The Owl Project – Northern Saw-whet Owl

I have loved Northern Saw-whet Owls since I first saw one as a little girl.  So tiny, yet, they are such nomads – it amazes me how much they travel.

For this painting – I wanted to capture the often “coy” look these little owls seem to have.  Fortunately, I have lots of personal experience and access to great reference photos my Dad took to leap off from.

Saw-whet owl pen work on gessoed masonite/hard board
Saw-whet owl pen work on gessoed masonite/hard board

Here is the initial sketch- I decided that I didn’t want to make the background fussy – or some sort of evergreen, which is how they are typically depicted.

The next step was to figure out what to do with the background.  I decided that I wanted to paint it first and then layer the owl over the top, vs the other way around, which can be challenging, especially when working on the scale that I was in this painting (8×10″).

I opted to work with colours that reminded me of caramel first – yellow ochre, raw sienna, mixed with some raw umber.  After that, I decided to spice things up with a really bright primary red and added in some titan buff to create some highs in the background.  I was really pleased with the final effect and was ready to start painting the owl.

The colour on this owl was going to be challenging and I needed to decided how brown and how rust I was going to go as this species can be quite varied in its appearance.  I opted for a brighter, rusty colour scheme, which meant I needed to warm up my browns quite a bit.  I played with raw and burnt umber to get the main body colour, with a wash of Quinacridone / Nickel Azo Gold.

I ended up adding this to the background as a wash which tied it all together in a way I hadn’t expected.  I thought the face was going to be the most challenging part of this painting, but the colour of the rust on the breast proved to be my biggest block.  I finally got enough highs and lows in the feathering to become really happy with the progress.

In the end I’m really happy with the final product.  Happy creating everyone!

Background completed, love the glowing effect
Background completed, love the glowing effect
The warm brown body colour.
The warm brown body colour.
The complete painting, 8x10" acrylic & india ink on masonite/hardboard
The complete painting, 8×10″ acrylic & india ink on masonite/hardboard

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I'm an avid birder and naturalist, with the good fortune to work as a park interpreter. I get to spend every day in a beautiful park, so no matter how challenging, all I have to do is look out the window and the natural world is there to greet and soothe my soul.

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