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Flamingos step by step

To celebrate the launch of my 2024 Moroccan Art Retreat, I’ve posted a step by step blog on how to create this flamingo painting (we will be visiting the flamingos during the art retreat in Morocco).


Paper: watercolour paper 250gsm textured

Paint: Winsor and Newton Professional: French ultramarine, Ivory black, Winsor yellow, quinacridone magenta.

Brush: 1 inch flat and size 12 round, synthetic.

1. Having draw out the flamingos and lighter ripples, I masked out the birds and ripples with masking fluid. I added masking fluid to the base of their feet to replicate the splashes of water. To create the splashes I literally dabbed each bit of masking fluid on, spot by spot to get the most accurate portrayal of splashes.

2. I then misted my page with water using an atomiser and mixed up a light mixture of ultramarine blue. I used my one inch flat to apply the paint, using a sweeping motion from one side of the page to the next, making sure that each sweep overlapped. It is important to work fast here to prevent blooms. As I got to the end of the page the brush ran out of paint causing white patches on the paper but I decided to keep these. They could either stay there and add to the reflective quality of the water or could be wiped over with subsequent brush strokes at a later stage of the process. Note how the sky goes from dark to light as it meets the horizon.

3. I mixed up thicker versions of blues and crimsons (using pink/blue/black) and applied them to the seascape using the round brush, whilst the paper was damp.

4. There was a mid section of blue which was flat and uninspiring. When the paper was dry I overlaid it with a series of brush strokes using a weak mix of blue, carrying the lines down to beneath the flamingos’ legs. I added darker blue and crimson pigments to deepen the shadows.

5. I then rewet the sky by spraying water with the atomiser bottle, so as not to disturb the paint underneath and added darker clouds using the a watery magenta/blue/black mix. I applied them using side sweeps of the round size 12 brush.

6. Once the paper was fully dry, I carefully removed the masking fluid and mixed up some colours: dark pink, blue, peach (pink, blue and touch of yellow) and black using the 4 colours listed below. These would be the colours for my flamingos.

7. I started with the right wing of the right bird and applied the paint onto dry paper, working light to dark and allowing controlled bleeds of colour where I needed soft edges, such as in the crimson areas of the wing.

8. Once the wing was finished, I started on the head and body, starting with the lightest shade of pink, then moving to the lilac/blues and finally onto the crimsons and blacks. Although I applied paint onto dry paper, I tried to get one colour to merge into the next as I applied the variety of colours. Timing and pigment control are key to getting this technique right, so practice is required. This way you will achieve a variety of softly merged areas as well as hard edges, such as those of the beak.

9. I repeated the process to create the other flamingo and added a few darker swirls to the water using the tip of the size 12 brush. I was then happy to call it done!

Learn more with Sarah Stokes

If you'd like to learn more art techniques from Sarah Stokes, you can sign up to one of her UK workshops or Worldwide Retreats. You can also explore her range of online classes.

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