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How to Paint Birds with Acrylics: A Simple Plan to Help You Get Started

how to paint a bird with acrylicsHave you ever tried using birds as a subject for acrylic painting? Whether they are standing still or are in motion, birds tend to create fascinating shapes. Their feathered bodies and fluid movements are interesting and offer great challenges for acrylic painters.

In fact, an entire genre of painting that specifically focuses on birds evolved a long time ago in China. Known as ‘bird-and-flower’ paintings, this genre eventually spread to other countries, such as Japan, and is still popular today, especially among interior decorators.

Here is a simple, 2-phase set of steps that will teach you how to paint birds with acrylics:

NOTE – there is a superb video demonstration at the bottom of this article, so feel free to skip the text and scroll down to check it out! :)


Phase 1 – Research

What kind of bird painting would you like to create? Various styles exist within this genre. Look at some examples until you find one you like. Then, use that painting as a reference (not as something to copy).

Here are some resources; take a look at these images:

Audubon Pictures of Birds
Chinese Bird and Flower Pictures
Japanese Bird Paintings
Australian Aboriginal Bird Paintings
Native American Bird Paintings
British Bird Paintings


Phase 2 – Painting Process

OK, let’s get to work.

  • Choose a picture of a bird you wish to paint. You can either take a photograph or search for one on the internet.
  • Select and prepare the colors you wish to use in your painting.
  • Sketch the bird on your canvas with a pencil. Make sure to sketch lightly so you can easily erase it if necessary. Even basic geometric shapes can be helpful (ex. a small circle for the head, an oval shape for the body and triangles for the wings) for planning out your composition.
  • After you have finished your compositional sketch, start filling in the base colors with a medium flat brush. Using relaxed, fluid strokes, start from the head then curve your brush along the slant of the wings and then straighten it with the tail feathers.
  • Select a smaller brush and paint the top of the bird’s head and wings. Add more dainty and delicate features, such as bill or beak, eyes, feet, etc., with smaller pointed brushes.
  • Try to create a sense of texture to the bird’s feathers with contrasting values and light and dark colors.
  • Paint several separate (ie. distinct) feathers on the tail and darken any areas where the wings lie on the bird’s body.
  • Create highlights to depict places of interest or where light reflection is brightest – in the eyes, on top of the head and wings, on the talons, etc.

That was a very simple and generalized plan to help you get started. But really, if you want to paint birds with acrylics, you just need to DO IT. That’s the best way to learn when painting a new subject. You’ll figure it out as you go. Have fun!


Additional (Great!) Resource for Painting Birds with Acrylics

Here is a fantastic, video workshop by Karrie Evenson that is REALLY worth watching! In order to follow along with Karrie, you’ll need these supplies:

  • Canvas — 11×14 or 16×20
  • Paints — Yellow orange AZO, Cadmium yellow, Lemon yellow, Teal, White, Black, Phthalo Blue, Violet, Magenta
  • Others — Rags, Large Brushes, Water, Palette, the usual stuff


article written by How to Paint With Acrylics staff
(Image of “Rainforest Scarlet Macaw” painting, provided courtesy of redfish1223)

© GO International Enterprises.
All photos, images and text are copyright protected and not to be used without permission.

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