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Crazy Birds Tutorial

“Crazy Bird” watercolor, pastel and crayon on cut paper.

Here is a short tutorial of the “Crazy Birds” project that I taught 5th graders in Beijing, China! The video
shows only marker, pen, and pencil, but you can modify it with any media you like, as I’ve done in the
sample above.

Crazy Birds Tutorial from Silly U on Vimeo.

(If you have trouble viewing it through this blog, click the direct link here:


Supplies Needed:
– Four pieces of watercolor paper, about 5″x5″ or 6″x6″ square
– Four mark-making tools, such as pens, markers, watercolors, pastels, crayons
– scissors
– glue stick

Here are the steps:

Using two sheets of paper, draw a loose flower shape on one and a loose circle shape on the other. Use 2-
4 different media. Work fast and loose!

Cut the flower and the circle papers into four equal pieces. Then, using another paper as a ground, arrange
the pieces to create the beginning of a bird shape. Glue in place. Repeat if desired.
“Finish” the birds already started using the same combination of media used in Step 1.
This is a great project for anyone because it’s hard to go wrong! Please feel free to share with your
friends, in your child’s classroom, etc. And send me some Crazy Birds!
Layered Poodle

Layered Poodle
Here is a step-by-step process of how I might layer markers, colored pencils, and pencil when working in
my sketchbooks (you can see more sketchbook drawingshere and here!)

I drew a quick line drawing on 5″ x 7″ watercolor paper (140# hot press Fabriano). I used an ultra fine
point black Sharpie (permanent marker). I tried to hold the pen loosely in my hand, but I wasn’t
particularly happy with the drawing, so I am going to try and “fix” it with color.
I was thinking it was a poodle, and poodles have curly fur! So I started out making the curly marks with
a light grey Copic marker (#T2). I like Copics because they come in a whole range of VERY LIGHT
colors, which I like to use when layering my colors (instead of drawing bright colors right off the bat, I
prefer to build the colors up slowly through transparent layering).

Next I added some light gold colored pencil (just a Crayola I had lying around). I’ve drawn two little
“patches” in the lower left corner to show how I like to lay colored pencil down. Instead of pressing really
HARD at this point (the far left mark), I press very lightly. Since I’m going to be adding more transparent
layers of color on top later, I know that, even though the color looks “blah” right now, it will BUILD into
something more interesting as I go along.

Next I added some pink Crayola marker (yes, the cheap kind). Since it was a darker shade, I added it to
the areas of the dog I thought might be in shadow, such as the bottom of its snout, around the ears, etc. I
also threw a few random pink marks in the body to tie it together, and “puffed out” some poodle hair on
the head, tail, ear and feet.


Added red colored pencil in similar areas. I worked both the lighter shade and a few darker lines for the

Now I added some pencil shading (using a regular mechanical pencil from the office supply store). I tried
to get the darker pencil into the nooks and crannies where I imagine shadows might be (under the hair
tuft, for example). I smeared it with my finger, which I always do but know I shouldn’t! (Note re:
smudging! I’m thinking the LEAD isn’t good to rub into my skin and system, but I do it anyway! Update
on the Update: Several readers have pointed out that it’s GRAPHITE and non-toxic. Well, then, oil from
the fingers on the paper = not good? All I know is that I feel slightly guilty every time I rub pencil with
my finger. But I do it anyway!)


The strong line of the original sketch around the fur tufts was bothering me, so I went back to the black
Sharpie and added more dark lines to the tufts of hair to try and obscure those original lines a bit. I also,
continued the “grass” on the bottom, to give the dog something to stand on and make those marks make
more sense!
Shading Imaginary Animals

How do you SHADE an animal that you’ve created from your imagination? There are two things I think
about when shading imaginary creatures.
First, I imagine a light source, such as a sun, shining down on the object from either the right or the left.
So in my example above, I have decided that the light source is in the upper right hand corner. So
everything “close” to the light will be brighter and everything “far away” from the light would be shaded.
(Shading done using a mechanical pencil.)

The second thing I think about is the areas where things (such as ears, eyes, paws) are overlapping,
joined, or protruding. So, for example, I’ve added shading underneath the neck, between the legs, and at
at the bottom of the bear (where it’s paws and body meets the ground). I also added shading under the

Sometimes, if I want to double-check my shading, I’ll find an image in my stash of pet books or online
that is similar to the drawing I’ve made. (This is an optional step.) Here is a polar bear image that works
well, and by looking at the photograph I realized that no matter what, the area around the bear’s mouth
would probably be dark due to staining, so I darkened that area. The photograph also showed that the left
half of the body was in a bit more shadow than I thought, so I added a little more shading there. The
photograph also reminded me to add shading on the ground.
Finally, don’t stress too much if you go overboard with your shading and put it in “wrong” places. With
Imaginary Animals, you can quickly adjust your thinking so that your ill-shaded areas are dark patches of
fur, instead!
Alligator Coloring Tutorial


Those of you who have been in my workshops know that I like to build color very slowly, using multiple
layers of transparent colors. This step-by-step shows an example of the process (though remember it’s
unlikely you will have the exact colors, types of pens, etc. that I have, so of course whatever you do will
be different!).

Using brown watercolor with a little green mixed in, I free-hand painted the alligator shape. The color
should be very pale at this stage. (I didn’t use a pencil first… the darker green outline you see around the
edges is green watercolor.)

When the first layer of watercolor was COMPLETELY dry, I added a second light layer of green right on
top of the previous layer.
Using a light pink Copic marker, I added the “orange” lines you see. (They look orange because the pink
is mixing with the greenish-yellow underneath.) Keep your hand loose.

I repeated Step 3 using a light gold Copic marker.

I grabbed a black ballpoint pen and started adding outlines, scales, and cross-hatching, again, keeping my
hand loose and squiggly.
Keep working the ballpoint pen until you feel done
Watercolor Birds

Super Easy Watercolor Birds

This little tutorial will hopefully dispel some myths about watercolor being “impossible.” Yes, it does
have kind of mind of its own sometimes, but that’s part of the fun (and is usually completely “fixable,” as
you will see)!

These birds are super easy. Follow the steps below, but remember your birds will (and should) come out
differently than mine! The way you lay down the paint, the colors you choose, the shape of your bird, and
your unique “hand” when adding pencil detailing will all contribute to a bird that is uniquely yours. And
that is a good thing!

1. Gather your supplies. You will need a pencil, a set of watercolors (cake or tube is fine), some
watercolor paper (I like using a “hot press,” which is smoother), a rag or paper towel for blotting paint, a
container with water, and a watercolor brush (I use a #12 round).


2. Using lots of water, mix up a little pool of the color of your choice. Test the paint on a scrap piece of
paper. The pigment should be watered down and the color should be quite light. (This will feel strange to
Bright-Color People, but don’t worry! It won’t stay this pale.)

3. Load your paint brush. Blot a little of the excess water on to your rag or paper towel. Your brush will
still be quite wet; this just takes the drippiness out.


4. Start painting a bird. I usually do not draw in pencil first, as I like to see how the bird unfolds using
paint only. (But you are allowed to draw it in lightly first if you must!) Work fairly quickly; you want the
paint to remain wet as you move it into the shape of your bird. If desired, leave a space unpainted for the
eye, as shown here:
In the case of my first bird, I the paint was a little too wet… I wanted it to dry a bit more before I added
the next step, so I used this time to paint in a second bird.


5. While the paint is still wet, go back to your watercolor palette and grab some darker pigment with your
paintbrush (not watered-down this time). Dip the heavier pigment into the wet paint here and there (I like
to go around the eyes and on the bottom edge of the bird). Just dab it; the watercolor will begin to spread
out on its own. Repeat with the second bird:

6. Let dry completely. (Very important!) You can see here that the green spread out quite a bit when it
dried. This wasn’t exactly what I intended (oops), and occurred because my original layer of paint was
“too wet.” No worries, though! We can fix it on the second layer.

7. Now you are basically going to repeat steps 2-6, but with different colors. In this case I used a very
light orange-red for my second transparent layer (steps 2-4)…

… and a darker blue for my more pigmented drop-ins (step 5).

Repeating now for the second bird.

8. Once the second layer of paint is COMPLETELY dry (very important!) you can add details with
pencil. I usually add the eyes, some shading around the eyes perhaps, and some shading on the wings and
bottom of the bird.

Keep your hand loose; if the pencil lines seem too harsh, use your finger to soften the effect:

10. Finished! Here’s a detail:

Animals in Tape

Animals in Tape: Mini
Supplies Needed:
• Several different kinds of Washi masking tape (or even just regular masking tape)
• Mechanical pencil
• Smooth paper, about 5″x7″ (I use Fabriano Artistico #140 hot press watercolor paper)
Step 1. Lay down five pieces of tape anywhere on the page. Don’t worry at this stage what it will be; just
concentrate on moving the shapes around in a way that pleases you.
Step 2a. Add five more pieces of tape, a different pattern this time. Make sure to overlap these new
pieces on top of the previous five pieces.
Step 2b. Before moving to Step 3, turn your paper all around and see if an animal emerges naturally at
this point. I saw potentials in each of the directions, but decided to pull out the barking-dog-like one on
the upper right.

Step 3. Lay down however many pieces of tape you like (in new patterns, if desired) to “fill out” your
chosen animal.
Step 4. Add pencil to define eyes and body shape, and for hair, fur, whiskers, etc. I usually go about this
step rather slowly, and add more tape if desired.
Step 5. Done!
P.S. This is a simplified version of “Animals in Tape.” A more “mixed-media” version is part of my new
book, due out in just a few days!
Oaxacan Dotted Elephant

Oaxacan Dotted Elephant

This elephant is inspired by beautiful Oaxacan wood animal carvings. Here’s how to do it:
STEP 1: Doodle some scribbly elephants in your sketchbook. Pick the one you like best, and scan into
the computer. Enlarge to fit nicely on an 8″x10″ paper; print (I printed on 140# Fabriano hot press
watrcolor paper).

STEP 2: With a black permanent marker, draw in curvy lines around the existing lines. Fill in.
STEP 3: Paint a transparent layer of watercolor, using several colors.

STEP 4: Using markers and colored pencils, color in your elephant with lines, dots and patterns until you
are pleased.
STEP 5: Finish with a white paint pen. Add dots along the black lines, and any other place you feel needs
a little white.
Red Bull Tutorial

Hello! Today’s tutorial is sort of a Take It Further option of Chapter 5 from “Drawing and Painting
Imaginary Animals“: Abstract Watercolor Starts.

I will be showing you how I made the above drawing/painting (kind of interchangeable in my mind).
However, this only outlines how I happened to finish this particular piece, and it could have gone many
different ways and still have been successful (or not). If you choose to try the steps outlined below,
remember that the result will — and should — turn out differently… your own unique hand will enter the
process, a very good thing!

(Click to enlarge images.)


One piece of hot press 140# watercolor paper, about 7″x10″
watecolors, brushes (I like a #12 round)
white gesso
mechanical pencil
spray fixative


(This first step is really two steps combined, as i hadn’t originally planned to make this a tutorial and
didn’t scan the very first step.)
Step 1a. Using red watercolor and a #12 round brush, mix up a very watery amount and make a mark. I
started with the tail in this case. Once I had a shape I liked, I picked up the paper and added more
watercolor to the base of the tail, and then tipped my paper so that the pigment would slide across the
page. I had a dog in mind, and just kept repeating the mark/dripping process until I had a recognizable
animal (head, body, four legs). Also, load your brush with pigment and then “splatter” it onto the page
randomly by hitting the brush against your hand.

While the paint was still wet, I went in to some of the areas and pulled out little lines (fur!) from some of
the areas with a sharp stylus (though you can also use a mechanical pencil or even a shish kabab skewer).
Here’s a detail:

Step 1b. Once your red watercolor is dry, mix up another color of your choice and color in your animal,
leaving the areas where you want the eyes, white.


Step 2. Here I added some blue watercolor on the body, and some pencil iines as fur once that dried. In
addition, I decided to “take a risk” and turn the head a bit, as I was feeling the original was a little boring.
(At this point the “dog” became a bull.) I also decided to pencil in the eyes, and changed their shape a bit
at this step as well. Let dry.



Step 3. After changing the head direction, I felt it would be too difficult to hide the original lines without
the help of the big guns — gesso. Using a small, round, dry brush I added the fur on the body. Then, I wet
the brush a little when i applied it on the face. I also added a white layer to the eyes with a very small
brush. Let dry completely.



Step 4. All the shading and details were then pulled out using a regular, cheap mechanical pencil (2B).
When applying your pencil lines for fur especially, keep your hand very loose and apply more pressure at
the beginning of the stroke than at the end of the stroke. Work fairly quickly so you don’t over-think it —
fur is usually scraggly!

Here’s a detail:

Spray with fixative. Done!

Go Blob Hunting


1. Grab a small sketchbook or stack of drawing paper and a pen or a pencil (any kind). I used an Ultra
Fine Point Sharpie pen.

2. If the weather is nice, go outside. Start looking at the ground, at fences, and at the side of buildings for
interesting shapes to draw; could be from a leaf, a stain on your driveway, or a sidewalk crack. Draw its
outer shape (and it’s not necessary at this point to “see” anything in it; just draw a shape). Repeat four
more times with different inspirations, one to a page.

If it’s too cold to go outside, you can just hunt for blobs inside! Look at marbled counter tops, stucco,
your breakfast plate, or water marks left in a sink or bathtub. Draw it. Repeat four more times with
different inspirations, one to a page. Here is a “blob” drawn from a piece of bacon.
3. Now, “finish” one of your blobs. Here’s how to do it: Turn your paper or book around and around and
look at your blob from all four directions. Do you see something? An animal, or part of an animal? If so,
add an eye and any other lines or elements to “finish” your animal. Here is how I finished the “bacon
blob,” above:

First I added some legs.

Next I started adding pen details for fur. Here’s a detail:

I added a bit more fur/shading to the areas where the line crossed the top of the leg…
… and underneath the dog’s body for shading. At this point the rump bothered me…

… so I added a tail. I also wanted to add two more legs, but was a bit chicken to do it directly with pen, so
I lightly sketched in with pencil first.
I finished him up by adding a ground, and looking over the whole thing to see if I wanted to add any
details. In this case, I added a beard, some spots, and a few more scraggly hairs.

4. If you want to add color to your animals, head on over to these two tutorials for some ideas: Layered
Poodle and Alligator Coloring Tutorial.
5. If time, repeat Steps 3 & 4 with your other four “blobs”!

6. Upload your images to the NEW Drawing and Painting Imaginary Animals flickr site!
“Abstracted Minutia” Drawing Tutorial


One of the labs in “Drawing Lab for Mixed-Media Artists” is called Abstracted Minutia, in the chapter
“Inspired by Nature. Following is a more elaborated tutorial than found in the book:
1. Gather some dried leaves, flowers, pods, shells, feathers, rocks, seaweed, grasses… anything you find
out and about that looks interesting to you.
2. Next, gather some paper and drawing and mark-making tools. I’m using charcoal, various types of
graphite, and just one or two colors of PanPastels; I like to keep my palette limited to mimic my subject
matter. The paper I usually work with is Fabriano Artistico 140# hot press.

3. Start arranging your items into an abstract design. Try not to think “flower” or “leaves, but just look at
shapes, textures, and colors and place them in a design that doesn’t read as anything necessarily.
4. When you’ve settled on a design, get ready to draw it:
Don’t worry about copying the design exactly. Use your pod setup as a starting point, but then let the
drawing tell you which elements you might want to leave out, or if there are areas you would like to add
more to. Here is my finish:
Have fun with it, and play with your materials Só videos . VALE A PENA ASSISTIR.

Abstracted Flowers

Abstracted Flowers


When I posted the above flowers a few weeks ago, many of you expressed an interest as to how I made
them! So following is a quick tutorial (though, after several weeks of experimenting, I still haven’t been
able to replicate the above flowers exactly… oh well! Just remember to have fun and not worry about the
end product very much; because it is such a fast and loose process, you won’t be able to control it that
much anyhow!)


• #140 hot-pressed (smooth) watercolor paper (or similar), cut or torn to any size
• watercolors (pan or tube, either is fine)
• white gesso (I use Golden brand, because it is a bit thicker than some of the other brands)
• one or two flat brushes (between 1/4″ – 3/4″)
• pencil (I use a cheap mechanical pencil)
• eraser (I prefer kneaded rubber erasers)

Step 1. Randomly “splotch” 3-6 different colors of watercolors onto your paper. This can be done in one
step, and it’s okay if the colors overlap and run a bit. (I usually use a half-inch flat watercolor brush.)
Leave some whites spaces. Let dry completely.
Step 2. Once your watercolors are dry, get out your white gesso. Using a DRY brush (or one that you’ve
squeezed most of the water out of), start painting gesso circles around areas of the watercolor, as shown
above. Once you paint a circle, immediately turn the brush around and “draw into” the gesso with the
brush handle. Draw lines for petals, circle-y scribbles, etc.
Here it is at the next stopping point. Notice I covered the in-between areas with white gesso, too. (Also,
the white “stars” above are made by putting a dollup of gesso in the middle of a color patch, and then
turning the brush around and drawing into it.) Let gesso layer dry completely.
Step 3. Next, add pencil to pull out your flower shapes even more. Keep your hand as loose as possible.
Step 4. I went back in with gesso and added a few more star shapes, as it seemed a little bare after step 3.
Step 5. Fill in the areas between the flowers with a light layer of pencil. Vary your directions a bit, and
then smear with your finger to soften.

Step 6. This is hard to see here, but this step involves lightly going back in with an eraser here and there.
(This is an optional step; I just felt I was a little too heavy-handed with my pencil in Step 5, so I wanted to
soften it a bit.)
Step 7. Finally, I gave the entire piece a VERY LIGHT layer of sepia brown watercolor to unify the
piece. (Again, an optional step for you!)

These last few weeks I have been FLOWER CRAZY! As I got into trying to get this tutorial ready for
you, things kind of exploded and I found I could approach the flowers in many different ways on many
different surfaces, using all the layered painting techniques I’ve been sort of making up the last 15 years.
(Gesso plus watercolor? Yes! And on wood? And collage, too? Yes and yes!)

For a longer, more in-depth online painting class, you might be interested in the FLOWER
CRAZY online class