Rainbow lorikeets are a beautiful bush bird of Australia. Even in suburbia, you will find these chatty birds in eucalyptus trees. Your reference photograph below is of gorgeous lorikeets having a feast of seeds from a bird feeder.

Reference photo

Techniques you will learn in this tutorial:

  • Work with masking fluid and salt crystals
  • Practise wet-in-wet, wet-on-dry and lifting-out techniques


  • Arches 300gsm smooth watercolour paper 8x15in. (21x40cm)
  • Winsor lemon
  • New gamboge
  • Cadmium scarlet
  • French ultramarine
  • Oxide of chromium
  • Hooker’s green
  • Burnt sienna
  • Raw umber
  • Davy’s grey
  • Antwerp blue
  • Indigo
  • Synthetic Rounds Nos. 12 & 1
  • Old watercolour brush No. 4
  • Masking fluid
  • 2B pencil
  • Ruler
  • Masking tape
  • Spray bottle of water
  • MDF board
  • Plastic transparency sheet
  • Scissors
  • Sponge
  • Salt crystals


Step one – the drawing

  • On scrap paper, play around with the arrangement of the birds on branches so they appear to be feeding on eucalyptus blossoms.
  • Add a cascade of leaves to complete the fantasy context.
  • Include details like small holes chewed out of leaves added an element of interest.
  • Draw a rectangle measuring 21x40cm in the middle of the watercolour paper.
  • Draw the final composition lightly into this rectangle using a 2B pencil.


Look at the composition in a mirror. Seeing the image in reverse can make mistakes or odd-looking shapes more obvious to you.

Step two – masking fluid

  • Masking fluid comes in a liquid, but dries to a latex consistency. It is used to protect the white of the paper from paint applied sloppily to the background.
  • Tape the watercolour paper onto a large MDF board with masking tape.
  • Use an old watercolour brush to paint masking fluid thickly onto the birds, branches, blossoms and leaves.

Step three – the background

  • When the masking fluid is completely dry, leaving the masking fluid in place, give the background a light mist of water with a spray bottle.
  • Using a large Round synthetic brush drop Antwerp blue, indigo and new gamboge onto the background and allow these colours to bleed together, but also allow some white paper to show.
  • Sprinkle salt crystals here and there, which will gradually suck up the water and colour around them, leaving behind light flower shapes.

Step four – removing the masking fluid

  • When the background is dry, tip off the salt crystals and carefully peel the masking fluid from the paper.

Step five –creating the leaves

  • Cut leaf shapes out of a plastic transparency sheet.
  • Use these as a stencil by positioning them on the painting and lightly dabbing the exposed leaf areas with a damp sponge. This will lift some of the background colour from the painting.
  • Apply Antwerp blue with a brush to paint central veins on the leaves and darken some areas of the background around these lifted-out leaves to create the sense of subtle leaf shapes in the background along the top of the painting.

Step six – painting the flowers

  • Paint the branches using a small Round brush with burnt sienna and raw umber.
  • Add varying amounts of oxide of chromium and new gamboge to paint the leaves.
  • Completely cover the blossoms with new gamboge.
  • Once dry, add small filament and pollen details with burnt sienna and cadmium scarlet.
  • Detail the centres with oxide of chromium.

Step seven – begin painting the lorikeets

  • Apply a light underpainting of diluted colours to both birds.
  • Use Hooker’s green, Winsor lemon, cadmium scarlet and ultramarine blue for the feathers.
  • For the feet use Davy’s grey.
  • For the use beak cadmium scarlet and Winsor lemon.

Step eight – feather details and shading

  • Add a layer of shading and some feather details with a small brush and using stronger versions of the same undercoat colours.

NOTE: It’s important to analyse the plumage in the reference photo carefully to ensure the shape and direction of veins are just right.

Step nine – adding details

  • Build up details and shadow colours by mixing ultramarine blue into the original colours.

NOTE: The strongest shadows are in the central shaft of feathers and where vanes overlap.

Step ten – the finished painting

Dinner Party, watercolour, (21x40cm)

  • Tidy up the edges around the birds, leaves and branches by painting indigo from the background right up to their outlines.


Walk away from the painting and see what it looks like from a distance. Strengthen shadows where you need to for added contrast and impact.

This demonstration is taken from the September 2019 issue of Leisure Painter

Click here to purchase your copy

Elena Parashko

Elena is a professional artist, international art tutor and author of the empowering book, Survival Guide for Artists: How to Thrive in the Creative Arts, available via her website and Amazon. For more information about her work and online painting tutorials visit www.elenaparashko.com or email [email protected]. Her blog www.survivalguideforartists.com has a wealth of information for artists.

Discover more!

If you have enjoyed following Elena to paint these lorikeets, you may like to complete her step-by-step demonstration to paint a sea turtle in acrylic. Click here to read more.

Paint a puffin in watercolour with Rachel McNaughton by clicking here.

For more ideas on painting birds and animals in watercolour, see this feature by Liz Chaderton.