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There is an owl where I have been working, on site, recently! No, I have not seen it but the owners offered me a photo they had taken of him/her. I have searched for what I think this owl might be and decided it may be a  short eared owl due to the distinct dark markings around the eyes and the bits of tawny color that showed through the downy white fluff. Maybe he/she was young or molting ?

Painting him was a bit of a challenge as I had not rendered many night scenes. The following was my approach.

 first washes

The above is the initial drawing and simple washes. The background was a wash of burnt sienna. I don’t know that I will use burnt sienna as a first wash in a night scene, again. It seemed to dull the background darks.

 branches and tree trunks

I then mixed a gray and set the tone for the background tree trunk and the speckling on the branches were created by leaving the white of the paper. Ibegan working the black mask around the eyes.

 working the background

This step was the most lengthy. It took several washes applied wet -n wet to create the dark purpley-blue in the background. The tree trunks were varying shades of burnt sienna, sepia and a little of the background color. I furthur detailed some of the facial features around the eyes and beak.

 final painting

The final step was to darken the branches and detail the owl.  In the end I used some white to accentuate the downy white that still covered him in spots. I believe he might be the tawny color I see poking through on his upper left chest. His eyes were yellow orbs and he had a dark and prominent beak.

Stephen Quirke painted an owl he snapped a picture of last winter (his summer) here. I think it was remembering his image that made me want to try this.

Ryan of Smalltowndad thinks there is a possibility this might be a barred owl.


  1. This is a wonderful owl, Leslie! I love how you handled the leaves and branches. They have such beautiful texture and form. They sort of dance.

    • Thank-you, Beth! Something had to dance a little. That owl looks as though he froze himself in time. I think they do that, though. He’s probably saying, “Now how did you find me in the dark amidst all these branches?” 🙂

  2. it might be a barred owl, they have little ear tuffs if any and colors look very similar. I love owls and you have captured this nicely.

    • Thanks, Ryan for the tip. I will add your guess to what this guy is to my post. Thanks for the visit and comment! 🙂

  3. I agree with Beth the leaves look like they’re dancing.
    This is a beautiful owl.

  4. Oh, Leslie! I so love watching your process. One thing I find amazing is that you remember to photograph the process.

    It is like sitting down for a good meal, particularly when traveling. I mean to photograph the presentation – the textures, the shapes, the colors, and yet when it is set before me – I just dig in! LOL

    • To be honest, 🙂 , I forgot while working on the woodpile in the previous post. I guess I was so into trying to make everything work in that one that I was about done when I remembered. Thank-you, Kate!!

  5. that owl looks like it’s glaring at something. And I hope it’s not me!

    I’ve only seen an owl once and that was in a classroom.

    I love the way the branches and foliage are wrapping themselves around the owl. And I always love when you show the steps to your final painting.

    • I know! They stare! Either that or it’s flash shock from the camera. 🙂 I think he really thought he wasn’t seen. Thank-you, Carol!

  6. Its great Leslie! love the light going around the owl too, and the leaves are exquisitely painted 🙂

    • Thank-you, Lynda, for noticing that light around the owl. It was similar to that in the photo and I thought it looked a little like maybe it was his aura and I liked that. I think the leaves are colorful. So much of the rest of the painting is monochromatic.

  7. The meticulous explanation of your process amazes me each time, I imagine doing the same as you are doing and I cant get past the 2 nd stage 🙂 Very authentic result!

    • Thank-you Padmaja! Oh you could do it. It is like Kate mentions, above, it is difficult to remember to stop and take the pictures of the stages! 🙂

  8. Perfect night scene you captured the watchfulness of the owl just watching and waiting for ???? a meal?

    • Thank-you, Richard. I assume he was waiting for a meal! If a young one, maybe from a parent swooping in.

  9. Owls are so intense – but I believe they are also real clowns when you get to know them.
    I like the way you have captured the fluffiness and the colour patterns in feathers. I also like the dark background and bright tangle of twigs and leaves.

    Neat project!

    Thanks for the connection to my side.

    • Thank-you, Stephen. Is your owl still hanging out on your property?

      • (o: The chickens are now too big so he doesn’t bother – we hear them at night sometimes but they don’t hang around in the day.

      • Thank-you for an update on those chickens! I am so glad the other two did not fall prey to the OWL!

  10. Wow. i haven’t successfully done a night scene yet.
    so hats off to you.
    You’ve done a great job with this one

  11. A night scene in watercolor is quite a challenge! You have done a wonderful job with it! Do care to share how did you achieve the darks? I always struggle with really dark darks in watercolor. Especially when a large area has to be smoothly dark.

    The owl itself is very cute. They are fascinating creatures in general, and yours has a distinctly “owlie” presence, still and haunting.

    This reminds me of a gray heron I saw standing on a broken pier and preening a couple of days ago. I couldn’t believe I didn’t take my camera with me!!! I always have a camera on me… Always, except when I find something really interesting :(. Why is it always like that?!

    • Great question, Alex!!! For the above background, I worked a burnt sienna wash in to the entire background wet on dry, first. I did this to dull the colors I would add later and don’t recommend it unless you want that affect because the burnt sienna isn’t staining and works into the subsequent washes applied. I let that wash dry. I then mixed a large dark blueish-purple wash with alizarin and prussian blue to have on stand-by. Next I pre- wet each area, one at a time, to be worked. I next fed the dark mixture in wet in wet. The areas where you see it lighter like around the edge of the owl, the left of the tree trunks and the end of the faded out branch in the lower right corner? I added clear water to push back the already applied purpley mixture. If it has dried too much this addition of clear water will cause a cauliflower or bloom so the key is to work fast, each area at a time. I let that wash dry. I then used diox violet and made a large wash of that on my palette and repeated the procedure. That seemed to do it for this piece. I have worked as many as five washes into a background to get a rich affect. The key to a large flat dark with no blooms? Mix your large color wash, first, and make sure it is a darker mixture than you think you will need. Wet the area to be worked with clear water, first, and then feed your wash in wet in wet. If the area has a lot of small spaces as mine did, above, only wet the enclosed areas one-by-one. If you have made a large mixture of the dark to be fed in you should be okay as long as you work quickly and the paper does not start drying on you. It does not take long to master this. I have never reached a rich dark wash without several layers applied with drying time in between. The larger the area to be worked, the larger the brush. Hope that helps, Alex. I have found that the richest darks are achieved with the staining darks. The more opaque colors seem to cause a chalky appearance, when dry, and move around with each subsequent wash that is applied. Phthalos are great for this.
      I understand about the camera being absent or forgotten when needed most. I have tried for a heron many times but can’t get close enough. Have to use wet canvas for those references! Thank-you for a wonderful and educational comment!!

      • Thank you for such a detailed reply, Leslie! It must have taken some significant time to write it, I appreciate that and your generosity! I have copied and saved it on my computer so I have quick access to it. Perhaps you would want to a make a separate instructional post from it, so that it is not buried in the comments and other students can benefit. It is just an idea, but I see value in because some time in the past I’ve asked another artist/blogger the same question, and in a way of an answer she offered to sell me her instructional DVD. I can’t blame her for this, artists do have to make a living, but I didn’t get my answer…

      • Here, on my blog, is a sharing place. I figure there are no REAL secrets and I feel great about the fact that you ask how I may do something. I know you would do the same for me. A website? To me, that is for selling. Maybe I will someday have one of those, but I won’t stop sharing, here.

  12. Oh, this is stunning ! you are amazing ! He has such a personality !! 🙂

    • Thank-you, Isabelle. Don’t they look like the books dub them “WISE”?

  13. I like your owl painting! Reminds me of teenagers wearing baggy clothing to look bigger and more intimidating than they really are. Wondered at first where you were going with that pinkish wash…but all worked out in the end.

    • I chuckle thinking about baggy clothing Some owls, when standing, have those feathered legs that look like baggy pants. Ha! Thanks for the visit and comment, Al.

  14. On the owl ‘stare’–a few years ago I was walking through a wildlife area on a hot day. When I finally reached a shady area I lingered for quite a while to cool off. Just as I was about to resume walking I noticed a movement in a huge dead tree about 50 feet away and saw the biggest owl I’ve ever seen watching me right back. It was more than a little unnerving to realize it had been there all the time, so close, without my noticing until it moved.

    • You mean you didn’t feel like someone was staring at you? You were gifted that sight, I think. I have never seen an owl in my sojourns over the years. I did read that some species of owls are huge!

      • Leslie, I really did not have any sense of being ‘stared at’–though from the Owl’s vantage point it had a wide open clear view of everything on that path. It also was probably well aware of its own safety via its location. I think it was that ‘no sense of being watched’ that surprised me the most. Did not feel terribly ashamed about not seeing it due to the wonderful merging of its grey colors with its ‘perch’ half inside a ‘hole’ in the tree–the bark of which in that light providing superb coverage. Yes, I consider it a gifted sight. It was a magnificent Owl.

  15. dear leslie,

    what a strange subject to paint. i find owls are strange creature, maybe it’s because they are nocturnal. on the painting, you achieved the owlie presence and the feathery image of it. yes, night scene painting is hard but you have successfully hurdled this part. great effort!

    • Yes, owls are so elusive! I have never caught sight of one in the wild, but look for this one everytime I go to this property to paint, now, hoping to catch a glimpse. 🙂 Thanks for the comment and he does look rather “owlie”. I like that word, Marvin!

  16. I love it, and I love the back ground a lot you can clearly feel the loneliness that accompanies darkness. The branches are just great another great one Leslie 🙂

    Owls are mysterious creatures of the night who makes a rather unusal sound, rarely do you see one in the day. Fortunately I have on many occasions back in Jamaica several years ago.Owls are beautiful creatures in my opinion weird yes but strangly beautiful well the ones I saw.

    • Hey, that’s pretty cool about the loneliness of a night owl. Thank-you, Alonso!

  17. This is lovely, Leslie. And owls are not the easiest birds to paint in daylight let alone at night! My mother did a small sculpture (on commission) of a long-eared owl so I know what they look like and it doesn’t look like one of those. I had a look at the photos you linked to of the barred owl and there is definitely a resemblance. Very good! And you’re braver than me – I shiver at the thought of paintings depicting night scenes! (Though somewhere I’ve a brill book that shows how to do them. If I can remember where I’ve put it, do you want the title and author?)


    • Hi, Val. Do you have an owl around where you live, or ever caught sight of one? Night scenes are a challenge, I think. I’ll have to look up some on wet canvas and give it a go this fall or winter. Sure, I’d like title and author whenever you run across it again, especially if it deals with watercolor. Thanks for the comment, Val. 🙂

        • Val Erde
        • Posted August 23, 2010 at 2:22 pm
        • Permalink

        We have tawny owls and the occasional barn owls here, I’ve seen a tawny fly past and heard them many times (there were both of these owls in London too, one sat on a small tree outside our sitting room window when I was young, and peered in. It was lovely!) There’s also some other kind of owl here that I hear, but I don’t know what it is.

        I’ll look for that book.

      • Leslie, I was just sorting through some bookmarks and came to look at this – I’d forgotten, I think, to give you the name of the book. I think it was one called ‘Painting spectacular Light Effects in Watercolour’ by Paul Jackson (isbn 0-89134-916-2) It’s an amazing book and has stuff about painting at night and catching light on glass and water, and so on. Maybe you could get your local library to get you a copy?

        Sorry my comment is over a year late! I tend to bookmark things and then my mind just wanders!

      • I have this book! He amazes me! Thank you for taking the time to look it up!

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