Keel-billed Toucan – Pencil to Paint Tutorial

Artwork-Zebra Zensations Technical Pen and Schmincke watercolor on a Hahnemühle Cold Pressed Watercolor Postcard. Brushes: Princeton Neptune Quill Size 4 & Neptune Round Size 8.

Did you know that Toucan Sam, the lively toucan on Froot Loops cereal is a Keel-billed Toucan?

This painting is what is known as a ‘line and wash’ because it is drawn in pen first and then painted with watercolor.

Before You Start

Reference photo courtesy of Suju on Pixabay.

I was looking for a subject that I could use as one of my Postcards for the Lunch Bag as well as to meet the Doodlewash prompt of ‘Rainforest’.

This guy grabbed my attention because of his expression, his fuzzy head and bright colored bill. Those were things I most wanted to capture in my painting.


(This scan is darkened so you can see the pencil lines. You should pencil lines in lightly)

I really punched up the darkness on this pencil scan because I wanted you to see everything.

All those little speckles come from erasing – I kept drawing the bird too large for the postcard. You can’t see the damage with the eye but it does create more texture when I paint. Usually you don’t want that. I didn’t, but felt it was workable.

Usually I can eyeball proportions and draw a bird without too much trouble – I don’t have to think about it too much. But this toucan is sitting at an odd angle and it was one of those days where my brain and my hand were not communicating well.

So I did something I seldom do – I actually measured the distances of the shapes (you can see the horizontal and vertical lines I drew as a guide).

My point being that no matter how much experience you have, some days you are just off your feed. Instead of fussing, stop what you are doing and try it a different way (or just stop and come back later). I have to remind myself of this, often.

Not sure if you’re up to drawing this? Art Tutor has a great grid program that will help by applying a grid to your uploaded photo. You can also crop and adjust color and value.


Before starting my pen drawing, I had to make a decision. Usually, I establish the values in the painting, as well as the outline when I do my pen work. But the toucan feathers are largely black and gray, which would call for a lot of pen and create a very stark, dramatic appearance.

As I discussed above, I wanted those bright colors to be a focus, and I felt heavy pen work would take away from that. So I only drew an outline.

I outlined more of the background than usual. One of my goals was to satisfy the prompt of rainforest, so I thought I’d give the background more of the focus than usual. It was a secondary goal though and I kept the outlines simple and loose.

I wanted to be able to change my mind.

Values= dark to light. When you establish your values, you are deciding where the darkest areas are, and some of the important mid-tones.


The toucan’s face was painted with Rutile Yellow and Cobalt Azure. The bill was Cobalt Azure, Saturn Red, and Brilliant Red Violet. The body and tail were done with layers of Payne’s Blue-Gray, Cobalt Azure, with an addition of Saturn Red and Perylene Violet on the head.

I soon realized that the bright colorful area that I wanted to be a focus was too small at this 4 x 6 size. For this reason, my sky became a blend of yellow and bleeding into blue. A kleenex was used to lift some of the wet yellow to light it for more contrast between the bird and the sky.

The tree limbs were painted with a mix of Perylene Green and Perylene Violet applied in layers. I mix my browns, by dropping a second color into the wet paint on the paper. Green and violet are my favorite mix, but it depends on the other colors in the painting.

The foliage was done with various *wet-into-wet mixes of Rutile Yellow, Viridian, Perylene Green, Perylene Violet and the occasional touch of Yellow-Orange.

*Wet-into-Wet means you add more wet paint into an area of the paper where the paint is still wet.

Because I wanted the rainforest feel, I added quite a bit of detail to the background, although it’s still loose and abstract. I alternated negative painting (painting around shapes) to create hard edges, and lifting colors for shapes with soft edges.

Something about the bill was bothering me but it was late, and I put the painting away. When I made the scan the next morning, I saw it immediately.

In the left photo, notice the area at the tip of the bill; the darkness sweeping in the same direction? It seemed to be part of the bill, messing up the proportion.

I t was time to put this in hubby’s lunch bag, so I just wet a finger and smeared the area so it wouldn’t be as dark, lol. Ideally, I would have lightened it while keeping more of the leaf shape.

Remember the erasing I mentioned earlier?

I ended up with lighter color on the face, because there was an ugly blotch of damaged paper that showed with darker color. I didn’t achieve the exact goal I had in mind.

Does that make me unhappy? No. Having a goal helps me make decisions as I paint, but I like staying flexible and not always knowing exactly what will happen.


Hahnemühle Cold Press Watercolor Postcards (review).

Zebra Zensations Technical pens (review)

Princeton Heritage Synthetic Sable 4050 Round 8 

Published by Life Imitates Doodles Art, Reviews & Tutorials

Artist Ambassador for Zebra Pens. I'm a self-taught artist who dances about with all sorts of artistic mediums. My main loves are Watercolor, Zentangle and Ballpoint pen. The subjects of my work are many and varied and change at whim. I'm a little bit crazy, but doesn't that come with being an artist? At my Life Imitates Doodles Blog, I post a list of resource links for Tangles, Tutorials and Giveaways two times a week. I also write reviews, hold giveaways and share my art work.

6 thoughts on “Keel-billed Toucan – Pencil to Paint Tutorial

  1. He is wonderful! I appreciate you sharing your problems and solutions. It sure doesn’t look like you had those issues.

    1. Thank you, Lori! Usually people don’t see the mistakes an artist makes because they aren’t looking for them and have no expectations as to what the finished work should be. We beat ourselves up over them and there’s no reason. It does help you improve though, if look at the reason you didn’t achieve a goal – not as looking for failures, but in looking for different choices to make the next time.

  2. You really got the texture of the feathers…..and that foliage!…(I can still hear Kathy pronounce it in French)…fo-li-ahjhe! Reading your process is wonderful. I didn’t do the work, just read it. (Like I’ve read hundreds of recipes, without actually cooking anything! hahaha!

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