Monday, March 7, 2011


Well maybe it's the fact Winter won't back down here in Calgary or that I'm dreaming of the Tropics as my annual Hawaii vacation is only 16 days away but I thought I'd post this Parrot project.

I have done this project for about 4 years now.  It is a favorite with the kids as they are amazed they can paint a parrot.  I typically do it with Grade 5 but it is applicable from Grade 4 up I think.
It is based on a Terry Madden lesson that was on PBS quite a few years ago.  I modified it for the kids and it works great.


- watercolor paper, heavy sketch paper, or laid paper
- tempera disks
- pencil and eraser
- paintbrushes (large 10 flat and smaller 6 round, riggers if you have some) and water
- painter's green masking tape
- artboards

Gather your reference photos and have the kids examine the characteristics of a parrot.  I get them to focus on that fantastic eye, bright feather colors, and beak /head shape.  Mask your paper so you get that nice border.

We do this all together as a class.  We start with the beak, how it is made up of 2 shapes, and that they leave some space between the 2.

Draw in a head shape.

Next we put in the half circle shape and then the eye.

Then you draw in that wing taking it right off the page at the bottom.

We add a bit of body rounding out from the wing on the one side and carrying it up to connect to the head.

Now we start painting.  Take some diluted yellow or a little yellow mixed with white and paint in the beak leaving some white for a highlight at the top.  Add a bit of a shadow in the half circle.

We are using our larger flat brush here. At school we use a 10 flat.

Taking some bright yellow we put some color above the eye and then in the wing leaving some space at the top.

Because we are using watercolor (or tempera) we start light and work to dark.  If we were using acrylic or oil this would be reversed.

Take some bright red and add this to the top of the wing painting carefully around the beak.

We also paint in the head using or paintbrush to form ruffled feathers at the top.

It should look something like this.

Now we don't have palette knifes for all the kids but I like them to add a bit of etching so while the paint is still wet we take either a skewer, toothpick or plastic knife and make a few feather shapes in the wing.

We are careful not to do this too hard as we don't want to tear our paper.

We also add a few lines coming out from the top of the eye.

Now we take the green paint and paint in a section below the yellow.  It's OK if the paint mingles a bit in here.  The yellow should be dry enough to stop the red and green reaching each other though.

Now we add the blue carrying it all the way to the bottom of the page.

Now we want to add a few shadows.  Taking a light purple (or adding a touch of brown to your red) paint the body so it recedes behind the wing.

We also add some shadow to the left side under the beak and to the head just above the beak.

Now paint in the bottom part of the beak black.

Add a touch of black to the upper beak keeping them separate.  With a little water soften this edge a bit so it blends into the yellow of the beak.  Maintain that highlight.

Paint in the pupil in the eye leaving a little white for a highlight (that is the secret for great looking eyes....if you are doing a pair of eyes the highlight has to be in the same place on both)

Now add a few wiggly red or black lines with your rigger or a very fine round brush.  Try to make the lines follow each other like ripples in a pond.

Finally you can paint in the background or.....

you can cut it out a glue to a background.

That's it and now I really am longing to get to Maui!

see you soon


  1. Thank you. I will be teaching teen boys in a correction/detention facility. I need some no-fail type activites since they are so insecure in their creative pursuits.

  2. Ola!
    Amei este teu trabalho. Muito bonito.Um forte abra├žo.

  3. I adore these! So nice!
    Think I will do this one with my 8th graders next month!

    Ilse at

  4. These are fantastic! I can't wait to give them a try with my middle school class. Thanks for the wonderfully detailed lesson.

  5. Gail- I really love this project and your tutorials. I find them so informative and helpful. My students are on the other end of the spectrum- Seniors who live in Assisted Living and other retirement communities. I recently tried your eggshell mosaics with them, and they really loved doing them and were so happy with the results. I am new to blogging so I am not sure how to link yet to give you credit for the idea, but I would love for you to see the pictures of their paintings that I posted on my blog. Please take a look at Thanks so much for sharing what you know with all of us!

  6. These are gorgeous!! Thanks for the step-by-step directions!

    Have fun in Hawaii, I am so jealous!