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In The Studio This Week – Birds and Doodles

In the studio this week, I continued with The Mastery Program lessons. This week’s module focused on mark making on a variety of surfaces. I chose two different birds as reference photos for two of the projects. I seem to be drawn (pun intended) to birds. The last lesson was a large-scale doodle. I was able to almost get caught up and with the holidays coming, staying on track will be a challenge.

Bird 1

This lesson was teaching how to use paint to get an optical mixing effect on the canvas. The process imitates Van Gogh or Seurat’s impressionistic style and method of letting the eye mix the colors on the canvas rather than the artist mixing the colors on the palette. I’ve been a big fan of Van Gogh’s style and was looking forward to trying this technique.

I chose a photo of a parrot, just the head, staring out at the viewer. The parrot spoke to me and, even though I knew it would be a challenge, I chose this one to paint.

Photo of the head of a parrot
Photo reference

I printed the photo and took it into my studio and drew a blank. I didn’t even know where to start. The canvas was already painted black as that is a better base color to show the paint. I outlined the parrot head using a white pastel pencil. I laid several warm and cool colors on the palette. I started laying in big strokes of blacks and purples for the background and strokes of blues for the feathers.  Yellow colors were laid over the blue to get the green effect. This is my first pass:

First draft painting of a parrot head done in oils
First draft

After that layer had nearly dried a day later, I added more around the eye and beak area. I also tried to get more definition in the feathers. I really didn’t follow the approach totally, but I think he turned out well. What do you think?

Finished oil painting of a parrot head using optical mixing
Finished painting

Bird 2

This was a quick piece done on black mixed-media paper using white charcoal and a white China marker. I chose an owl as I have a collection of owl paintings I’ve done previously and wanted to keep the theme going. It went quickly, although I think my China marker wasn’t as highly pigmented as some because it didn’t show as brilliant white. I chose to add color to the eyes with red and yellow China markers for an eerie effect.

Black and white sketch of a Pygmy Owl done with white charcoal on black paper.
White and black Pygmy Owl


This was done following something the Milan Art Institute calls “L-Theory Doodling.” You start by making a bunch of “L” shapes across the paper using various drawing pencils. Then you connect the “L” shapes. I used a China marker, a 5B graphite pencil, an acrylic paint marker, a Lamy paint pen, and some fine liner Micron pens.  

I used to doodle all the time when I was younger but not so much anymore.  At first, I thought this was silly, a waste of time, but then I saw the benefit of getting into your right brain and away from thinking of the end result. I added a few birds at the end to tie this week’s work to a common theme. The whole process is highly meditative, and I recommend trying it yourself.

"L-theory" doodles done with various drawing instruments
L=theory doodle – Can you find the Ls?


My biggest lesson this week is to never be afraid to try something new. Also, take time to doodle and have fun with art. 

Next week involves travel and holidays so I’m not sure how much I’ll be able to accomplish, but I hope to stay close to the Master Program schedule to complete in a year. I’m about a week behind right now but hope to catch up during the scheduled breaks.

Thank you for joining me. I really do appreciate hearing your comments and am more than willing to help you along your journey as well.

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