October drawing of the month: Flying Dunlin

Flying dunlin watercolour and fine line drawing (c) Ella Johnston
My October drawing of the month is of a flying dunlin.

As the co-founder of Dunlin Press this bird is particularly important to me and Dr B. We are very fond of these birds, very soon they’ll be scuttling around in the mud on Wivenhoe quay.

Work in progress: Flying dunlin watercolour and fine line drawing (c) Ella Johnston

I’ve been drawing dunlins for a little while now, and even have a print of another dunlin drawing available on Folksy, but I’ve never attempted to draw a flying dunlin before. They are quite magical when they fly. I normally spot these wading birds in groups scurrying around on the mud as the tide is coming in during twilight so it’s quite hard to see them at first. You can just about detect them by a little flash of white on their bellies. It’s only when they fly do you see them fully as the white plumage underneath their wings catches and twinkles in the moonlight, it’s lovely.

dunlin print by Ella Johnston

I created this illustration with washes of watercolour and picked out the details with a uni-pin fine line pen, you can see me adding some detail in the video below…

September drawing of the month: Strutting godwit

Godwit watercolour and fine line illustration (c) Ella Johnston
So pleased to be kicking off my regular illustration posts with my strutting godwit as September’s drawing of the month.

I think godwits are my favourite bird (at least today they are – it’s a bit like picking a favourite song or album for me, it depends on the day, the mood, how I’m feeling etc). You can expect to see godwit bird illustrations coming up quite a few times on my drawing of the month posts.

Work in Progress: Godwit watercolour and fine line illustration (c) Ella Johnston
Work in Progress: Godwit watercolour in the process of adding my fine line

This godwit is sporting his spring/summer mating plumage. I remember seeing an omniscience of godwits (Isn’t that a lovely collective noun? I could have also used “a prayer of godwits” or “a pantheon of godwits”) with their gorgeous russet breasts and soft golden feathers on Iken cliffs and I was practically moved to tears by the birds’ stunning colours and graceful countenance. By the way, if you haven’t been to Iken cliffs it is well worth a visit, it’s one of my favourite places on earth. So atmospheric and serene in any weather.

I created this drawing using Winsor and Newton watercolours on hot-pressed watercolour paper. I then added detail using the Uniball uni-pin pen. These pens have different nib sizes which offer fantastic versatility when working on something like feathers. You can see me start to overlay this pen detail in the video below.

Drawing of the week: Red Admiral Butterfly

Red Admiral Butterfly Illustration (c) Ella Johnston

This week’s drawing of the week is of a Red Admiral butterfly.

With the snazzy latin name of Venessa Atalanta (I think I may employ this as a pseudonym at some point), this beautiful creature is coming to a garden or woodland near you! (That’s if you live in the British Isles of course).

This beauty will be part of my every growing illustrated butterfly guide, I’ve got quite a collection of watercolour and ink butterflies now, I’m just trying to decide on which illustrations make the final cut. I’ll show you the finished piece soon.

Drawing of the week, Stone Curlew

Stone Curlew illustration (c) Ella Johnston

This stone curlew looks so grumpy I had to make him my drawing of the week.

I became fascinated with Stone Curlews after watching Springwatch a few years back where one was brooding her chicks – I was rooting for the whole family.

They are quite rare in the UK, visiting occasionally in areas such as Norfolk and Wiltshire. They are not related to our long-billed friends the curlew,  but they do have a similar call hence the name. See that big yellow eye? That’s because this fella is mainly active at night and that peeper helps him see in the dark.

As usual I created this illustration using watercolour and ink with a combination of broad and fine tips to capture the variation in texture. I wanted to keep the bird drawing quite scruffy, depicting him as if he’d just been discovered foraging among the rocks and stones.

Drawing of the week: Happy yellow budgie

Yellow Budgie Illustration (c) Ella Johnston

This time my drawing of the week is of a very happy yellow budgie.

I do tend to anthropomorphise the subjects of my drawings particularly my bird portraits  as I do find a very deep connection with the animals in my illustrations. I suppose I can’t help but be sentimental about this guy in particular as my sister had budgies as pets.

But it’s true of all of my creature illos; when you spend the time with them that I do studying and scrutinising every feature, you can’t help but feel closer to your subjects. I admit that after many sessions with my watercolour and ink to create each drawing I probably imbue my animals with qualities they don’t really have.

For example I think this yellow fella is smiling at us – he just looks so cheekily delighted with himself.

Drawing of the week: Peacock

Peacock illustration (c) Ella Johnston

Here’s my drawing of the week – a rather glorious peacock.

I have been outrageously busy of late. There has been some fantastic collaborations with Uni-ball pens already this year, an amazing commission for Guardian Labs/Brittany Ferries, a new book from Dunlin Press and an up-coming exhibition. Which leads me on to this week’s drawing.

This is essentially a sneak peek into some of the bird portraits I’ll be exhibiting in my local book indie bookshop, Wivenhoe Books. It’s an intimate little space and is perfect for giving some of my smaller illustrations a gentle showcase. The size of this piece is A5 so it will work well in a more compact hanging area.

Peacocks are becoming my new favourite thing to draw. I’ve been doing lots of sketches of peacock feathers but I thought for the show I’d give a ‘head and shoulders’ watercolour and ink portrait a go. I’m rather pleased with the result and am particularly taken with the plumage.

To state the blindingly obvious, the peacock is the male bird; the female is known as a peahen and she doesn’t have the snazzy tail. The reason I say this is that I once (this is a while back mind) searched for hours for female peacock and obviously came up with zilch.

Drawing of the week: American Cocker Spaniel

American Cocker Spaniel Illustration (c) Ella Johnston

In honour of this week’s Crufts 2017, my drawing of the week is of an American Cocker Spaniel.

This quick little doggie sketch was created in watercolour and brown ink. It didn’t take very long to do but I am quite pleased with the illustration. I think this animal has a certain stoic, noble quality.

I will not lie to you, I love a Cocker Spaniel – they could be my favourite breed. I love the character of a spaniel – so friendly, energetic and full of life.

I am a massive fan of all shaggy haired dogs generally. This my friends is because I was/am an indie kid of the early nineties variety and have a great affection for long-haired, scruffy herberts.

Just look my dog’s refined face. It takes me back to 1993 when Richard Ashcroft was not Richard Ashcroft as he is now but was instead known as “Mad Richard” and The Verve was known as just Verve. Ah those heady days of youth… long haired boys in terrible jeans – it was a tremendous amount of fun.

Verve 1993

Drawing of the week: Cormorant bird

Cormorant Bird illustration (c) Ella Johnston

My drawing this week is that of a cormorant. When I do my little morning walk along the Wivenhoe quayside I often see these pre-historic looking birds with their wings out stretched soaking up the sun or in a little group looking like they are waiting for a bus. When the tide is up they often bob about in the water on the hunt for fish.  I love them so I wanted to capture these creatures in watercolour and ink.

If you want to catch a glimpse of these sleek guys, you can find them around the UK coastline on rocky shores, coastal lagoons and estuaries. You may also catch them at reservoirs, lakes and gravel pits.

Drawing of the week: Flamingo Head

Flamingo (c) Ella Johnston

This week’s drawing of the week is of a bright pink flamingo head.

I must admit it has taken me a little while to warm to the flamingo bird, although really fun to paint and draw (you can really go to town with pink watercolour here), it was a bird that never really got under my skin like a puffin, lapwing or curlew. I suppose I was put off because they have been so popular as a motif in homewares and stationery design.

Perhaps I also thought they were show-offs of the avian world – to me they were just a bit too lairy with their pink plumage. Maybe I was jealous – no one could accuse me of being leggy and it’s rare that I splash out with colour in a sartorial sense (I leave that for my illustration).

Of course I was wrong. I mean these birds are magnificent creatures and when you find our about these birds they really are fascinating. Here are some fun flamingo facts…

Special bills
Flamingos beaks  are specially adapted to separate mud and silt from the food they eat. The bills are uniquely used upside-down. Don’t know what I mean? Take a look here…

In the pink
Their distinctive pigment comes from carotenoids they eat in animal and plant plankton which are broken down into pigments by liver enzymes.

Flam Fam
Flamingos are very social birds. Their colonies can be thousands strong. This protects them from predators and enables them to nest more efficiently.

What a pair
The birds perform synchronised ritual displays in colonies. The members of a group stand together and display to each other by stretching their necks upwards, making calls while head-flagging, then flapping their wings. Flamingos form strong partnerships although in larger colonies flamingos sometimes change mates (well we’re all allowed to change our minds). Both the male and the female play a part in building and defending the nest. Occasional same-sex pairs have been reported, which makes me happy.

Don’t you just love flamingos a bit more now?