Saturday, September 7, 2013

How to make a Steller's Jay Portrait

I spent the Labour Day weekend hiking around Yoho National Park showing my kids the Falls, Emerald Lake and hoping to get a glimpse of this guy....a Steller's Jay.

The Steller's Jay is the provincial bird of BC.  I saw my first one at Emerald Lake 4 years ago.

Didn't see one on this trip so I went home and made one.


- thin cardboard (cereal or cracker box)
- reference photo or template
- masking tape
- corrugated cardboard or primed canvas as substrate (base)
- collected collage material (old maps, photocopies)
- glue
- gesso
- acrylic or liquide tempera paint
- pencil crayons
- a black pony bead
- letters
- mod podge for sealing


I start by sketching out the bird to create my stencil.

I use reference photos.  You can borrow my template HERE.

Cut it out.

Put your cut out bird on a piece of thin cardboard and trace around it.

Now cut out your stencil.  I always take the easy way out.  I cut the cardboard in half, cut out the bird and then tape it back together.  If you're careful you'll have both a stencil and a tracer.

I wanted a collaged background. If I can make it relevant to the final piece then that's even better.
I hang on to any maps or brochures from my travels. I scan them, photocopy them, so I can use them over and over.

I take material from reference books. I also use copies of my art work.  I scan most of it so I can easily make copies.

I'm using a thick piece of corrugated cardboard as a substrate.  I could have also used a primed canvas, canvas board,  or piece of wood.

I cut strips, squares, rectangles and start gluing them on my base.

I add a thin coat of gesso.  I don't want to hide everything but I want a nice surface to add colour too.

I used my stencil to trace on the image.

Paint in the background.   I'm using acrylic but you could use water colour or disk tempera.
 Next time I think I'll just skip adding the bird and just paint the entire background first. Easier for young kids as well.

Looks pretty good just like this.

Using masking tape, tape the stencil into place.

Pounce on some black paint (acrylic or liquid tempera).  Hold brush straight up and down and dab, no stroking or the paint will seep under the stencil.

Add the cobalt blue.

Lift the stencil straight up.

You can add some detail with coloured pencil. (black, grey and white).

Add a black pony bead for the eye.

Now taking some colour photocopies of my art work I add some feathers.  You can look for pages in a magazine, use scrapbooking paper,  or create your own painted papers.

To get a nice shimmer on some of my papers I spray on some glimmer mist.

You can buy glimmer mist but it's pretty expensive......or you can make your own for a fraction of the cost.

Glimmer Mist Recipe:

- empty spray bottle, buy at Dollarstore or clean out an old one, travel size
- acrylic paint
- if your acrylic is not metallic you need some pearlizing medium
- a marble
- rubbing alcohol
- water

Add 1-2 tablespoons of paint to the bottle. Depends on how strong you want the colour. If you are using metallic paint you are good to continue.  If you just have regular paint add a squirt of pearlizing medium.
 Add 1 tablespoon or so of rubbing alcohol.  This helps keep the solution from clogging up the sprayer.
Fill the bottle with water until about 2/3rds full.  Add a marble if you have one (Dollar Store), this helps with mixing it.  Shake well before using and spray as needed.

Using this recipe I have made a lot of mists.

With the pearlizing medium you can make any colour if you have the acrylic paint.

When it dries you cannot rub the sparkle off so your work stays shimmery.

Add text to your piece.  I bought these great Martha Stewart punches, expensive, but I caught a sale at Micheal's.

I save all the extra letters for future projects.

I absolutely love using the punched paper as a stencil to use in backgrounds or to make interesting painted papers for next project.

I added a branch for the Jay to sit on (optional), you can paint one, cut one out of paper, or even add a real twig.

Finally add a coat of podge for sealing.

Once you have that stencil you can use it over and over again.

Here I'm using it in my sketchbook.

A stellar Steller's Jay!

That's its for now.


  1. I love Stellar Jays, and live with them every day in California! This is a great lesson!

  2. I love your work! I am a fifth grade teacher and blogger and your art inspires so many great things in my classroom. Thank you for sharing your talent!