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Friday, January 17, 2014

Painting a Roseate Spoonbill

I think Roseate Spoonbills are the best birds to depict in paintings.  They are graceful and odd looking at the same time.  The long, wide-tipped bill adds a comical touch to a bird who competes with the flamingo in color.  Spoonbills also add a nice contrast to the rich greenery of Florida.  I jumped at the chance to do a commissioned painting of a Spoonbill recently.  Here is my step by step process of painting Beauty in Motion.
My customer liked a Spoonbill painting that previously sold, so I used that image as a starting point.  I sketched out another pose so that the two paintings would not be exactly alike.  My reference set up and vital coffee and drinking water is shown below.  The book peeking out from the sketch is Artist Confidential: Secret Guidelines of Professionals by Jack White.  I have followed artist Jack White and his artist wife Mikki Senkarik for art advice and find all of their information extremely practical and wise.  The book can be found on  No one paid me to say this.  It's just my honest assessment.

I worked this painting in acrylics.  I use a limited selection of colors to keep my colors from becoming muddy.  I also put a Sta-Wet Masterson paper on top of damp paper towels to keep the paint wet for long periods of time.  I keep my water for brush cleaning handy.  The next photo shows my handy spray bottle and a low sided container with water that I lay used brushes in to keep the paint from drying on the bristles while I am in the middle of painting.

I use a mixture of ultramarine blue and alizarin crimson to sketch out the bird and basic guidelines on my canvas.  The canvas was previously toned with a thin wash of yellow ochre.  I don't like to see flecks of white canvas showing on the finished painting, but I do like a uniform background color to give cohesiveness to the final image.  Toilet paper roll to the left of the painting is the best way to wipe off brushes as I go.  The trash can is just below but not shown.
Everything is constantly changing and being corrected as the painting progresses.  I have to tell myself not to panic at the awkwardness of the middle painting stages.  It's always kind of messy!  I work from the background forward.  The bird will be the center of attention (literally) so I save him for last.
I keep developing the background and bringing color forward.  I lightly spray the canvas with water from time to time to keep the paint workable.   Unlike oils, acrylics dry extremely fast and are a challenge to keep workable on the canvas.
Now I tackle my favorite part, the bird itself.  The pinks, whites and yellows contrast nicely with all the green and blue of the background.  Again, there are constant adjustments of wings, head, body of the bird as I keep going.

Here is the final version (below).  I softened the tree line in the very back because I thought the hard edges made them look like mountains!  I also finished highlights on the water, shaped the bird's head and added his eye.  Of course, I signed the piece at the end.  This bird is now on the way to his new home.
Copyright Mona Vivar, Beauty in Motion, 14 inches by 11 inches, acrylic on canvas




1 comment :

  1. Mona,
    Thanks for the plug. Please email us your new address at

    hugs, jack and the diva