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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.

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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.

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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?


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Drawing of the week: Rooster

Rooster drawing/illustration (c) Ella Johnston

We recently welcomed the new luna (or is it lunar?) year of the rooster so it’s only fitting it’s this week’s drawing of the week.

As much as I like a brown or black bird illustration, the bird I’ve drawn here is a Brown Leghorn rooster, which I have chosen purely for his plumage. When I got out my watercolour paints to illustrate this fella I knew warm orange, purple and emerald hues would be the order of the day. I really wanted to go to town on the colours for this guy as I think the rooster (also known as a cockerel or cock) is such a glorious creature  – I really admire them as they pace around the chicken pen.

As well as being the symbol for my football team, the cockerel is also a scared animal in some cultures, with the rooster being associated with the sun goddess Amaterasu, in fact Zoroastrianism held the rooster as a “symbol of light” and associated the cock with “good against evil” due to its heraldic actions. So all praise for the mighty rooster!

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Drawing of the week: A Pigeon

Good friends of mine will be very surprised by my drawing of the week as I have a pigeon phobia.

I grew up in London so while spiders and mice hold no fear for me it’s pigeons that make me feel ill, yet I love birds.

Anyway I decided to face my fear with watercolour, ink and my powers of illustration. I do like this fell’s beautiful plumage and it does have a rather elegant shape and line. Who knows after drawing this maybe I’ll be able to sit outside in London while they mill about my feet.

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Bird of the Fortnight 23 May 2016: Bee-eater

Bee Eater illustration for Five Mile Float
I know I normally lead with black and white sketches for my first post for my bird of the fortnight and there are some below. I just could resist sharing with you a previous Bee-eater illustration I did as part of an art work commission for a US indie band called Five Mile Float.

Bee-Eater sketch (c) Ella Johnston

It was when I took on the commission that I developed an interest in Bee-eaters. The family have such a variety of plumage and I that Zoro type mask across their eyes is the coolest.
Bee-Eater sketch (c) Ella Johnston

The Five Mile Float brief asked me to be subtle in my use of colour so I stuck to very light washes of peach and mint. No such subtlety is required this time so I’m going to go to town on my final watercolour and ink version.
Bee-Eater sketch (c) Ella Johnston

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Creative ways with watercolour… birds

Watercolour by Ella Johnston

I’m treating you to a sneaky preview of some illustrations I’m working on at the moment. They are not finished by any stretch but I thought you may be interested in seeing them in their ‘raw’ state.

I’ve been trying out some creative ways of adding texture and colour to my avian drawings with watercolour paints for some time now. I feel that this painterly method creates further interest and depth when illustrating the individual bird’s plumage than a line drawing. I also think it imbues a sense of vitality and movement in the composition. It’s also really simple to achieve.

Watercolour by Ella Johnston

My illustrations are made on non-textured watercolour paper – it has a lovely quality that absorbs water and ink really well. I first draw a light sketch of my subject in pencil, loosely highlighting key areas in pencil. Then I apply layer of watercolour washes to the illustration. Each layer is very watered down and I like to build up the colours gradually – this gives me more interesting colour combinations and a pleasing overall texture. Once I’m happy with the colour, I leave this to dry before applying a detailed ink drawing over the top.

Watercolour by Ella Johnston

You’ll be able to see the finished drawings in a book of wading birds published by Dunlin Press next year.

Watercolour by Ella Johnston