The kingfisher is considered by many people to be one of their favourites, and I have to admit that it is also one of mine. Although it is probably the most colourful bird to be found in the British Isles, few people ever get to see one.

From an artistic point of view it is a joy to paint. The combination of colours, shape, proportions and plumage pattern results in a bird that I have been tempted to paint many times.

I have chosen to depict the bird perched on the seed head of a reedmace plant. This allowed me to repeat the lovely burnt sienna tones used in the shadow of the kingfisher’s breast in the plant, providing an effective link between the two elements that helps to complete the composition successfully.

Colour mixes:

A = Cerulean blue

B = Payne's grey and burnt umber

C = Cadmium orange, burnt sienna and a touch of cadmium red light

D = Cobalt blue, Payne's grey and a touch of phthalo green

E = Opaque white

F = Cerulean blue and titanium white

G = cadmium orange and titanium white

H = Payne's grey

I = cadmium red medium

J = Burnt umber

K = Raw sienna and burnt sienna

L = Raw sienna

M = Chromium green oxide and cadmium orange



1. Use the F and 2B pencils to add the basic drawing to your watercolour paper. Redefine all the lines carefully with a 2H pencil.

Base layer

2. Using a size 2 round for the smaller areas, such as the eye and the beak, and a size 4 or 6 round for the remainder, apply the base washes to each area of the painting, following the key below.

This image shows the painting with the base layers applied to most of the sections of the drawing, and detail beginning to be added in my usual working order (from beak to tail). In a painting like this, with multiple overlapping elements, it helps to complete the rearmost background sections (such as the upper leaf) first. This allows you to create a cleaner line at each intersection when you complete the edge of the nearer element.

Detail layer

3. Using a size 2 round or the rigger, begin to build up the tone by adding lines of detail over the base layer. Use the key to check whether you repeat the base colour, or build the detail with another mix.

4. Gradually increase the tone in darker areas by adding more layers of colour.

5. On the reedmace leaves, apply the detail using lines as on the bird itself.

6. For the flower head details change to an old size 4 round (see detail below) and stipple the colour onto the paper to give a more realistic finish.


Use an older size 4 brush to stipple the reedmace. The brush should be slightly more upright than usual to allow small deposits of colour for texture. An older brush is better as the tip will be slightly more rounded.

Finishing touches

7. Use the size 2 round to apply a wash of mix J to create the shadow on the orange breast feathers and the orange cheek patch.

8. Using the rigger, carefully apply mix E to the bill, over the crown, the highlights in the eye, the pale spots on the upper wing and the pale edges of the five protruding primary feathers. Once these feathers are dry, use a size 2 round brush to add mix A over the white layer.

9. Using the rigger and mix B, outline the secondary feathers to indicate the thin cast shadow. Use the same combination to put in the dark central feather veins on the three tertiary feathers.

10. Add a small amount of mix E to mix C and, using the rigger carefully, introduce the delicate breast feathers that overlap the leading edge of the wing.

11. Apply a pale wash of mix B to the shadow areas on the reedmace heads and the leaves to finish.

The finished painting