Wednesday, November 2, 2016

A Tip on How to Paint Birds in Flight

Editor’s Note: Today Johannes Vloothuis teaches us that seeing like an artist is about more than understanding shapes and colors in a unique way. Below he offers a simple tip for painting objects in motion, including a tip on how to paint birds. For an in-depth course, sign up for Johannes’ new series of live classes, Essentials of Painting Birds. Happy painting! ~Cherie

How to paint for beginners | Johannes Vloothuis,

Welcome Home (oil on canvas) by Bev Legault

How to Paint: Capturing Motion in Paintings

by Johannes Vloothuis

Try this experiment: Wave your hand in front of your face. Do you see that the crevices on the back of your hand are no longer noticeable? For this reason, you should not just copy things that are moving straight from a photo, because it gives us a viewpoint we can never reproduce on a canvas. How can we convey something that moves in a convincing way on a still canvas? The only recourse we have is to blur areas to create the illusion of motion. Examples of this are seascapes and waterfalls. When you take a picture, you freeze the foam in suspended animation, and the water appears rigid and artificial because of it. In my book, Landscape Painting Essentials (page 17), I go into detail about the human eye versus how a camera captures a scene when things are in motion. Here is an excerpt.

How to paint for beginners | Johannes Vloothuis,

The camera shutter opened and closed in a fraction of a second taking this reference photo (above, left). The water appears frozen in time. This is not our natural way of seeing moving water.

Do you get the impression that the water is toppling over the cliff in the painting (above, right) that was inspired by the photo reference? The soft edges give the appearance of movement. Blurring foam in seascapes works great as well.

How to paint for beginners | Johannes Vloothuis,

Compare the crashing wave’s soft edges to the hard ones on the rocks. You can feel the mist.

How to paint for beginners | Johannes Vloothuis,

The same rule of edges applies to people who are walking or riding a bicycle. If conveyed all in hard edges, the subjects will appear as if they’re posing. Note how their legs are undefined.

How to paint for beginners | Johannes Vloothuis,

You can even blur vehicles to make them appear as if they’re in motion. Compare the soft edges of the cars to the hard edges of the bridge. The viewer will do this subconsciously and “feel” the movement of the cars.

Birds in flight flap their wings. Heavy birds such as ducks can’t suspend themselves in midair just by spreading their wings, whereas seagulls take advantage of the airfoil of the wind, which allows them to float in the air at times without flapping their wings. You can paint the latter in sharp focus. In the case of birds that are flapping their wings you can convey a sense of motion by blurring at least the tips of their wings and, if you dare, even more. This may seem like a universally unorthodox approach, yet I think it offers a much more convincing sense of how the eye sees birds in flight. If you apply these principles and submit your extraordinary artwork in a contest, the painting may grab the attention of the viewers and judges. The mistake that most fowl artists make is to depict birds like toy ducks suspended in the air with a string.

How to paint for beginners | Johannes Vloothuis,

Featured painting: Welcome Home (oil on canvas) by Bev Legault

Here is a submission from one of my online art students. The birds seem to be flapping their wings. Birds are one of the easiest subjects you can tackle. Successful paintings are practically a guarantee (learn more below). ~Johannes

Want to learn the secrets behind painting birds? Join Johannes “Essentials of Painting Birds,” a live online course that begins November 5.

“Landscape Painting Essentials” and other video courses are available at North Light has also just released a new eBook written by Johannes titled Landscape Painting Essentials. Join his online art classes at

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