Shape, Color, Line & Value

All images © Bivenne Staiger

Frisket protects the lit portions of branches surrounding this motif of an American robin (Turdus migratorius). This is a beloved bird in North America because it seems perfectly comfortable around humans as it nests and raises its young around our homes. It is named after the European robin for their similar coloring, but the two species are unrelated: this bird is a thrush, while the European robin belongs to the Old World flycatcher family.

All images © Bivenne Staiger

Because frisket protects pale branch sections, paint in red, blue and yellow can be freely and quickly painted across all sketched shapes. Then, while still damp, any paint crossing bird and certain critical branches is lifted away. The top of the painting is pale in value to contrast the bird’s dark value, painted later. Branches and their line directions are mostly red or warm in temperature and slightly curve around the bird to harmonize with the bird’s color and shape.

All images © Bivenne Staiger

The local color of the bird’s belly is painted beyond the edge of its dark back and wings and over the branch crossing the shape.

All images © Bivenne Staiger

The main branch behind the bird (on which it is perched) is added next; it is a negative space shape to the orange one.

All images © Bivenne Staiger

Frisket is removed from the branch across the bird and its details painted. Note how the branch stands out because of negative space painting techniques using darker value. Shadows and some details add form to the bird.

Red Robin, Red Robin, Watercolor 12×16″ © Bivenne Staiger 2021

Eye and face details, plus the foot and some buds, complete the painting. Lines created by branches guide the eye to the focal point: the face. Painting techniques and composition tips like these are in my upcoming book, “White! Light! Bright! How to Make Your Backgrounds Support and Enhance Your Watercolor Paintings,” which can now be pre-ordered on and will be released in the fall.

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