Follow Paul Hopkinson step-by-step as you learn to paint layers and add detail in watercolour

Discover the paints Paul uses in his paintings with this video clip below.

Demonstration : Kingfisher

Your reference photograph for this demonstration

Stage one - the drawing
Content continues after advertisements


Using your preferred method draw the kingfisher.

Keep your drawing lighter than the one shown, which was darkened for tutorial purposes.


When drawing, remember to place a sheet of paper under your hand to avoid transferring natural oils from your hand to the paper. This will act as a resist and may cause problems in the long run when you apply washes of colour.

Stage two - masking fluid

1. Add masking fluid to the inside of the drawing to an approximate 1in.width.


Masking fluid can very quickly ruin a brush so use an old one, lightly stroked through a damp bar of soap before loading.

2. Once finished leave it to dry.

3. Wash out your brush thoroughly afterwards.

Stage three- the background

1. Make up four separate weak washes of gamboge (hue), burnt umber, sap green and Vandyke brown.

2. Wet the background of the paper with clean water two or three times; be careful to avoid the non-masked internal areas of the kingfisher.

3. Using a No. 6 brush, begin dropping colours onto the wet paper, using the lightest colour first. The background will dry quickly so drop in the colours and leave it to dry. Don’t fiddle!

4. Using a ‘shaky hand’ and skipping areas, drop other colours in the gaps whilst everything is wet and let them blend together by themselves, as the paint will do the work for you.

5. Once the paper begins to dry and loses its shine, leave it to dry completely to avoid streaks and blemishes. Leave the painting for a few hours to dry thoroughly. Do not use a hair dryer; this can cause the masking fluid to harden within the paper and could tear the painting when removed.

6. When everything is dry, carefully remove the masking fluid using a clean, dry finger, from the outside in.

Stage four - the eye

I always start with the eye of a bird; this is where the life of the portrait lies so getting this right at the beginning makes the painting come alive within the early stages.

1.Using a No. 1 brush wet the eye and drop in a thin wash of French ultramarine in the top half then French ultramarine and ivory black mix for the lower half.


Be careful not to add too much paint in one go. Dab your brush on kitchen paper once just to take off surplus paint.

2. Once dry using the same colours but a thicker mix and a No. 00 brush, carefully paint the fine outline to the eye and strengthen the inner colours.

3. Let it dry again then add the detail of the eye with your dark colour.

4. Once this is dry, use a little white gouache to add the highlight within the eye.

Stage five

Now we need to put down a couple of washes onto the body.

1. Start by mixing a weak wash of French ultramarine with a touch of Hooker’s green and another wash of Winsor orange with a small amount of burnt umber.

2 Wet the head and back feathers first then drop in the blue-green mix.

3. Let this dry and do the same with the orange mix for the eye stripe and chest.

4. Let it dry.

Step six

1. Using the No. 00 brush paint in the fine feathers on the top of the head using a mix of French ultramarine and ivory black.


Keep a constant check on the direction of the feathers and the curves of the lines. Some areas are darker than others so add more detail to these parts.

2. Use the same process with the blue areas underneath the eye, stopping at the shoulder.

3. Add a weak wash of French ultramarine and ivory black to the beak.

Step seven

1. Using a Winsor orange and burnt umber mix, add the fine details for the eye stripe, darkening with a touch of ivory black where needed. The darker parts around the eye are mostly ivory black with a small amount of Winsor orange.

2. Wet the beak with clean water then drop in a touch of Winsor orange to the lower beak and the tip.

3. Whilst still wet, add a wash of weak French ultramarine and ivory black to the top of the beak.

4. When dry, begin with the top beak and carefully add the darker tones using the ivory black and alizarin crimson mix, but avoiding the lighter areas.

5. Blend any areas that change in colour lightly with a damp clean brush.

6. Finish the beak by adding fine lines of white gouache for the tiny details to give the beak some realism

Step eight

1. Wet the chin area with clean water and drop in a light wash of Winsor orange and burnt umber.

2. Once dry, add the detail with your fine brush and a slightly stronger mix.

3. Mix Winsor orange with a touch of burnt umber and add the first layer of detail to the chest using the No. 1 brush. Keep a constant check on the direction and length of the lines.


Remember to dab your brush once on a piece of kitchen roll to keep the lines detailed.

4. Once dry use the No. 6 brush and lightly dampen the chest with clean water to soften the feathers.

Step nine

Now begin the second layer of detail on the chest.

1. Add a little more burnt umber to the chest feather colour and go over the same areas, adding fewer lines to the lighter parts and tighter lines to the far right and near the feet. This will start to give the chest a little more roundness. Adjust these areas by constantly checking the reference photo and the darker tones.

2. Once completed add a very weak wash of Winsor orange to soften and brighten the feathers.

3. Drop in a small amount of the chest colour to the top of the back.

4. Make up a thicker mix of French ultramarine and Hooker’s green and start working on the finer details for the back of the kingfisher. Keep a constant check on the direction of the lines; add lines closer together for the darker areas.

5. Apply the same method all the way down the wings, leaving gaps for the lighter marks.

Step ten

1. Add the white markings on the wings with white gouache and a few fine lines for the back and tail feathers.

2. Now begin on the feet. Work on one foot at a time by wetting it with clean water and dropping in a mix of Winsor orange and scarlet lake.

3. Allow this to dry then carefully add the small details for the joints of the toes with a darker mix of the same colour.

4. The really dark areas for the feet are completed with a touch of lamp black added to the feet colour.

5. Add a touch of white gouache for the highlights on the top of the feet.

6. Now make up four washes ready to drop into the wooden stump: yellow ochre, sap green, burnt umber and lamp black.

7. Using the No. 6 brush wet the whole of the stump. You may need to do this two or three times; be careful to avoid the feet.

8. Drop in the readymade colours onto the wet stump. Apply them in the direction of the wood and let them mix on their own.

9. Now let this dry, ready for the final details.

Step eleven

When everything is dry begin with the lighter colours, working your way to the final darks. A shaky hand is ideal for this part! As you can see the lines within the wood more or less go in the same direction.

1. With your No. 1 brush and yellow ochre, paint fine lines of detail for the top part of the stump, keeping them close together but wavy in places.

2. Use the same method for the next colour of burnt umber then lightly wash over with clean water to soften a little.

3. When dry add a mix of ivory black and burnt umber for the small darker areas, with a touch of white gouache for the top highlights.

Step twelve

Finally apply the same method to the lower half of the stump, but this time add a little sap green.

Allow it to dry then add the finer lines and dark areas with the black and brown mix.

Highlights are added with the white gouache to complete this painting.

The finished painting

Kingfisher, watercolour, (30x21cm)

Sometimes we may include links to online retailers, from which we might receive a commission if you make a purchase. Affiliate links do not influence editorial coverage and will only be used when covering relevant products



Paul Hopkinson

Paul is an artist and tutor, teaching watercolour near Winkleigh in north Devon.

For details visit; join Facebook at; and follow him on Twitter at