Welcome visitor

Follow Paul Hopkinson step by step as he paints this iconic and welcome visitor to our gardens, the long tailed tit


This lovely photograph of a long tailed tit was taken by photographer, Roger Wasley (www.flickr.com/photos/rogerwasley)

You will need


Bockingford 300gsm NOT 81⁄2x111⁄2in. (21.5x29cm)

Artists’ watercolour

See colours, below


Detail No. 1

Round No. 6

Large wash brush


Paper towel

Two water pots

Ceramic mixing palette

Masking tape

Masking fluid

Mechanical pencil

Putty rubber


Step 1

Using your preferred drawing method, copy the long tailed tit drawing onto your watercolour paper. Keep the lines very light to avoid the pencil marks showing when the painting is completed. The drawing shown here has been darkened solely for teaching purposes.

Step 2

Give your masking fluid a swirl before you start to ensure it is mixed well. Masking fluid will ruin a good brush so dig out an old brush, perhaps a No. 4, and apply the masking fluid. Do this about an inch inside the drawing. A cocktail stick is a good way to pull out those little details whilst the masking fluid is still wet, but be quick as it will be dry before you know it. Allow to dry completely; the fluid will be tacky to touch, but not wet.

Step 3

1 Make four separate weak washes in your palette: gamboge (hue), burnt umber, sap green and Vandyke brown. Always make more than you think you will need.

2 Begin with a large wash brush to wet the background; do this two or three times to ensure the paper is wet, but not running like a waterfall.

3 Drop in the lightest colour first, gamboge (hue), and move this around the background, leaving gaps; a shaky hand helps. Do the same with the other colours in the order of sap green, burnt umber then Vandyke brown. Remember to avoid covering the entire background with the same colour.

4 Allow this to dry for a few hours before removing the masking fluid.

Step 4

1 When completely dry, remove the masking fluid with a clean, dry finger, working from the outside to the inside of the bird. This avoids any potential tears with the masking fluid damaging the background. Any imperfections within the bird can be covered up with the detail work later.

Step 5

1 As usual I begin with the eye to bring the bird to life. Make three separate washes of lamp black, French ultramarine, and a mix of Winsor orange with a touch of scarlet lake.

2 Using a No. 1 detail brush, wet the eye. Drop French ultramarine into the top half of the eye, avoiding the highlight area. Whilst wet, add lamp black to the lower half and let it dry.

3 When dry, reinforce the black of the eye and the blue tint then carefully paint the eye outline using a weaker wash of lamp black.

4 Let it dry then wet the small orange area to the top of the eye and drop in orange; this may need a second layer once dry.

5 If you cover up the highlight accidentally, add a touch of white gouache then carefully blend the left-hand edge out with a damp, clean brush.

Step 6

1 Make up a weak wash of opera rose and ivory black. Using a No. 1 brush paint the lighter details on the top of the head and under the eye. Keep a constant check on the direction of the feathers.

2 With a thick mix of the same colour, add the darker lines on the top of the head and back of the neck. Keep the lines tight together, but leave the occasional gaps for the lighter areas. I find the best method is to dab the brush just once onto kitchen roll to take off surplus paint; this avoids blobs of paint being deposited on the painting.

3 Wet the beak and drop in a thin wash of French ultramarine and lamp black, pulling out the centre beak line with a damp clean brush.

4 Wet the back, wings and tail of the bird and using a weak mix of opera rose and scarlet lake, add the background colour then leave it to dry thoroughly.

Step 7

1 The next step is to paint the lighter details using a No. 1 brush. With a thicker mix of the pink and a touch of burnt umber, paint the back feathers, keeping an eye on the length and shape as you go. Work on one feather at a time, leaving the white areas clear.

2 Use a mix of lamp black and scarlet lake to paint the wings and tail feathers carefully. Barely touching the painting, lightly blend the wings with a clean damp brush to soften the feathers a little.

3 Paint the tail feathers using the same black and scarlet colour.

4 Lift out small highlights within each tail feather using a clean, damp No. 1 brush by working over the same single line a few times, keeping it wet. Whilst still wet, dab the area with a piece of kitchen roll to pull off the paint.

5 Wet the belly area and add a stronger wash of the pink and brown colour for the background, lightening as you reach the top of the chest.

Step 8

1 Strengthen the pink and brown mix of opera rose, scarlet red and burnt umber and using the No. 1 brush add the details for the chest. Remember to make these areas darker towards the left-hand side and the lower area of the belly. Don’t be too precise with the direction; your lines need to overlap and criss-cross a little.

2 Add a little lamp black to the same mix to paint the darker areas on the belly; make this darker on the lower areas. This will give the area more form and create a base for the detail.

Step 9

1 The next stage brings a feeling of realism to the chest area. Use white gouache of a creamy consistency and a No. 1 brush to add the fine white lines from below the beak and down the chest to the underside of the bird. Be careful not to cover all the darks underneath and use less gouache the lower down the bird you go. This will ensure the dark areas show through.

2 Whilst you have the white gouache at hand, add wing highlights to the back feathers and underneath the tail.

3 Then add the fine white feathers underneath the body and between the legs with the white gouache.

4 To begin the legs, mix a thin wash of scarlet lake and burnt umber, wet the legs with clean water and drop in this colour. Leave to dry.

5 Strengthen the mix, add a touch of lamp black and carefully paint the fine details for the legs and feet.

6 Once you have done this, areas can be highlighted using the lift-out technique, or you can add a little white gouache for the light marks.

Step 10

1 For the wood, prepare your colours first by making up separate wells of yellow ochre, burnt umber, burnt sienna, sap green and an ivory black and burnt umber mix.

2 Wet the entire area of wood with clean water then drop in the colours using a No. 6 brush and the lightest colour first. Do this in the direction of the wood grain. Leave it to dry before you add detail.

3 Paint the wood detail using the No.1 brush and strengthened mixes of the same colours already mixed in Step 10. Again use the lightest colour first. Keep the lines in the direction of the wood grain, but here it’s useful to have a shaky hand so none of the lines are exactly the same.

4 Do this many times, working again from the lightest colour to the darkest. Leave the section for the feather unpainted.

5 Paint the feather details with a watery mix of French ultramarine and burnt umber so you can barely see the lines. This has to remain soft so you want to keep your lines light, applied in the direction of the feather marks. Add a little white gouache to complete the feather

The finished painting The Long Tailed Tit, watercolour, 81⁄2x111⁄2in. (21.5x29cm)

Step 11

1 Continue to paint down the tree stump using the same method you used for the top section of the wood, but at the later stages add a little lamp black to your darker mixes for the contrasting colours. Remember that many tiny marks are needed for this final stage.

2 Finally, head back to your white gouache and thin it down a little. Use the white to add a few highlights to the wood but don’t overdo it.

Paul has been painting for 35 years. His medium is primarily watercolour with acrylic paint or gouache. For details of his classes and new DVD on painting a harvest mouse, please visit www.devonartist.co.uk; www.facebook.com/thedevonartistpaul or twitter.com/thedevonartist