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Art Masterclass - 96



How to Draw an Iridescent Peacock Feather in Coloured Pencil

Gayle Mason - Posted on 02 Oct 2014

Before starting to draw the peacock feather you need to understand the characteristics of an iridescent surface then decide what technique to use. One definition of iridescence is the property of certain surfaces to appear to change colour depending on the viewer’s angle. To recreate that effect you need to work with a wide variety of colours. Begin by picking out the colours that will be the best match for these colours and make a colour swatch for each pencil. Compare your swatches to your reference to find out if you need to add more. The more you add, the more realistic your final drawing will be.


To render the effect of iridescence successfully you need to keep your pencils very sharp, use a random mix of colours and leave some small specks of the white paper showing through. Rather than trying to create a smooth layer of colour, use a random tapping motion with the pencil and change colours frequently. Make sure that your paper rests on a hard surface so that your pencil will leave a bright spot of colour. Working on a soft surface will make it difficult to achieve these bright spots of colour.

Step 1 Using a true green Polychromos pencil add a layer of random spots.

Step 2 Using a blue green Polychromos pencil add a second random layer over the top of the first.

Step 3 Using light cobalt blue, add a third random layer on top. Continue using the three pencils until you achieve your desired final colour. To be realistic you need to continue working until you have created a vibrant layer of colour. If you then hold your paper to the light and view the image from different angles it should appear to change colour.

Demonstration: Peacock Feather

Although I photographed a detail from my peacock feather (above) I worked from life, as it’s much easier to see the colours accurately in the feather itself

You will need:

  • Surface - Arches or Fabriano 300gsm HP watercolour paper, (25.5x17.5cm)
  • Faber-Castell Polychromos coloured pencils (See colours below)

Step 1 The line drawing

Start by making a line drawing on scrap paper; only transfer it to your good paper once you are happy with the image. You can then make any corrections without worrying about damaging the paper surface. Decide at this stage how detailed you want your drawing to be. Apart from marking in the basic shape of the eye pattern and one or two of the loose barbs to give me a rough idea of size, I didn’t include all the small detail, because every feather will be slightly different.

Step 2 The middle of the eye pattern

Starting with the darkest area in the centre of the eye pattern and working light to dark, select the light cobalt blue and, using a tapping motion, cover the area with random spots of colour. Take indanthrene blue and add a second random layer then follow this with a layer in dark indigo. Make sure you don’t overwork your drawing so that you end up with a layer of smooth colour; creating an iridescent effect depends on having a random mix of different colours. The edge of the pattern appears to be darker than the middle so add more dark indigo to this area until you achieve the correct tone.

Step 3 Completing the eye pattern

Study your reference to look for colour changes and use the technique described in Step 2 to complete each distinct part of the pattern. Working from the middle outwards, the colours to use for each area are: true green and blue green followed by touches of light cobalt blue around the outside of the area; burnt ochre and burnt sienna with small touches of grass green; grass green and permanent green olive with touches of burnt ochre; and finish the eye pattern with a layer of permanent green olive.

Step 4 The barbs

The barbs are the paired branches that come off the central structure usually at a 45 degree angle. Unless the feather you are drawing is in perfect condition you can add as many or as few of them as you want. This feather is a little bit ragged so I’m just going to add a few on each side and the ones that form the tip of the feather. Ensure your pencils have a sharp point, as you need to draw fine lines with a sharp edge to create the barbs. If you study the reference you can see that the barbs are made up of several colours. For the barbs that surround the eye pattern use permanent green olive grass at the base of the barb changing to grass green then to burnt ochre near the tip. For those lower down the feather, use the burnt ochre, increasing the pressure where you want a darker colour. Don’t end one colour abruptly, but overlap them, as you want a smooth colour change. You will probably need to add several layers to create a vibrant colour.

Step five The final touches

  1. Look at your drawing and decide if you need to strengthen any of the colours; you need to add enough layers to make the colours appear vibrant.
  2. If you look at the reference you can see that the fine lines of the barbs run from the centre out to the edges; using a dark colour and a sharp point add these lines. Don’t try to add too many or you will spoil the effect you have achieved; just add enough to give an impression that the barbs make up the eye pattern.
  3. If you look closely at the barbs you can see that they are branched. These tiny branches are called barbules. Using a mix of burnt ochre and burnt sienna, add some of these tiny branches to the barbs to add realism.
  4. Using burnt sienna, darken the central part of the feather.
  5. Finally sign your name.

Peacock Feather, coloured pencil, (25.5x17.5cm)

Gayle Mason

Gayle lives in Yorkshire with her husband, grown-up sons and several rough collies. for details of her workshops and exhibitions, or read Gayle’s blog

This demonstration is taken from the November 2014 issue of Leisure Painter and is the fifth part of Gayle's series on coloured pencil techniques

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