Follow Lucy Swinburne to draw a barn owl, step-by-step, using pastel pencils.

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Demonstration: Barn Owl

Step 1- Transferring the image

Having enlarged the reference picture, use a 2B pencil to draw the outline of the owl on tracing paper.

Turn the tracing paper back to front and using a fairly sharp white pastel pencil, draw over the outline quite firmly on the reverse.

Flip the paper back around the right way, tape your tracing paper lightly onto the surface card at the top and use the harder 2H graphite pencil to go back over the outline.

Top tip

As you work, lift the tracing paper up slightly to check that the outline is showing up enough for you to see. If it isn’t you may have to go back over the reverse again with the white pastel. The reason for using white pastel for the outline is that graphite pencil has a tendency to repel pastels.

When you have finished, tidy up the outline using a sharp white pastel pencil so that you can see it properly.

If you transfer the image by using a grid, gently draw the grid on the card in white pastel pencil so that you are able to erase most of the grid with a rubber when you have completed the outline.

Step 2 - The background

  1. For this simple out-of-focus background I used white pastel pencil to cover the whole area behind the bird and blended it in with my finger. I then repeated this step with white.
  2. Next I used green 168 Faber-Castell Pitt pastel pencil to cover the whole background, again adding two layers and blending in with my finger.
  3. After the light green, I used Derwent pastel pencils in this order: green umber 78B in places, then dark olive 74D, dark olive 74B, and burnt umber 54B sporadically throughout to create the out-of-focus look.
  4. Finally, I added Cretacolor black to add the darkest areas.
  5. From now on I used only Cretacolor pastel pencils.

Top tip

I always add the background and foreground after drawing the outline. If you complete your subject first then start the background, not only will you be wasting all your hard work completing the fur or feathers on the outer edges of your subject but your subject will look as if it has been cut out and stuck onto the background.

Step 3 - First layer of white

To add white to the owl and fence, sharpen the white and begin to add all the pale wispy feathers on the owl’s face following the direction the feathers grow.

Top tip

Note how the feathers between the eyes grow towards the centre above the beak and meet in the middle.

Once you have created the facial disk area, add a layer of feathers around the outside of the head. Continue adding a soft layer of white downwards to the owl’s neck and chest and then right down to his legs.

Step 4 - More white, ivory and ochre

  1. Use white again to really brighten the bird’s face in the lightest parts.
  2. Do the same over the entire body including the legs, feet and tail.
  3. Select ivory and begin to add all the creamy areas of the bird on the face, top of the head, chest, wings and feet.
  4. Use ochre light to add a small amount of yellow to the face around the eyes, beak, outer edge of his head, face, chest and stomach.

Top tip

Keep your pressure light and your pencil sharp throughout.

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Step 5 - Grey and ochre layers

  1. Sharpen warm grey I and use it to add all the grey shadows on the bird, especially on the face and the sides of the head.
  2. Fill in the beak leaving the white highlight visible in the centre.
  3. Continue down over the chest building up the shape of the feathers. Don’t forget the legs and feet as you are working.
  4. Use this pencil to build up the second layer of pastel on the wooden fence using short strokes to create more texture.
  5. Next, darken all the shadows further with elephant grey starting from the top and working down.
  6. Outline the eyes and beak and begin to add some shape to the face on the facial disk.
  7. Sharpen and continue to work over the previous areas where you use warm grey I.
  8. Sharpen ochre light and go back over the owl, starting with the wet spiky orange head feathers then add yellow to his wings, back and tail feathers.

Step 6 - More ochre layers

  1. Continue to build up the lighter under colours of the feathers before adding the darks over the top.
  2. Sharpen ochre dark and add it softly around the eyes and beak.
  3. Keeping the pencil point sharp, deepen the colour of the spiky feathers on top of the head and around the facial disk.
  4. With this pencil add a little more colour around the head feathers and at the sides of the head, and start to work down towards his wings and back.
  5. Keep your pencil strokes light and your pencil tip sharp at all times. Don’t forget the tail feathers, legs and feet.
  6. Go back to ochre light and go over all the areas you have just coloured in ochre dark.

Top tip

You should now begin to see how adding more 202 over the 203 changes the overall colour of his wing and back feathers to an almost gold shade.

Step 7 - Beak and eyes

  1. For the beak’s main colour use sharp tan light to fill it in, skimming lightly across the centre highlight.
  2. Next, darken the sides with old rose dark then go back over the beak lightly with tan light again.
  3. Finally, use sharp white to make the centre highlight stand out.
  4. To paint the eyes, start with a light layer of white; this helps the following darker colours that follow to blend easily.
  5. Sharpen brown grey and fill in the eyes over the top of the white using two layers to ensure complete coverage, but don’t press too hard.

Top tip

Remember as you are shading that the eyes are the shape of a sphere in real life, not a three-dimensional circle.

Step 8 - The head

  1. Sharpen the white and go back over the lightest areas of the face and body, which will have become flattened and dulled while you’ve been painting.
  2. Next, use a layer of elephant grey, some ochre light and brown grey to darken the shadows on the head and face.
  3. Use brown grey to add the darkest spots to the sides of the facial disk and the feathers around the head.
  4. Continue to work down the body, darkening the shadows further with elephant grey and brown grey.
  5. Go back to the head and use alternating layers of ochre dark, Van Dycke brown and brown grey to pick out the wet spiky feathers on the top of the head.
  6. Use sharp elephant grey to go back over the wings and back feathers, and begin to create the pattern and under markings as a template for the darker colours to come.
  7. Now sharpen the white and add white spots on the wing closest to you.

Step 9 - The feet and fence

Now it’s time to work on the feet.

  1. Use sharp tan light as the main undercoat for the feet and claws. Use it in small circular movements to create texture from the outset.
  2. Next, use rose madder to deepen the pink, mainly in the shadows.
  3. Add old rose dark to the claws.
  4. Select Faber-Castell pencil 169: this pink/brown shade is one colour that I cannot find a substitution for! Use this for the main foot and leg colour, continuing to build the texture with tiny circular marks, keeping the tops of the feet light.
  5. Add a little more light on the top of the feet with tan light and a little white if you need to.

Before completing the feet, you need to finish the fence.

  1. Go back over the texture of the wood now with ochre light in the same areas as the white (no blending is required as we want to see the texture).
  2. Next, go over the same areas again with orange.
  3. Keep the markings in the wood visible and don’t be tempted to tidy it up, it’s supposed to look rustic!

Step 10 - Continue with the fence

  1. Sharpen sepia light and continue with the fence adding this colour all over the fence rail as before.
  2. Darken the knots and dents in the wood with sharp Van Dycke brown and lighten the light areas with ivory.

Top tip

Take your time creating the texture and make sure you stop to view your work every now and then to appreciate whether you are achieving the right effect.

Step 11 - Finishing the fence and feet

Sharpen brown grey and build up the darks in the wood even more.

Top tip

By stopping to view my work I realised I had lost the light areas on either side of the bird on the top of the rail. I used my putty rubber to lift off a lot of dark pastel so I could re-apply white and make the top of the fence more sun bleached and weathered looking.

  1. Once you are ready to continue, add black to all the darkest shadows in the texture and under the bird and his feet.
  2. To complete the feet sharpen sanguine light to add a deeper orange. Top up with rose madder, if required, and use more white to add light to the top of the feet and reflections on the claws.
  3. Use sharp brown grey to fill in the darker colour of the claws, mainly on the outer edges and complete the foot with black where needed.
  4. Don’t forget to add the shadows between the toes and under the feet that are being cast onto the fence rail.
  5. Finally, sharpen white and use it to redo the white feathers on the legs and the thin wispy hairs that appear on the feet and toes.

Step 12- Continuing the feathers

Now’s time to add orange and red/brown colours to the wings and body.

  1. First sharpen sanguine light and feather the colour where you can see it. You may need a couple of layers of this colour to achieve the required effect.
  2. Sharpen sienna and add it to the redder areas of the wings and body. The places to concentrate on especially are at the top of the wing facing you, the base of the neck, further down the body in all the dark areas and on the tail feathers.
  3. Intersperse here and there with white and ivory where you can see it is needed, in particular in the top of the wing closest to you and the tail feathers.

Step 13 - the wing and body

Now to create one of the best parts of this portrait – the pattern on the main wing and body. I recommend you take a bit of time to study the markings on the owl so you can fully understand what you are trying to replicate.

  1. Begin by creating the white oval shapes on the wing. Use brown grey to fill in the tops and mark out the tips of these ovals.
  2. To paint the rest of the grey and white pattern on the wing, firstly add white then brown grey between the ovals where you see it. Use the same brown grey for the markings on the wing tips.
  3. When you are happy with the pattern overall, darken the tops and tips of the ovals with black to make them stand out better.
  4. Update the tail feathers with brown grey and black.
  5. Darken the shadows underneath the owl’s stomach with brown grey and add white to the chest feathers in the brightest places if it appears to have dulled.
  6. Go back over the whole owl and top up all the lights and darks where required.
  7. Return to the face and redo colours that you have previously used that need strengthening like the sanguine light, sienna, brown grey in the shadows and black for the darkest tips of the outer feathers on the facial disk.
  8. Make sure you have enough shadow on his chest and stomach by using elephant grey if you need more.
  9. Add more white where required before you sharpen the brown grey again and paint on the dark grey spots that you can see on the chest and stomach.
  10. Finally, to tie in the fence rail even more with the colours of the owl, add sienna to the darkest sections.

The Finished Drawing

Barn Owl, pastel pencil on smooth board, (42x29cm)

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