Coloured Pencils: Scarlet Macaw Parrot (demonstration)

Last time I went to the art supply shop near my Dad’s work, I decided I’d get some Derwent Procolour pencils to try. I didn’t want to commit to a full set in case I didn’t like them, but unfortunately the 24 colour set I wanted was out of stock, so my only option was the 12-colour tin (which didn’t include White; I had to buy that separately). Most of my coloured pencil drawings are done with a full range of pencils open in front of me, and though I don’t necessarily use them all, it’s easy to get the colour I want when I can always find something pretty close. Having a small range seemed like it would be challenging to work with, so I was eager to see what I could do with just 13 colours. As always, if you don’t have these specific pencils, just use the closest colours you have in whatever set you already own.

Apologies again for the poor lighting in some shots; I mostly have to work at my desk at night as I am busy with academic work during the day, and my desk light isn’t great (I really need to look into getting a natural light bulb, so if anyone can recommend one, let me know in the comments). This drawing is based on a photo of a scarlet macaw by Wendy Sinclair in her now-closed Facebook group that provides reference photos for artists, but I believe she now has a Patreon for people who want to use her pictures. I love colourful parrots and I’ve been wanting to draw one in pencils for a while (most of my Rosella and Lorikeet art has been watercolour or acrylics).

Derwent Procolour Pencils:
-03 Buttercup Yellow
-09 Deep Chromium
-12 Primary Red
-20 Cerise Pink
-26 Imperial Purple
-32 Prussian Blue
-34 Spectrum Blue
-46 Sap Green
-49 Grass Green
-55 Burnt Umber
-59 Brown Ochre
-71 Ivory Black
-72 Chinese White

Derwent Blender Pencil

Brush and Pencil by Alyona Nickelsen
-Colored Pencil Touch-Up Texture
-Colored Pencil Titanium White

I used Stonehenge 250gsm paper, which had a decent amount of tooth, but I did find myself struggling to get more layers on in the later stages. If you have something with a bit more texture or even with a sandy surface, try using that.

Step 1
Draw or trace the outline of the scarlet macaw onto your paper, using the faintest lines you can (especially if you’re using a greylead). For this step, you’re basically just blocking in the colours using a light pressure, so you can see where all the colours will go. Use Buttercup Yellow on the yellow parts of the bird’s feathers, and Spectrum Blue for the blue bits (you may need to use more pressure on the outer feathers to differentiate them from the paler inner ones, and for the lines down the middle of feathers). I also used a tiny bit of Prussian Blue to indicate the particularly dark shadow under his wing on the lower left. Add a tiny bit of Spectrum Blue to the tips of some of the yellow feathers to give them their green points.

For the red areas, lay in a light-to-medium layer of Imperial Purple just above the macaw’s beak, under his beak and down the front of his neck, bringing it around towards his back a little. Do the same for the red feathers that are in shadow on his tail. Along the upper right side of his neck and back, add some Deep Chrome in small semi-circular strokes, following the pattern of feathers. Bring some of these down into the areas where the red feathers merge into yellow ones. For the main tail feather, colour most of the left side with a pale layer of orange, leaving some white. Now add Primary Red over all the red areas of the bird, making sure to allow some of the orange to show through along his neck and on the tail. Going over the Imperial Purple with Primary Red will give you a nice dark red. Be sure to leave a few highlights as well, especially on the top of his left wing and a little along his neck and back on the right. There are also some areas of his tail that are almost white, so take care to keep those protected. Add a little Spectrum Blue to the very end of his tail.

Colour his foot in lightly using Ivory Black, then use the same colour with a bit more varied pressure to colour the black areas of the bird’s beak (making it dark at the base and lightening it towards the tip) and his pupil in his eye. For the pale part of his beak, add a very light layer of Cerise Pink, making it slightly darker as it gets closer to his face. For the branch, build up layers of strokes that follow the line of the branch using Brown Ochre, Burnt Umber and Ivory Black, keeping the Ivory Black mostly on the shadowed underside of the branch and focusing more of the Brown Ochre along the top. Add a few strokes of Deep Chrome as well. Add a slightly darker layer of Ivory Black followed by Burnt Umber for the shadow of the bird on the branch. Also note that in later steps I refined the shape of the branch to give it a small offshoot and make it end as if it was broken off rather than continuing out of the picture, so if you want to save yourself the hassle of having to erase parts of the branch like I did, plan ahead šŸ™‚

Step 2
Now we start building up more layers of the same colours, to make our bird more vivid. Add more Spectrum Blue to the medium and dark blue feathers (using outward diagonal strokes on the tail feathers to create texture), with a little green in the ones that touch the yellow feathers. You may also want to add a bit more Prussian Blue in the shadowed part of the wing on the bottom left, and on the inner part of the blue right tail feather. For the yellow feathers, add a few light strokes of Spectrum Blue that… feather outwards (yeah, I know) to give them a little more shape and definition, then put another layer of Buttercup Yellow over them with a medium pressure. Add a little more Deep Chrome along the back of the macaw’s neck and in some parts of his back, and another layer of Imperial Purple above and under his beak/around his neck.

Add a bit more Imperial Purple in the darkest shadowed areas of the bird’s head and neck, and a bit more Deep Chrome to the back of his neck. Start layering Primary Red over this with a heavier pressure (say medium, to medium-heavy) to get that rich blood red colour.

At this point I used a kneadable eraser to get rid of some of the right side of the branch, so I could reshape it into a broken-off end (kneadable erasers are better here as a vinyl one will damage the paper with the rubbing action). I also added another light layer of Burnt Umber, Brown Ochre and a little Deep Chrome to the branch, building up the strokes to show the bark texture.

Step 3
Here we continue down the body of the bird, strengthening the red colours. You may want to add another light layer of Imperial Purple to the darkest shadows above and under his beak, and also to the one red tail feather that’s in shadow. Add more Deep Chrome to the back, and the upper parts of the main tail feather and along the outsides (the middle of the tail feather should mostly be a very pale orange, with a white bit just before the blue tip), then go over all this with Primary Red, varying pressure a little along the head, neck and back to allow some of the orange to show through.

For the pale blue feathers in the middle of the macaw’s back, burnish over the light layer of Spectrum Blue you have with the Chinese White pencil, using a medium-heavy pressure. If you have a softer white pencil (like a Prismacolor Premier or Caran d’Ache Luminance) you may want to use that here (I just used Chinese White for the sake of my review of the Procolours, as where possible I like to do pieces for review using only the product I’m reviewing if possible). This won’t lighten the feathers that much, especially if you’re using a harder white pencil, but it would smooth out the pencil strokes a bit. Using a light-medium pressure, burnish the Chinese White over the outer blue tail feathers as well, then go over them again with another layer of Spectrum Blue, still using the downward diagonal strokes to follow the feather patterns. I added a darker layer of Imperial Purple to the shadowed red tail feather, then another layer of Primary Red, before bringing more of the Primary Red down parts of the main tail feather. I also used very light (as in barely touching the paper) Cerise Pink and Burnt Umber to dot in some texture in the white area around the bird’s eye (and then smoothed it out a little with Chinese White), but I don’t think you can really see it in the photo.

This was the point where I decided the branch needed more work, but as I said earlier, if you plan ahead, you won’t have this problem. I drew a slightly jagged edge on the right end of the branch, to make it look like it had rotted or broken off, and then I added a small offshoot from the branch down on the lower left. To make this look more like it was part of the original branch, I added a little shadow around where it joins the branch and underneath with Ivory Black and then Burnt Umber, before using these colours as well as Deep Chrome and Brown Ochre to build up more layers on the branch. I also burnished a few random patches with Chinese White to create a vague sheen of moss or lichen, though again it doesn’t show up well in the photo.

At this point the parrot and the branch are close to being finished, but will still need a little more detail and some more layers built up. However now the parrot needs a background.

Step 4
The background will take some time and it may seem tedious, and the temptation to just do it all one flat colour will be strong, but if you are patient enough to build up the layers slowly, it’ll pay off at the end. Using the Ivory Black pencil and a light touch, lay in some vague, abstract patterns in the background, making some parts of the upper right and lower left corner darker than the others. You’re aiming to create the suggestion of a leafy background with light shining through in some parts, so make sure you leave some gaps either white or with only very pale black. Go over parts of this with Imperial Purple to build up different types and levels of darkness, covering some of the white patches you left in the black. You’ll probably also find as you go through this process that you’re not happy with the abstract pattern, but you can just cover up any light patches you think look distracting or out of place (you’ll notice I did that with some of the light patches at various stages). One thing I will suggest is to try to make the tone of the background contrast with the parts of the bird it touches, eg. keep it light against the dark reds and blues, but dark against the pale yellow feathers and white beak.

Step 5
Again using light to medium pressure, continue building up colours in your background. I added some Burnt Umber in the darkest parts of the corners, then added some Buttercup Yellow and Brown Ochre to some of the light areas, countering these with some Spectrum Blue in some of the dark and medium areas. Then I went over almost all of the background with green pencils; Grass Green for the lighter areas, and Sap Green for the darker areas, though I did leave some of the blues and yellows showing through in some places.

Step 6
Add more Ivory Black and Imperial Purple, expanding the dark areas further towards the centre and opposite corners of the drawing and weaving in some dark areas through the centre as well (here I also covered up some of the light patches I decided I didn’t want anymore). Add some Buttercup Yellow, Brown Ochre and Deep Chrome in a few small areas with a medium pressure, just to give some variation on the greens, then add in some more Spectrum Blue in some areas. I also added some Prussian Blue in some of the darkest sections before once again going over everything with Sap Green (for the darker parts and some light parts) and Grass Green (mostly just for the light parts).

At this point, the scarlet macaw is very close to being finished, but both the background and the parrot still need a few more layers to smooth them out and some more defined details.

Step 7
I added another layer of dark colours to the background, and a bit more Imperial Purple and Primary Red to the darkest areas of the parrot, as well as some Primary Red to the main tail feather. Then I got out my Brush and Pencil Touch-Up Texture and Colored Pencil Titanium White and prepared a thin white mixture of the two. Using a small brush, I painted in the highlights along the bird’s left wing and down the right side of his neck and upper back, as well as along the top of the branch and the end of the branch and offshooting twig. When this dried, I went over the white areas on the branch with a light layer of Brown Ochre pencil. Finally, I used the white liquid to sign my name in the lower right corner, and when this dried, I went over it lightly with Grass Green and Buttercup Yellow.

That concludes today’s drawing demo. I hope you enjoyed it and found it helpful. Keep an eye on my blog for my reviews of the Derwent Procolour pencils and the Alyona Nickelsen Brush and Pencil products.

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