Monthly Archives: December 2019

Rhea (Ema)

Rhea, or Greater Rhea (Rhea americana), known in Brazil as Ema in Portuguese.

Watercolour on A4 cold pressed paper.

This was one of my last bird paintings before I started on the Tanager project. The bird is the largest in Brazil, almost 1.4 metres tall. I saw these in the Pantanal region of Brazil where they are quite common.

This is my last post for 2019, so Happy New Year. I hope 2020 will be a pleasant and successful year for all. I shall be leaving Sicily in a week but will be back here in Erice in the Spring (dates not yet set) and in the meantime will be painting from my home base.


Tanager Project (1)

Azure-shouldered Tanager (Thraupis cyanoptera)

I first encountered this genus of beautiful little birds while I was living in Curitiba, Brazil.

The first one that I recall seeing was the Azure-winged Tanager outside my office just after arriving in Brazil for the first time. Later on, after I had settled into local life, I used to go birding at weekends with friends. This became a regular habit, often alone at least once a month, visiting a stretch of road known as the Graciosa Trail that runs down the side of a mountain on the edge of the Atlantic Rainforest to a small town called Morretes. A great place for wildlife in general.

In total, including sightings in the Amazon rainforest, I saw a total of 22 tanager species, including the Bananaquit which is currently parked in the tanager genus for lack of anywhere else to place it, which amounts to about a quarter of all tanager species (including those found outside Brazil). I hope to see more species in the future.

Palm Tanager (Thraupis palmarum)

Because of their size, character and (in most cases) beauty I wanted to paint these birds. I have completed a few paintings in recent months but decided to start a project to paint all 22 birds that I have seen and photographed.

Olive-green Tanager (Orthogonys chloricterus)

The project, which I started earlier this month, is now complete and, in general, I am happy with the work. That said, I feel I can do better so I plan to start another project to paint these same birds in January / February. I need to think about this as I may change both the style of painting and the size of the individual paintings (the ones I have just completed are on A4 paper).

Red-necked Tanager (Tangara cyanocephala)

It’s a fun project as I am able to paint not only birds as a subject, as I have been doing for the last few months, but also my favourite birds. Stuck for inspiration? Choose a subject you are passionate about.

More about my next Tanager project next month.

Merry Christmas

Quick drawing using Apple’s Procreate. It’s a great app for drawing. I don’t have an apple pen and while I do have a Bamboo stylus I find the app is very responsive and accurate just using a finger.

I drew an outline sketch on one layer then added layers for each element of the drawing. I merged them all at the end.

I have used Procreate for some bird paintings in the past and really enjoy the app. It is one of the few apps that I recommend to anyone interested in art.

Merry Christmas!


I started this week painting the four cardinals that I have seen and photographed in Brazil. Cardinals are a species whose genera has been, I believe, changed in recent years so it depends on which bird book one looks at to identify them, though Wikipedia is usually the best place to look first.

The four that I painted are quite similar in appearance, being predominantly white or pale grey with a bright red head. There are other related species but as I have not seen them I do not intend to paint them yet.

I experimented on two of the cardinals by using salt to bring out some texture in the red areas. I used ordinary salt on this occasion though I have experimented with bigger crystals of sea salt in the past.

Two things to note:

  1. The paint should be still wet when the salt is applied in order for the crystals to soak up the water and leave a pattern
  2. The salt takes a while to dry. I left my paintings overnight to ensure it was totally dry before brushing off the residue. Try too soon and the paint will smudge.

Yellow-billed Cardinal (Paroaria capitata). Watercolour on A4 paper

Red-cowled Cardinal (Paroaria dominicana). Watercolour on A4 paper

Red-capped Cardinal (Paroaria gularis). Watercolour on A4 paper

Red-crested Cardinal (Paroaria coronata). Watercolour on A4 paper

Since arriving in Sicily I have managed to complete over 50 bird paintings which is about 2 per day (excluding the days that I was busy organising stuff for my mother who had been hospitalised, and a day in which I managed to get hospitalised myself!)

I have now used up the whole 50 sheet pad of hot pressed A4 paper. I still have 100 sheets or so of A3 cold pressed paper and 50 sheets of A4 cold pressed paper so I shall continue working with those.

One painting has already been started on the A3 paper… a tanager that, so far, has the head and feet painted. The body will progress between other projects. Here is the head:

Busy week

Toco Toucan (Ramphastos toco), Atlantic Rainforest, Paraná, Brazil. Watercolour on A4 hot pressed watercolour paper

Aside from daily visits to see my mother and occasional domestic tasks I managed to do a reasonable number of bird paintings this week.

The subjects I decided to paint were a mix of European and Brazilian species.

During the painting process I learned a few things that I have noted at the end of this post.

The list of birds painted is as follows:

  • Hermit Thrush
  • Mistle Thrush
  • Song Thrush
  • Ruddy Turnstone
  • Buff-necked Ibis
  • Agami Heron
  • Grey Heron
  • Yellow-headed Vulture
  • Chestnut-eared Aracari
  • Toco Toucan
  • Golden-chevroned Parakeet

The only one of these birds that I have not seen/photographed personally is the Hermit Thrush.

Hermit Thrush (Catharus guttatus), seen and photographed by my son in law on the Scilly Isles, UK. Painting based on a numbers of reference photos. Painted in my watercolour journal (Daler Rowney A4 Sketch book).

After painting the Hermit Thrush I decided to paint the three thrushes together for comparison.

Mistle, Hermit and Song Thrushes (Turdus viscivorus, Catharus guttatus and Turdus philomelos). Watercolour on A3 cold pressed watercolour paper.

Close-up of the Song Thrush

I saw and photographed several Turnstones on my way from my mother’s apartment to the hospice where she is recovering from a fractured vertebra.

Turnstone (Arenaria interpres), also known as Ruddy Turnstone, Trapani beach, Sicily. Watercolour on A3 cold pressed watercolour paper

One afternoon I took a trip out to the salt ponds just outside Trapani where I saw several Grey Herons and moorhens but little else.

Grey Heron (Ardea cinerea), Trapani, Sicily. Watercolour on A4 hot pressed watercolour paper.

The other birds were seen and photographed in Brazil (Amazon and Atlantic rainforests and Pantanal).

Agami Heron (Agamia agami), Amazon rainforest, Brazil. Watercolour on A4 hot pressed watercolour paper.

Buff-necked Íbis (Theristicus caudatus), Santa Catarina, Brazil. Watercolour on A4 hot pressed watercolour paper.

Lesser Yellow-headed Vulture (Cathartes burrovianus), Rio Grande do Norte, Brazil. Watercolour on A4 hot pressed watercolour paper.

Chestnut-eared Aracari (Pteroglossus castanotis), Amazon rainforest, Brazil. Watercolour on A4 hot pressed watercolour paper.

Golden-chevroned Parakeet (Brotogeris chororô), Pantanal, Brazil. Watercolour on A4 hot pressed watercolour paper.

Learning points

1. Paper

While painting on both hot pressed and cold pressed (not) papers, both of which were fine grain I did not find any huge difference in the way the paper behaved with the application of watercolour paints.

I believe that either are good for the paintings that I do but in the case of more anatomically or botanically accurate work then the hot pressed paper would be better.

2. Paint

I tend to under-estimate the amount of paint needed. I also have a habit of working too dry. To specifically resolve these issues I need to do some practice in my journal with wetter mixes.

3. Planning

In my eagerness to paint I avoid a couple of important things that I should do:

  • Practice sketches of the subject in my journal to ensure I get the details and character of the subject right
  • Tonal value sketches to ensure I get the shading correct. This is more important in landscape painting but is a useful discipline for all subjects

Next week

I plan to continue painting birds. I am running out of hot pressed paper but have plenty of cold pressed fine grain paper in stock.


Although I have used salt for texture in some paintings I shall employ this method in my bird paintings in the coming week.