Birds of a Feather

“Education is not the filling of a pot but the lighting of a fire”

-W. B. Yates

With each new project that I create or design, I learn something new. Whether it be the way a certain color reacts when mixing with another or how a certain surface holds up to a certain type of medium. It is always an adventure and always lots of fun.

It somehow seems that a ‘job’ shouldn’t be this much fun. But it is. I don’t think a day goes by when I am not grateful that I am able to make a living at what I enjoy doing so much. I really do enjoy just about every aspect of what I do and I look forward to starting every day with excitement and anticipation. I certainly have a good life.

There are, of course, some things that I enjoy doing more than others. Although it would be difficult to say the exact order in which I rank the parts of my job (that seems to change a bit from day to day!) something that hovers at the top of the list most of the time is the aspect of learning new techniques and designing new projects. These seem to go hand-in-hand with each other, as it seems as soon as I learn something new, I can’t wait to share it with others. It brings me a great deal of joy to do so.

After finishing up on my “Golden Palette” North Star Village Shop pattern and catching up on the many orders for the accompanying kits, I was ready to do something a little bit different. I wanted something that wouldn’t take as long or be that complicated to design. I also had the urge to play with my watercolors a bit, too. Sometimes when I am so busy filling wood orders, I find little time to paint for myself. While one may think that I get to create art every day, that is far from the case. So I took advantage of this little lull in orders and thought I would kill two birds with a single stone (so to speak!) and paint a watercolor blue jay. I was thinking that the next bird in my “Songbird Ornament” series would be a blue jay. And I wanted to try to do it in watercolors first to establish the color patterns and tones.

I chose a nice image of a jay from Pixabay and got to work drawing. I made him mid-size and created the linework in my graphic software. That way it would be easy to adjust and size him later on. I began painting him on a round block of watercolor paper by Paul Rubens. This paper is a ‘mid-grade’ and I thought it would be fine for the light layering that I would be doing with him. I used my M. Graham watercolors from the Steve Mitchell set (The Mind of Watercolor). Since I got this set at the beginning of the year, I have found them to be my go-to colors. The more I use them, the more I am learning about mixing and theory and all of that meaty kind of color stuff that I have been absorbing these past few years. And you know what? It is really beginning to click. I am finally getting to the point of seeing a color and knowing (pretty much!) which colors to use to recreate it. That is truly what I feel is a ‘gift’ and I am glad that I had kept trying. Believe me – there were many times when I mixed colors and made a mess. But I learned from that mess that no words or watching videos can match the value of really trying to do something for yourself. Even if you fail – and you WILL from time to time – you will be more impacted by that failure and learn how to NOT fail in the future. Things will really stick with you better.

So I took my time and began painting the blue jay in watercolor. I laid in the undertones:

I kept adding layers:

And then the final details of the bird.

He looked pretty handsome, and I was satisfied with the outcome. But I was still thinking about how I would do the background and finish him off. I decided to switch gears.

After the watercolor bird itself was done, I thought I would try to give the acrylic version a go. This would be a different process altogether because I needed to do things in a logical order so I could actually teach the process via a pattern packet. Because I took the time to paint him first in watercolors, I pretty much knew which acrylic colors would be needed. Taking the time to paint him first actually saved me a lot of time going through trial and error and he came out really nice fairly quickly.

I am using DecoArt Americana acrylic paint for this pattern, as they are my favorite acrylics. You can see the full line of paint and colors on the DecoArt Website HERE.

Before long, he was fully completed and the acrylic version was just as handsome as his watercolor counterpart.

You can get the pattern HERE.

Now that I was satisfied with the finished bird, I needed to repaint it one more time in acrylics so that I could take step-by-step photos for the pattern packet. While this may seem a bit redundant to some, it is how I do things – everything is painted at least twice – because it helps me organize the process and teach the project in the correct order. Taking the photos along the way also helps me write the instructions, as they tend to be a visual storyboard that I follow along as I write the steps. When painting projects that are a little more complex, as I often do, it really helps to see when I applied which color and makes the writing part of things really easy. I typically take about 100-200 raw photos with each project and after I am done painting the piece, I edit them and choose the ones that best show the particular step I am working on. It is all very logical and is much easier than it sounds. After years of writing patterns for both woodworking and painting projects, I found this system works best for me.

The result (this time!) is a 17-page pattern with 20 full-color step-by-step photos:

I created a short “promo” video, which shows my typical pattern packet a little better:

I am really proud of how it turned out.

So now I have four birds in the series:

You can get the wood kits HERE.

I offer the wood kit on my site for the ornament version, but I have three sizes of linework in each of the pattern packets so you can use them on box lids, round ornaments, or any surface you may have on hand. With all the supply-chain issues and the high cost of shipping, I try to give alternatives so that my designs don’t have to be on a particular shape or surface. The patterns are all available as PDF patterns OR paper – which saves on shipping costs, too.

So what did I wind up doing with the watercolor version?

I went to one of my favorite watercolor teachers that I support on Patreon (Maria Raczynska) and I looked through her large library of videos and saw her create the type of background that I was thinking about. I wanted something looser and soft, so the focus would stay on the blue jay. I am SO bad at ‘loose’ and ‘random’ but I thought I would give it a go. I am not unhappy with the result:

It was scary to do the background last, but I am always telling you all to take risks, so I felt I had to take a bit of one myself. I am pretty satisfied with how it looks.

So now it is on to my next adventure. In my travels on Pinterest and Instagram, I came across another beautiful art form that I had to try. I am in the process of working on a design using that technique and I will be sharing it with you all shortly, as I am still learning and experimenting with it myself. But I promise it will be something different and I am very excited about it.

Thanks for reading about my journey. I hope that you see some of yourself in my post and can relate to things a little bit. I find my creative friends are truly wonderful and supportive. I don’t know what I would do without you all!

Until next time . . .

4 Comments Add yours

  1. Both the acrylic and the watercolour jays look fabulous I love the background on th watercolour version. It pops the blue jay out really nicely

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you, Anna. 🙂 I hope you are doing well.


  2. Looking good – love what you’re doing with the birds.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you! The first one was based on my other ornaments that you made (that were geared for the woodworkers) and they are evolving into something on their own merit. I am glad you like them. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

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