I particularly enjoy painting birds in their natural habitats because no two of their many shapes and colors or backgrounds are the same, and simply just for their appeal to me personally. This painting of a male hooded merganser (Lophodytes cucullatus) begins with its setting on a pond surrounded by and within thickets; you’d start a painting of a white boat similarly. Because vegetation reflects into the pond in this habitat, the bird (or a boat) might pick up the sky color, seen here as a blue line, as it moves across the water, cutting into the reflection.
Before midvalue or darker background reflections are painted, the bird’s bright markings are added first to it, and then to certain parts of its reflection.
Now a large brush loaded with paint in a creamy consistency suggests the highly patterned, yet unseen, thicket reflecting into the pond. Because it’s painted onto dry paper, shape control is easy, and value is a medium to dark midvalue. Paint overlaps the subject shape where I know darker value will later hide it.
Blue adds a shine and suggests form to the bird’s black markings. Be sure you’re satisfied with the value and colors of surrounding shapes before you add darkest “black.” (I do not have black paint on my palette; when it’s attained by mixing, black is more interesting and saturated.)
I decided to tone down the highly contrasting (and therefore distracting) pond reflection shapes by painting over them with a couple more layers of raw umber and cobalt and a wide brush at right.
This bird is a delight to observe as it pursues the female until a tree cavity high above the ground is chosen, and she then lays and incubates the eggs, and raises her many young without his help. Here is the female, and, farther below, most of the family together: