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Barn Owl

Extract from A-Z of Bird Portraits • By Andrew Forkner • Published by Search Press


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by Tyto alba
I will always remember the first time I saw a barn owl hunting over the long grass in the field behind our house. It was late evening, with failing light and suddenly I noticed a white shape in the gloom, flapping along the hedge line.

People think of owls as birds of the night, but the barn owl will hunt at any time of the day, especially if it has chicks to feed.
For my painting I have chosen to show the bird flying, its wings beating completely silently while it listens for the rustle of prey in the undergrowth.

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  • 106633_2F2015-01-06-225848-Drawing_17.jpg 2.22 MB [ Download ]
© 2021 Andrew Forkner / Search Press · Reproduced with permission. · In Acrylics
  • How to draw & paint a piece of animal art. Barn Owl - Step 1
    Step 1


    1 Use the F and 2B pencils and tracing paper to transfer the basic drawing on page 125 to your watercolour paper. Redefine all the lines carefully with a 2H pencil.

  • How to draw & paint a piece of animal art. Barn Owl - Step 2
    Step 2

    Base layer
    2 Use a size 2 round to apply the base washes to the smaller areas such as the eye, feet and talons, then change to a size 4 or 6 round for the remaining areas of the owl, following the key opposite.

    3 Apply a pale base wash of mix D to the background using the size 6 round.

  • How to draw & paint a piece of animal art. Barn Owl - Step 3
    Step 3

    Detail layer

    4 Using a size 2 round or a rigger, begin to build up the tone by adding lines of detail over the base layers on the bird.

    5 Use the size 6 round to build the tone in the background. Check the key to see whether you repeat the base colour, or build the detail and tone with other mixes.

    6 Gradually increase the tone in darker areas by adding more layers of colour.

    7 Apply shadow washes of mix E, using a size 4 round brush, to delineate the white wing feathers against the background.

  • How to draw & paint a piece of animal art. Barn Owl - Step 4
    Step 4

    Finishing touches

    8 Using the rigger and mix C add the highlight to the eye.

  • How to draw & paint a piece of animal art. Barn Owl - Step 5
    Step 5

    Colour mixes
    Raw sienna and burnt sienna
    Burnt umber and Payne’s gray
    Opaque white
    Chromium green oxide
    Payne’s gray
    Burnt umber

    Most of the barn owl’s feathers across the breast, back and top of the wing are indistinguishable from one another; they blend together into a soft surface of uniform texture. This means there are few outlines to help guide you in placing the markings, so checking your reference material is essential throughout.

    Image key
    Here the base layers of this bird have all been applied, allowing the white of the paper (with added shadows of mix E) to represent the white areas on the bird’s body. I have begun to add some detail to the head (see photo page 126), the farthest wing and also on the feet. The diffuse green background suggests the tones of this bird’s field habitat and removes the need to leave an outline around the white areas of the owl.
    You will see in this painting that there are gaps in the shadows beneath the white wing feathers. There are shadows only where two feathers overlap. This helps to suggest the thin nature of these structures and gives the impression of light passing through the single feather layers.

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