A couple of months ago, I drew a peacock for my review of Derwent Inktense pencils and blocks. I was pleasantly surprised with how well he came out, but at the same time I was a bit sad that I’d only done it on A4 paper, and that the Inktense, while vibrant for watersoluble pencils, didn’t quite capture the flare of the peacock’s bright feathers as well as I would have liked. Almost immediately, I started toying with the idea of redoing the peacock on a bigger scale and in another medium, and the other night I finally decided to start painting him in acrylic. I figured I might as well turn it into a demo post, so I photographed it as I worked (apologies for the inconsistent and sometimes poor photo quality; I did a lot of the work at night, so the only light I had was the yellowish lounge room light). When talking about colours I’ve used in this painting I’m specifically referring to colours in the Derivan Matisse Flow acrylics line, but as always, you can find the same or similar colours in whatever brand you use.
Derivan Matisse Flow Acrylics:
-Yellow Light Hansa
-Cadmium Yellow Medium
Generally you can use whatever brushes you have and are comfortable with using. This is what I used:
-Prime Art Priming Brush Size 6 (2 inches)
-Assorted Ebony Splendor Rounds
-Assorted Ebony Splendor Flats
-Liner/Rigger brush (no idea what brand as the text has worn off the handle)
I mostly used flats of various sizes to do most of the blocking in for the colours, with round brushes being used for the feather shafts and for small details on the bird’s head/face. The Liner was used to paint the wispy tendril-like bits of the tail feathers.
Start with a good-sized canvas panel or board; I used a 40cm X 50cm (16 inch X 20 inch) board. Take some Phthalo Green, Cadmium Yellow Medium and Yellow Oxide and drizzle some generous drops of it over the canvas. Get a big acrylic priming brush – at least a 2 inch – and use a cris-crossing motion to spread the paint over the canvas and blend the colours into one another. You’ll have to repeat this step a few times to make sure you cover all the canvas. In the later stages, add a drop of Burnt Sienna here and there to break up the golds and greens with some earthy brown. This stage is probably best done with proper fluid acrylics if you have them, but normal acrylics will get the job done; you may want to add some flow medium or something to make the paint more liquid so it spread and blends easier, but I didn’t bother adding anything.
Pour out some Phthalo Blue and Titanium White in separate puddles on your palette. Paint the outline of the peacock’s neck and head, including his beak, and fill in the whole area with Phthalo Blue. While the paint is still wet, mix some of the Titanium White with some Phthalo Blue and start blending in the highlights on the bird’s neck. Phthalo Blue is a dark, transparent colour, so you can probably leave the edge on the left side of the neck as it is, as it should be dark enough to appear in shadow anyway. Gradually add more white to the blue as you blend across to the right, but try to avoid ending up with a pastel blue; even in the lightest areas, the bird’s feathers are still a vibrant, royal blue. You’ll probably have to make a few passes to get the blends right (I did) but the beauty of acrylics is that you can do this easily until you get the effect you want.
Using the same mid-blue mixture of Phthalo Blue and Titanium White, paint the peacock’s head, starting from his beak and working backwards. Leave the back of his head dark. On the top of the peacock’s head, gently lay in a few ‘bumps’ in a slightly paler mix of blue to show the textured feathers on top of his head.
Mix some Phthalo Blue with Mars Black and paint the back of the peacock’s head, darkening it further. Blend this carefully down to the peacock’s neck to show the shadow of his beak/chin. Also blend the blue-black into the lighter blue feathers on top of his head to remove the hard outline.
Get some Titanium White and paint the shapes around the peacock’s eye. Note that the eye won’t fit exactly into the black space shown here; the upper left of the eye will have some of the black showing between it and the upper white band, while the lower right edge of the eye actually overlaps some of the lower white band. As the upper band flows down into the beak, blend in a tiny bit of Mars Black to create a soft grey. Add a little more black to paint the lower beak, and then add more black again to paint the large upper beak, blending this into the blue feathers of his head. Where the beak bends, add a soft grey highlight. Finally, make a thin mixture of a medium grey and paint a fine line between the lower beak and the white/grey line to separate the upper and lower beak.
Mix some Yellow Light Hansa with a tiny bit of Phthalo Green; you want a pale, yellowish green. Paint the ‘base’ of the feather fan around the bird, making the outline serrated to represent the small, round feathers. While this is still wet, mix a bit of Titanium White into your pale green mixture and blend it down the middle of the fan, leaving it darker at the edges; this represents the highlight on the bird’s body. Mix up a medium-dark grey and paint the lower parts of the peacock’s body either side of the green fan. Using a smaller brush loaded with white, paint in the little shapes to represent feathers, then do the same with black paint. The colours should overlap, but try to keep the white concentrated more in the top areas and the black concentrated more in the lower areas to show the peacock’s form.
Squeeze out some Mars Black and add either water or flow medium, thinning it to an almost ink-like consistency. Using a fine round brush, paint in the shapes of the feathers in the fan base. It might help to think of them as overlapping scales so you can make them follow the contours of the bird’s body. On my first attempt, I completely screwed up the feathers on the right hand side, and I had to paint over it with the pale green and do it over. The feathers should be relatively small where they join the body but get larger as they get higher.
At this point, I also decided to paint in the peacock’s eye. Mix some medium to light grey (if you don’t have any left over from earlier) to paint an oval shape that slightly overlaps the lower white face band (remember to leave a bit of a gap between the grey oval and the upper white band). Paint over most of the oval with pure black paint, leaving a thin grey outline around the outside. While the black is still wet, blend in a small highlight with Titanium White in the upper left corner of the eye. Wait for this to dry, and then add a smaller, more solid dab of white in the upper middle of the highlight to give the eye some shape.
Time to add the peacock’s tail feathers. Mix up a big puddle of Antique White with a little Burnt Umber; you want an off-white colour that is still light enough to stand out against the green background. Paint lines radiating out from the peacock’s base feathers, making sure you avoid any lines that are perfectly horizontal or vertical on the canvas; these tend to draw the viewer’s eye and detract from the picture. Vary the spacing slightly. I find it easier to put the loaded brush onto the canvas near the base and sort of flick your arm outwards, as this results in a straighter, more natural-looking line than if you try to paint it slowly. Once you have the feather shafts, mix some Yellow Light Hansa with a very small amount of Phthalo Blue to get a light, cool green. If you have a Cadmium Yellow Lemon or Light, this might be even better as it will be more opaque, but otherwise you might just need to use two layers. Paint some slightly pointed egg shapes with your green onto the feathers, with the fat end being closer to the peacock’s body and the narrow end facing outwards. Vary the size of these green eggs shapes, but generally they should get larger as they get further away from the peacock, and none of them should be bigger than the peacock’s head. These shapes will form the basis of the eyespots.
At this stage I erased the parts of the shafts that would have extended past the end of the eyespots. I did this by pouring little blobs of the colours I used in Step 1 (Phthalo Green, Cadmium Yellow Medium, Yellow Oxide and Burnt Sienna) onto my palette and dabbing the tip of my priming brush in a bit of each and blending on the palette until the colour was roughly the same as the background. Then I brushed over the superfluous bits of feather shaft using the same cris-crossing strokes I had used when I originally painted the background (I had to make two passes to fully cover the pale lines as a lot of the colours I used were transparent). If you plan ahead and only paint the lines as far as the egg shapes will go, you won’t need to do this, but I didn’t plan ahead 🙂
Squeeze out some Yellow Oxide and Burnt Umber onto your palette. Using the Yellow Oxide, fill in a slightly smaller golden egg shape within the green eggs shapes, leaving a green border around the gold. In the wider end of the golden egg, blend some Burnt Umber to darken it towards the bottom. Wait for it to dry, then mix a bit of Phthalo Blue with Titanium White to get a colour close to the royal blue you used for the peacock’s body. Paint an oval shape with this blue in the bottom half of the golden brown egg area. Again, wait for this to dry, then add a dark paw-print sort of shape in the upper half of the blue oval. Paint this shape with straight Phthalo Blue. Along the top rounded edge, blend in a small amount of your lighter blue to provide a subtle lighter area. Add a little pure Mars Black around the lower edge (ie. the back of the ‘paw print’). At a distance this shape will just look black but a close up look should show the gentle gradation from black to dark blue to slightly lighter blue.
Squeeze out some pure Phthalo Green and a little Burnt Umber, and mix them together (the resulting mix should be a little darker and less bluish than Phthalo Green on its own). If it’s too dark, add a small amount of Cadmium Yellow Medium. Thin the mixture to an almost ink-like consistency. Using the liner brush, start putting in the long wispy parts of the feather, starting from just below the eyespot and moving up and around it until the eyespot is surrounded by these wispy bits.
Add more Burnt Sienna and some Yellow Oxide to the green and again make sure it is thinned so it flows easily; the colour should now be a dark olive green. Starting at the base of the tail, put in the wispy bits along the feather shaft up to the pure green bits around the eyespots. Think about which feathers will be at the front and which will be towards the back; the wispy bits from the feathers at the front will overlap the shafts behind them, but feathers that are closest to the front should not have any wispy bits overlapping their feathers.
Now it’s time to add the bronze-brown speckles to the small pale green feathers at the base of the peacock’s tail. The colour should be similar to the brown-gold areas in the eyespots; you can use straight Yellow Oxide, with a dash of Burnt Umber added to darken the spots on the shadowed side of the bird. Add a little more Burnt Umber to the Yellow Oxide, and then, in the bottom centre of each small feather, put a tiny dab of this darker brown-gold colour with a small brush. Blend it slightly outwards, adding a little pure Yellow Oxide to lighten it at the outer edges. Be careful not to cover too much of the green, though; the brown-gold marking should leave plenty of the green border visible, and as you work from top to bottom, the brown-gold area should become even smaller, eventually becoming little more than a thin triangle in the middle of the green feather; some of the tiny feathers at the very bottom can have this brown-gold spot omitted entirely.
All the peacock needs now is his crest. Squeeze out a little Mars Black and thin it with water so it is a little thicker than ink. Paint a cluster of straight lines extending upwards from the top of the peacock’s head (use either the rigger brush or a very small round). Add a little Titanium White to the Mars Black and put in a few more lines in the crest for contrast. Mix some Phthalo Blue with a small amount of Titanium White to match the peacock’s body colour and paint the little rounded feathers on top of the black cluster, dotting in more white or some black here and there to create depth and variation.
Now that your peacock is finished, all that’s left to do is sign your name. Because of the fine lines in the plumage, a colour that is just a bit darker or lighter than the surroundings would be good for your signature; I used a blue-green a bit darker than the feathers bordering the eyespots.
Thus concludes my acrylic painting demonstration of a peacock. As always, if you have any questions, let me know in the comments!