Nankeen Kestrel Watercolor

nankeen kestrel watercolor painting by Michele Clamp

A fabulous nankeen kestrel watercolor from a Dave Nightingale photo reference. The bird’s pose is spectacular and makes for a fantastic painting.

Birds Are a Great Subject for Loose Watercolor Painting

Even though the photo is fantastic we don’t want to transcribe it exactly. There is a lot of movement in the photo and we want to capture that in the kestrel watercolor painting. A good way to do this is not to paint the whole bird rigidly with sharp lines. If we keep a lot of the edges soft and roughly defined we can then just emphasize the important ones. This gives visual interest to the painting. It also allows us to suggest movement and prioritize the edges that we feel are important to the watercolor. In this image the face is obviously important and we’ll keep that sharp. But other areas can almost be lost completely.

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Start By Painting No Edges At All

I started the painting by putting in a light wash of all the colors and softening all the edges. This means that you paint completely through the drawn outline. It feels wrong when you first start doing this but the result is so effective that it’s worth pushing through the discomfort.

The only thing you need to be careful of is to *really* soften all the edges. Especially when you’re painting out into the background. Leaving a hard edge out there and letting it dry will be really distracting when you put in the rest of the kestrel.

Vermont farm watercolor

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Kestrel Watercolor – Put In Some Edges – But Not Too Many

The next stage is to start adding some definition to the bird. But only in some places. Stand back and pick and choose where you want to add color. Less is more here. Overdefining things can destroy the whole effect. In this painting I decided not to define the belly area of the kestrel at all. I just it fade away into the background and it gives a lovely airy, floating effect.

The Face is Crisp and Sharp

The final thing was the face. Some crisp, dark lines for the eyes and beak. And lastly the branch and feet. Not too much detail in here – it’s easy to overdo feet and give them too much contrast.

Final Thoughts on the Nankeen Kestrel Watercolor Painting

This nankeen kestrel watercolor turned out really well. I didn’t video this one but I have a couple of video demos showing a similar technique: