Magpie Iridescence – Step by Step

I’ve always liked magpies. They have such a fierce reputation. But what I like most is the way their plummage is iridescent. Painting this, however was quite challenging.

I began with a drawing and masked off the white bits…

Then I painted the background and the branch my magpie is sitting on…

I used some large brushes for the background and Winsor and Newton Watercolour paint. Then I added gouache over the top for the branch…

Next I had to have a bit of a think to work out how I would paint the iridescence. I decided to try using an underpainting and then layer blacks, blues and greys on top so that the colours would come mainly from underneath. Then I could touch them up with gouache on top and they would really sing. I had a go trying this out on copy paper to see if it would work…

I seemed like I had a chance with this method. So I completed the underpainting…

This was such a joy to do with all the bright colours and small sections of colour. I had so much fun. Then I had to start going over this with blacks, greys and blues to push the colour down to a magpie’s actual colours. It was hard to do this because it felt like I was obliterating the underpainting.

Once I had made shades and shapes of the darker feathers I used a 5 x 0 rigger to add some colour above where the underpainting colour was already showing through a bit. I was pleased with how this worked. Here’s a close up of the iridescence in detail…

I finished the painting by removing the mask and adding some greys to bring out the softness of the magpie’s feathers in the white sections. Here’s the final painting…


5 thoughts on “Magpie Iridescence – Step by Step

  1. I almost always feel like I’m “obliterating” the underpainting, but somehow it still manages to come through. It adds such a nice depth to the colors. Glad you were successful–it looks fine!


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