Mini Lesson – Painting a Bluebird

This “mini-lesson” shows step-by-step how I created a watercolor painting of a Bluebird.  For reference, here’s the finished painting:

Finished watercolor painting of a Bluebird, by artist Barbara Bromley

1. Begin by sketching the bluebird on your watercolor paper using an HB pencil. Make sure your drawing is accurate. Lighten the pencil lines by dabbing at them with a kneaded eraser. Contrary to what most books say, once wet, these lines can’t be erased completely.

Stage 1, pencil sketch, in preparation for watercolor painting of a Bluebird, by artist Barbara Bromley

2. Use liquid frisket to mask the outline of the bird. Use a cheap brush coated with standard bar soap to “paint” this outline, which will stay white. When the frisket is dry it will look and feel like dried rubber cement.

Stage 2. painting the edges around the bird, in preparation for watercolor painting of a Bluebird, by artist Barbara Bromley

3. Mix the following puddles (a puddle is paint mixed with enough water to dilute it to the desired value):

  • French Ultramarine + Hookers Green (make two puddles: one more bluish & one more greenish)
  • Cobalt Blue + Brown Madder (make three puddles: one dark purple; one reddish; one bluish)
  • Alizarin Crimson + Burnt Sienna
  • French Ultramarine + Paynes Gray + a bit of Alizarin
  • Burnt Sienna
  • Burnt Sienna + Raw Sienna
  • Cobalt Blue
  • Cobalt Blue + Winsor Blue
  • Cobalt Blue + Cerulean Blue
  • Cobalt Blue + French Ultramarine
  • Sepia + French Ultramarine (make two puddles: one very dilute light gray & one almost black)
  • New Gamboge

4. Paint the background

Background Painting

a. Glaze over the entire background until it glistens evenly; drop in the following colors and combinations based on where they can be seen in the photo:

To the left and lower right use French ultramarine/Hookers Green mixtures.

For the upper right (our light source) use more dilute greenish mixture of Ultramarine/Hookers Green; then drop in a bit of New Gamboge and a little Cobalt Blue/Brown Madder (reddish mixture) near the bird

Important – Make sure to paint quickly but stop if background begins to dry. The background can be re-wet after drying completely; Then stronger washes can be added.

b. Rub off the frisket to expose white outline.

5. Paint the base washes of the bluebird.

Stage 4. Paint background and bird further, in watercolor painting of a Bluebird, by artist Barbara Bromley

Applies to steps 5 and 6

Glaze water over the entire bluebird; drop in the following colors & combinations based on where they can be seen in the bluebird:

a) For the head use both the bluish & reddish Cobalt/Brown Madder mixtures
b) For the back of the bird paint Cobalt Blue/Ultramarine mixture. While it’s still wet, drop in a bit of the reddish cobalt blue/brown madder.
c) For the wings & tail use Cobalt Blue/Winsor Blue as well as Cobalt/Cerulean blue
d) For the belly, use very dilute mixtures of Burnt Sienna/Raw Sienna as well as the purple puddle of Cobalt/Brown Madder
e) For the eye, beak, and leg paint the French Ultramarine/Paynes Gray/a bit of Alizaring mixture; then while still damp add the darks with Sepia/French Ultramarine

6) Paint the log

a) Glaze water over the entire log until it glistens evenly. Paint a very dilute mixture of Sepia/French Ultramarine over the entire log.
b) While still wet drop in darker mixtures of Sepia/French Ultramarine on the left and lower middle.
c) Important – Allow washes to completely dry
d) For the final layer, use scumbling to create texture on the branch. Scumbling technique:

1. Squeeze most of the water from a round brush after dipping it in the Sepia/Ultramarine mixture.
2. Hold the belly of the brush (not the tip) flat to the paper and gently wipe it across the surface where it will hit the raised edges (grain) of the paper.

7. Allow all washes to dry! Never paint into an area that has started to dry.

8. Add the final details using wet-on-dry technique.

a) Use Cobalt/Brown Madder mixtures for head and wing details
b) Use French Ultramarine/Paynes Gray/Alizarin and Cobalt/French Ultramarine mixtures for tail details
c) Use purple mix of Cobalt/Brown Madder for detail below the wing
d) Use Burnt Sienna/Alizarin for chest detail

9. To create or regain white highlights, use the lifting technique:

a) Wet the previously dried area with clean water to reactivate the pigment.
b) Use a small bristle brush to scrub away the undesired areas of paint. ** Remember to dab the bristle brush on a paint rag between scrubbings to remove the paint you lifted rather than reapplying it elsewhere.
c) Dab the white areas with tissue.

10. Fini!

Finished watercolor painting of a Bluebird, by artist Barbara Bromley

Hope you enjoy!  If you have any questions at all, please use the comment form below.

Thanks, and happy painting!

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I Found My Prince

The two kissing bullfrogs you see on this year’s Valentine card were observed in Massachusetts.  I have never seen a more passionate pair of critters in my life!  Their courtship bordered on dangerous, a bit like “mating on steroids”.  They did however, finish with what really looked like a kiss.
Card from water color painting. Title is "Kissing Frogs". Text inside of card is "I Found My Prince"
I have always loved small creatures.  As a young girl I waded in a local creek catching frogs and observing the occasional muskrat.  I spent hours at Pauley’s pond with my brother.  We saw hundreds of baby turtles, toads, frogs, etc.  Even snakes intrigued me..

At some point birds became my passion, especially hawks and owls.  At age 21 my mother-in-law introduced me to the numerous songbirds which ate at the feeders stocked by the Bromleys all winter long.

… So it should come as no surprise that my children would be raised with wild critters.  Admittedly there were moments when I, an over-eager parent wanting to share joyful childhood experiences in Michigan, over reached a bit.  Probably it was wrong to take two Michigan frogs (a bullfrog and Leopard frog) on a road trip to Texas.  I did worry we’d get kicked out of a motel if anyone heard the noisy crickets we served up as the frog food.

Some months later the bullfrog died in a well-kept aquarium and the leopard frog was sold to a local Austin exotic pet store (Zookeepers).

A love of wildlife has been passed down to my children.  Stay tuned for some interesting Texas animal tales…

Thanks for listening!

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Music Begins Where Words End

I’ve always agreed with the sentiments expressed in Trisha Yearwoods’ hit The Song Remembers When.   For that reason, I’ve memorized hundreds of songs which bring up special memories and places.  Ironically I can’t sing in key at all!!  My mom and others have shared the notion that some people (meaning yours truly) should NOT sing out loud.  I agree.  Still, I have a very active mental music life and I do love to listen.
Recently I watched a 4-hour HBO special “Sinatra: All or Nothing at All”.  My dad Al Russell was an avid fan of Sinatra and his incredible musical timing.  Dad saw Sinatra in Chicago at numerous matinees during the 1940’s.  Whenever I listen to a Sinatra song, I see my dad:  his blue eyes filled with delight, recalling all the moments spent enjoying the magic of the Windy City.  

I recently painted a blue-eyed black kitten simply because his owner had named him Sinatra.  My husband Steve shares my dad’s blue eyes, and his love of muisic.  Currently Steve is enjoying his new audio system and celebrating the new year with music.

In celebration of music, here is a little something from the past:

Happy 2016 to all!

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Busy Holidays


November flew by!  I find myself working on holiday cards and enjoying my favorite season.  This year it’s extra special due to the success of my football and basketball teams at Michigan State.    MSU’s green and white are a perfect match for the Christmas season. Go Spartans!

I’ve added some new cards to the greeting card gallery.  Take a look and let me know what you think.

Happy holidays to all!

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The Art of Football

Fall and football have always provided me with such joy and entertainment.  Obviously the colors of fall would entice any painter to paint, but why be drawn to football?  I guess the answer is I grew up with it.  Watercolor painting of two hummingbirds holding up a blue banner that says My parents lived in Ann Arbor, MI while my dad attended the University of Michigan Law school.  I spent ages 3-5 romping the campus.  I’ve always loved the feeling in “The Big House”, U of M’s beautiful stadium.  When the Wolverine band plays “Hail to the Victors” I still light up and cry.
Watercolor painting by artist Barbara Bromley of a bobcat with the word
As I consider life transitions, I can’t help but mention how many college teams have been added to my cheering list over the years:  Grand Valley State University, Western Michigan,  University of Georgia, Universities of Texas – Austin and San Antonio, and of course the great Michigan State Spartans.  I followed in my brother’s footsteps to attend MSU in East Lansing.  I met my husband and earned a degree at this gorgeous campus.
Watercolor painting by artist Barbara Bromley of two hummingbirds holding up a blue banner that says
When I cheer for the various colleges attended by loved ones, I’m also cheering for my family and our shared love of learning.  I have “woofed” with my younger brother while watching the GA Bulldogs, toasted wine with my older brother after the Spartans beat Ohio State 28-24 in 1998, taking on their rightful position as season-spoilers.  I cried when my babies graduated from UT and UTSA.
Watercolor painting by Barbara Bromley, with a hand-lettered
Now that my daughter is a professor at the University of Kentucky, guess who has gained my loyalty?  One artistic benefit of this is my new love of painting bobcats.  Go WILDCATS!  Go BIG BLUE!  (except when you’re playing the MSU Spartans)

Thanks for listening,

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P.S.  –  Here’s me, my husband (right) and brother celebrating MSU’s 1998 football victory over OSU.

Photograph of artist Barbara Bromley, her husband (right) and brother (left) celebrating the Spartan victory over OSU in 1998 collegiate football