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Planning Retirement Online

Art Masterclass - 123

How to Paint a Puffin in Watercolour with Rachel McNaughton

January 2017



You will need


  • Saunders Waterford High White Rough 140lb paper (38x28cm)

Artists’ watercolour

  • See colours, below


colour palette for puffin in watercolour

Step 1

Lightly sketch your puffin. I like to leave some of the areas that will be loose and splashy without a line to enclose them, in this case the lower part of the wing and feet. Look carefully at the colour pattern on the beak and the almost triangular markings around the eye. Suggest rocks and waves.

puffin sketch

Step 2

Mix a wash of ultramarine with a little light red to make a warm blue-grey, but be aware that too much light red will result in a reddish brown mix. Add plenty of water to make a pale wash. Use this to paint the shadows on the head and body of the puffin. Avoid hard edges by softening with a clean, damp brush.

wash blue-grey


Step 3

1. Mix a greyish blue with ultramarine and a little neutral tint and a separate wash of cerulean blue. Using both these washes, add choppy waves using upward strokes of the side of the brush and a small amount of paint. Allowing the paint to break up on the rough texture of the paper gives an impression of sea spray and foam.

2. Mix a small amount of burnt umber and ultramarine to make a brown-grey and paint a wash over the rocks. Vary the colour by dropping in other suitable colours.


Step 4

Now mix up a large, colourful wash of neutral tint or a mix of burnt umber and ultramarine. Make sure the shadows on the puffin are dry and paint this colour over the dark areas around the head and over the far wing. With the side of a clean damp brush, drag the dark colour diagonally away from the head, allowing the paint to break up on the surface of the paper.

paint in the dark areas

Step 5

1. Add more water to the neutral tint wash and paint the underside of the near wing. Don’t attempt to paint separate feathers. Allow the ends of the feathers to disappear by fading out with a clean damp brush as before. Where the dark is alongside the white breast feathers use a few short, irregular strokes to indicate where the white plumage comes over the dark feathers.

2. Splatter neutral tint from your brush, using it to give a feeling of movement. If the marks look too well defined, a quick squirt of a water spray will soften them.

3. Once the dark feathers are dry, darken areas with another layer of neutral tint to give shape and form, especially on the head area. With a more dilute version of the wash, add a few details to the underside of the wing, allowing the edge to disappear by fading with a damp brush.

paint the plumage and splatter to give movement

Step 6

1. Paint the top of the feet with Daniel Smith transparent pyrrol orange and allow the paint to mix on the paper with a little aureolin. Try not to finish off the bottom of the feet; just all ow a few drips and splatters of orange to break up the lower outline. Add a small dot or two of neutral tint for the claws.

2. Mix a darker blue-grey from ultramarine and burnt umber and add more strokes to the choppy sea. Allow some of the first layer of paint to show through.

3. With a slightly stronger mix of the rock colour, add another layer on the shaded part of the rocks, leaving the tops, where the light hits, unpainted. Drop in stronger paint for extra texture using neutral tint or burnt umber with ultramarine.

paint the feet, add more layers to the sea and rocks

Step 7

1. Paint the yellow area on the beak and the eye with aureolin. You can take this colour under where the orange will be on his beak but not under the blue or it will result in a green beak.

2. Add a third layer to the shaded surfaces on the rocks to make them feel three-dimensional.

paint the beak and add a third layer


Step 8

1. Ensure the yellow on the beak is dry then paint over with orange to make the appropriate markings. Leave some of the yellow showing.

2. Then paint the middle section of the background with a ragged shape of cerulean blue. Again try to use the side of the brush rather than the point. This ragged blue helps to define some of the white plumage, but don’t fall into the trap of painting all around the bird. Leave something for the imagination to do.

3. Check the beak is dry and add the blue section.

4. With a fine brush, add a dark eye, leaving a small white highlight to give your puffin a bit of life.

5. Finally, use a toothbrush and white gouache to splatter white spray against the rocks and choppy sea.

make finishing touches
The finished painting Puffin, watercolour, (38x28cm)

Rachel McNaughton

This demonstration is taken from the February 2017 issue of Leisure Painter.

Click here to purchase your copy.


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