One of the big secrets of watercolor painting is water control, learning to get the right value (dark or light) without creating puddles. Puddles are not your friends. Many people think “I want a light blue, therefore I will add more water on my page”. This creates a puddle that takes a long time to dry and is difficult to manage. Alternatively people think “I want a really dark value, therefore I will add more paint”. Again a puddle. Instead of adding more water or paint on the page, change the concentration of paint in the mixture, not the amount of paint on the page.
A good way to practice water control is to create a monochrome painting. Just use one pigment (pick a dark color, dark brown is nice) and vary the concentration of paint to water. As you do, pay attention to the range of values, starting with the lightest, and building toward the darker values, and avoid making puddles on the page. Start with lighter values and make your way progressively to the darks.
Print out the Nuthatch sketch to follow along with this demonstration. Click on the first image to start a step-by-step side-show.
Start with a clear line drawing of the bird you want to draw. For this project, you may download and print out this drawing.
Work from light to dark. Begin with the light shadow on the belly and throat of the bird. Leave a subtle pale edge to the shadowed area to suggest reflected light.
Now mid range values. Paint the back with darker paint, again leaving a pale highlight along the back.
Now punch in the darks. These crisp details will not blur if you paint them on dry paper. Note the subtle highlight on the top of the bill
By adding a dark background, you will make the bird “pop” and the breast appear white, even though it has a pale shadow. The pale highlight on the back, chest, and bill make the bird stand out even more clearly. Notice the pale border around the legs so that they do not get lost in the bark background.
Use a white colored pencil to lighten any elements or add detail. Here I added pale margins on the wing (greater coverts and secondary edges).
This drawing is based on a photograph by Vivek Khanzode on birdpixel.com.