing White

The few other colours that I had in stock didn’t match the subject, though I did mix one watercolour with the mixing white to create a hue that I needed.

The Process

I started with the background, mixing emerald with the two yellows, ultramarine and yellow ochre to create differing greens across the canvas to provide interest and to have cooler and darker shades on one side and warmer lighter shades on the other.

I let the brush and the paint create a pattern that I then accentuated with ultramarine and burnt umber to add the out-of-focus tree interest. A branch was painted in the lower section of the support in a slightly diagonal manner, providing the perch for the tanager to sit on.

Once these were done I began on the bird. I almost always start with the eye and beak. By the end of the session I had the head completed and the rest of the body outlined.

On the next day I finished off the head before working down the body. The legs and wing were the last elements to be completed.

Learning points

When painting in watercolour it is usual to start with the lighter colours and to lay darker ones on top. As acrylic paint is opaque in nature it is necessary to work the other way round ie starting with the darker colours and painting lighter colours at the end. This made me think through the process as I painted. It also highlighted another issue – in the heat (the outside temperature is in the upper 30s Celcius at this time of year) – my paints were drying quickly on the palette so I was obliged to work in segments while the paint remained workable. This meant having to remember the quantities to be mixed. I had a similar issue with watercolour painting but at least I could wet the paints to keep them usable. This didn’t work with the acrylics.

Good fun. I need to practice more with acrylic paint, then try oils!


Emperor Penguins (Aptenodytes forsteri)

I was asked to paint a penguin a few days ago. Not having seen these birds in the wild personally I searched for suitable reference photos which resulted in the choice of a cute family group.

This post is has been rewritten since a bug hit my wordpress app resulting in my original post being lost. Not a major issue but a bit annoying for anyone that had already “liked” the first post. I blame the corona virus 🦠 🤪.

Veneto farmland

Farmhouse near Caorle, Veneto

Still determined to get to grips with watercolour landscape painting. This was a subject that drew my attention from my photo collection.

The top third of the painting is pretty much in line with my photo but the rest of the composition used some artistic license to alter the position of other elements.

I adopted a loose approach, working more quickly than normal. I think that is a key learning point – loose and fast.

I shall try again next week on a different subject, though I also have plans to try acrylics. A canvas awaits, as does the gesso with which to prime the canvas.

Blue-crowned Trogon

Blue-crowned Trogon (Trogon curucui)

The first Trogon I saw was on the Graciosa road near Curitiba, Brazil. It was a White-tailed Trogon. Over the next 10 years since then I have seen another 3 species of Trogon. The one I chose to paint was seen near a river in the Pantanal region of Brazil almost ten years ago.

Watercolour on A3 paper.

White-faced Whistling Duck

White-faced Whistling Duck

I mentioned in my last post that I had felt a need to paint a landscape. A subject that had been on my “must do this one day” list was a view from the Rialto Bridge in Venice, one of my favourite cities. After completing the first wash I decided that it wasn’t going to plan, and things went downhill from there. I considered giving up, but instead persevered despite knowing this painting would not have my signature appended to it.

This prompted me to think “how important is a signature”? I decided to look through my stock of paintings. In one pile is a number of completed paintings that I deemed to be saleable. These, logically, have my signature at the bottom of each painting denoting that they are finished pieces. They are also catalogued with a unique stock number that ensures two or more paintings with similar subjects will not be confused in the sales process. I started this stock numbering last year having confused myself over 3 paintings featuring a Robin to which I had given the title, less than helpfully, Robin 1, Robin 2 and Robin 3!

The second pile contains some signed and unsigned paintings that, although finished, I really did not want to let out of my sight as they were not up to scratch. The best thing to do with these paintings is, as I did to my old school portfolio that I rediscovered a few months ago, to destroy them. I doubt if the paper can be reused so the paintings may be used for lighting my barbecue at the weekend.

After giving up the landscape painting I immediately set to work on a bird portrait – the duck.

The White-faced Whistling Duck (Dendrocygna viduata) is quite common in Brazil – particularly in the south where I used to live. They are noisy, gregarious birds but were pleasant to see and hear as they flew or swam in large numbers in a protected reserve outside Curitiba where I used to live..

I painted this in watercolour on A3 paper, 300 gm weight.

A number of bird watercolour paintings that I have completed can be seen on my site:

Watercolour landscape

Canal view from near the Rialto Bridge, Venice (perspective error due to paper curling rather than poor drawing!)

Last week I mentioned that I had wanted to paint a landscape subject that had been on my to-do list – a view from the Rialto Bridge. Venice is a magnet for painters and photographers and of course tourists in general and I have been fortunate enough to have spent quite a lot of time there over the years. Hence I would like to do some Venetian scenes in watercolour.

I had selected one of my many photos of Venice to use as a reference for my painting. Having drawn out a reasonably good sketch, allowing for a bit of reflection in the canal, I made a start with a positive mind.

After completing the first wash I felt that the painting wasn’t going to plan. Things went downhill from there and, while I considered giving up, instead chose to persevere despite knowing this painting would not have my signature appended to it.

When the painting was finished I put it to one side so that I could look at it critically. The washes were not how I wanted them – too many colours with no continuity. The detail was either too detailed while lacking accuracy or too loose – again, lacking continuity.

There wasn’t much that I liked! So I put the painting under a tap and washed the whole thing, using a large flat brush to get rid of as much pigment as possible.

I repainted the scene but didnt like the second attempt either. Back to the tap and brush!

Here is the video of the third wash:

Washing the watercolour pigment from a cotton rag paper.

The third attempt was little better. More washing and scrubbing! Luckily the paper has not suffered much from the mis-treatment.

Washed paper, with faint image from pigment, hanging to dry.

The paper, now dry, was ready for my next attempt.

Paper washed for the third time. It appears darker in the photo than it is.

To be very blunt, I do not think I am ready to do landscapes in watercolour. Most of the ones I have done so far have only one thing in common – an approach by an inexperienced painter! Far too detailed, lacking subtlety in brushwork, poor control of tonal value and no real style. Having severely wounded myself by admitting that I have done a few paintings that are ok, so there is some hope for me. I think.

A painter’s style is developed with experience over time. Experience comes from practice. So if I want to develop a style in watercolour landscape painting (rather than change medium) I need to practice while continuing to paint my birds. To do this I will start with small (A5 and A4) sized simple sketches (in my journal) before building complexity. That’s my project for March, though I started in the last week of February.

Purple Sunbirds

Purple Sunbirds (Cinnyris asiaticus) with bougainvillea. A3 cotton rag 300 g/m2. Watercolour.

After painting a fairly loose version of a Purple-rumped Sunbird (see the two paintings at the end of this post) I decided to have a go at doing a pair of Purple Sunbirds (scientific name Cinnyris asiaticus) with some floral interest, and so opted for the above arrangement.

The paper – Hahnemuhle Venezia – has a nice surface to paint on, handling well when lifting colour in a couple of areas. I wasn’t surprised as I had tested one of Hahnemuhle’s papers quite thoroughly or, more accurately, roughly and it came out of the treatment exceptionally well.

I still prefer to paint birds against an uncluttered background as I find that unnecessary clutter detracts from the final image. There are occasions when painting subjects in their natural habitat is both nice and essential.

Purple-rumped Sunbird (Leptocoma zetlonica) painted last month

Second, looser painting of the Purple-rumped Sunbird

Cherry-throated Tanager +

Cherry-throated Tanager

Last week was Carnaval week in Brazil so I took a few days off to relax on a beach, drink wine and have a cigar or two. Although it was a holiday week I decided to paint some landscapes in my journal – nothing special, just a bit of practice that I had promised to do.

This weekend, after catching up on admin, saw me painting more birds – three in total to get me into the swing of brush-wielding next week.

The three birds were the Cherry-throated Tanager, a Burnished-buff Tanager and an American Kestrel.

The Cherry-throated Tanager (Nemosia rourei) is a bird found in the Atlantic Rainforest (Mata Atlantica) near Rio de Janeiro though appears to be quite rare and endangered.

The Burnished-buff Tanager (Tangara cayana) has a fairly extensive range though-out Brazil though not in the south nor the Amazon.

Burnished-buff Tanager

The third bird, the American Kestrel (Falco sparverius) can be found thoughout Brazil though, again, not in the Amazon region. I managed to see and photograph one of these beautiful birds just 20 metres away from my garden.

American Kestrel