Drawing the Eye of a Pelican

The Painting of a Pelican

Pelican No. 1, by Madison Woods in Ozark pigments.
Pelican No. 1. Prints are available. Click to go to product listing.

This painting of a Louisiana Brown Pelican was based mostly on a photo by Shelby Townsend , but I liked the feet on another from U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, so modified them to drape over the edge of the post.

The Model for my Subject

Here’s Shelby’s story about the day he took the photo.

I remember taking that shot. We were riding a ferry across some small body of water somewhere in south Louisiana and he or she posed perfectly on that pole in some very good lighting so I could capture that shot… ~ Shelby Townsend

The Pelican’s Color Palette

These are the colors I’m using on the painting. All of them except the lapis lazuli for his eye and the French green clay I mixed with the gray are colors I made from rocks, clay, and sassafras leaves from here at Wild Ozark. The sassafras is the only plant-based paint that has good light fastness. All of the others I’ve tried have faded to nearly nothing in my sunlight tests within a few days. The sassafras actually intensified in color, and it’s my only source of really clean yellow. So far. I might find others sooner or later. But I’m happy with this one.

Getting Started

Click to enlarge.

The first thing I always have to do when I start a new painting is the eye. I’ve had the hardest time with the eye on this guy. Who knew it would be so hard to get a pelican’s eye just right?

Pelican Eyes

Turns out that a pelican has a lot of lines in his face. And his feathers go to a certain point on his face but then they stop and it’s just skin. So many little details. On my first attempt, I did a pretty decent job. I liked his blue eye.

Pelican's Eye #1. The eye as it turned out the first attempt. Not bad, but too large for a pelican.

Then I had to go and try to make it better. And what happened? Of course. I messed it up.

Messed up his eye with too much black.
Too much black.

So I erased his eye. And all of the black lines I’d added around his face. It was just too much black. I seem to have a weakness for doing that. The same thing happened with both kestrels. I can’t keep my brush out of the black.

Erased and will rework the pelican eye. Good thing the black lifts off relatively easy!
Good thing the black lifts off relatively easily!

Anyway, I got his eye erased and re-painted, and the second go around actually looks more realistic than the first, if you ask me.

Totally reworked the pelican's eye and face. Much better now.
Pelicans always have a look of ‘attitude’ about them, don’t they?

I’m using mostly Ozark colors on this Louisiana brown pelican. But I needed some blue for his eye and that’s not something I can get from our local stones. So I used a little bit of my precious lapis paint.

Moving On

Once I finished getting the pelican eye done to a point where I liked it, I began working on the bill, then his head, and finally to the color blocks for the rest of his body. Turns out that a pelican bill is pretty tricky too. There’s a lot of nuance in shape and lines, and it was very difficult to paint it in the way to make it look like what I saw in the photographs. And brown pelicans seem to come in all shades of colors with yellow, browns, black and russets. Perfect for the paints I make.

Color blocks in place on his back and belly, bill is pretty much done. Still need to add the feather details.
Color blocks in place on his back and belly, bill is pretty much done. Still need to add the feather details.

The Finished Painting

For this pelican, I did have to resort to a couple of outside colors, although they were still my own handmade watercolors. I used lapis for the blue in his eye and French green clay to give the gray the right tint.
For this pelican, I did have to resort to a couple of outside colors, although they were still my own handmade watercolors. I used lapis for the blue in his eye and French green clay to give the gray the right tint.

About the Painting

The paper  is heavyweight, sized 8″ x 10″. (Strathmore 400 series watercolor paper)

This pelican is a birthday gift for my sister. I’ve never really looked closely at a pelican before. They’re very odd looking creatures!

If you want to follow along and see the progress pics of other paintings as I do them, catch up with me over at Instagram. I’m @wildozark there too.

Have a great weekend!

One thought on “The Painting of a Pelican

  1. OMG you are so good! The “eye” contains so much emotion and intelligence! Beautiful! Exqisite!
    Pamela

    1. Thanks, Pamela. The eye is so important to me that I have to get it and the surrounding area done before I can move on to the rest of the painting. If I can’t get the eye right, there’s no point in going any further with it. Sometimes this results in much anguish, haha! I have to use a durable paper for my paintings so I can put color on and take color off repeatedly. Sometimes I feel like most of what I’m doing is taking off the color!

Thoughts, info, or feedback to share?