Illustrating birds

Let your imagination take flight as you discover the fine art of sketching birds. Then bringing them into life in watercolour or gouache.

ANU CCE visual arts icon

Teacher Date Day Time Sessions Fee Enrol
Peter Marsack 2 May Tuesday 6:30-9:30pm 9 $350 Join our mailing list

Course outline

This course is most suited to those who have some experience or familiarity of working with watercolour and/or gouache. You will learn the history, background and functions of illustration for identification and why illustration still has an important role in an age of photography. While birds are the focus, the principles learned are widely applicable.

  • Topic 1: understanding and showing structure, plumage details and colour, bare parts, critical features/key differences; anatomy – skeleton. musculature, feathers, feather tracts, bare parts (bills, eyes, legs and feet)
  • Topic 2: effective use of references – field sketches/observation, museum specimens, measurements, photographs and video. Brief coverage of use of binoculars and spotting scopes, birding locations, bird behaviour
  • Topic 3: how to build the foundation for an accurate illustration, ‘cladding’ the skeleton to complete the drawing.
  • Topic 4: techniques and materials: painting in watercolour/gouache – paper/board, paints, brushes; blocking in and detailing. Consideration of light and colour, habitat

Learning outcomes

At the end of this course you should have an understanding of bird illustration and the practical skills needed to produce finished artwork in watercolour and gouache ready for publication.

Who should enrol

This course is open to anyone keen to learn to see the natural world and try to capture its extraordinary beauty. Beginners are welcome, though it is best if you have done at least one other art-based CCE course.


You will need to bring along the following:

  • Watercolour OR gouache set: Cadmium yellow, lemon yellow, cadmium red, alizarin crimson, ultramarine blue, pthalo blue, raw sienna, burnt sienna, raw umber, burnt umber, viridian, neutral tint; plus gouache white
  • Watercolour brushes: round, size 4 and 6, sable blend eg Art Spectum Sablinsky or good synthetic eg Pro Arte Prolene
  • Palette for colour mixing
  • A3 watercolour paper 300gsm CP/Not, or board eg Daler Rowney Watercolour board
  • Pencils HB and hard (4H)
  • Tracing paper pad, A4
  • Kneadable eraser
  • Masking tape
  • Roll towel
  • Large water jar

Updated:  19 June 2017/ Responsible Officer:  CCE Manager/ Page Contact:  CCE Webmaster