Peacock – Pencil to Paint Tutorial

Artwork-Zebra Zensations Technical Pen and watercolor on a Hahnemühle Cold Pressed Watercolor Postcard.

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

I had a difficult choice to make with this painting.

Reference photo courtesy of AvinaCeleste on Pixabay.

Did I want to focus on the beautiful detail? Or did I want to capture the beautiful flow of the feathers overall?

I decided I wanted the flow, and started thinking of waysto meet the challenge of fitting the entire bird on a postcard.

Right off, I knew that I needed to avoid too much detail. We tend to focus on faces, even with animals, and it was going to be small in this painting.


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

I spent far more time with my pencil drawing than I usually do, deciding what details I wanted, and how to fit it into the small size.

If you’ve ever studied drawing, you have probably come across the idea of *blind contour drawing. Many people don’t see the value, feeling you can’t possibly draw anything worth while.

This is the kind of drawing that makes it worth while. If you do it enough, you can keep your eye on the reference, only glancing down ever so often to make sure you aren’t too far from where you should be.

I drew the outline of the whole bird first to get the overall size and fit to the card. Then I drew the sections for the head, shoulders, back and wings

Then I drew the sections of the tail using the blind contour method, moving back and forth. I did look at the paper each time I reached the side of the bird and needed to move down to the next section. That meant I could look at the paper fairly often, and could easily keep track of where I was. It also kept me focused on the flow of the feathers rather than the detail.

Once I had all this established, I drew in some of the feathery eyes and a little bit of shading to help guide my eye during the pen drawing.

*Blind contour drawing is done by looking at your reference and drawing without looking down at the paper.

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.


The pen drawing was mostly following the pencil, though if you look close, you’ll see that I didn’t follow it exactly. I wasn’t using the blind contour method at this point because I already had my ‘mapping’ done

Having sketched if first, it was easier to see everything the second time, and I made adjustments as needed.

The main difference was that I picked out some of the darkest values and added the texture of some of the feathers. Except for the head and shoulders, I kept my values pretty light. At this size, anything that is overly dark is going to stand out like a beacon.

I decided the background would need to add balance for two issues. The peacock created a strong vertical stripe and to make it worse, I placed it directly in the middle of the card (too busy paying attention to the detail, darn it!). I wanted to add some horizontal detail, and have more of it on the left than on the right, to make it look like the composition was less centered.

A good part of drawing and painting is lying. But then our eyes and brain lie to us all the time so life follows art, right?

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


I had just found a palette where I had collected various brands of paint, and then never used any, after that, so purely on a whim, I decided that was the palette I would use. Why not add extra difficulty to an already challenging project, lol?

Actually, there was a little logic to this madness. The palette had some shiny colors with mica. It doesn’t show up in the photos but this peacock’s feathers do shimmer.

I started with a light wash of Prussian Blue. While the first layer was still damp, I added a thicker wash of the same color to the back, letting it blend in. At this point, I was done with the head, neck and back.

I used Hematite (because it was a shiny gray) for the wings and wall. I started working on the background because I wanted to make sure it was well-integrated with bird. Working back and forth between bird and background made it less likely I’d overdo either at any point.

Leaf green was used along the tail. Quinacridone gold and an unidentified green were blended on the paper, for the foliage and I continued with the gold for the sky. I choose this sky color because it makes the Prussian Blue pop and helps keep the small head and back the focus of the painting.

I used a shiny handmade watercolor from Aquanut – Cosmic Turquoise – for the darker areas of the feathers, working some into the wings as well.

A little Quin Gold was used to warm up the top of the wall. A wash of Ultramarine Violet Deep covered the rest. I let the color fade towards the bottom to balance it with the lighter color at the top. Schmincke Neutral tint has a brownish cast and I used it for shading on the wall and worked it into the bottom of the foliage.

More leaf green was added to the eyes and foliage.

I should have taken another scan at this point but forgot. Sorry.

The last step was to lighten areas of the tail feathers and along the wall by lifting color, and letting some of the under color show through.

After Thoughts

If I were to do this again there are definite changes I would make. I would pay more attention to where I placed the bird so that it wasn’t in the middle.

I would have started the wall just slightly above the wings and made it slightly lower on one side, because I think that would have given the painting a better balance.

I’d choose a different palette. I’m not unhappy with the colors I used, but I know I could have made it better yet.


And where you can buy them

Zebra Zensations Technical pens (review)

Hahnemühle Cold Press Watercolor Postcards (review)