From Concept to Completion – Woodpecker in Pastels

One of my Pet Portraits students has completed their course and passed with distinctions and you can find a detail of the painting below on the honours list page. I asked Lisa if she would be able to write a little about the Woodpecker painting and how it came about, i hope you enjoy her story of the painting from concept to completion!


One of the final assignment exercises was any animal with complete background. I chose the woodpecker because I love the way his colours are enhanced by the stormy rain-laden sky.  The photograph was taken during stormy conditions on a Christmas break at our favourite holiday cottage in the Scottish highlands. The camera was set up on a tripod overlooking the bird feeder and taken through a patio door. I felt the effect of the dull grey sky slightly blurred by the horizontal rain would be perfect for my background.  I added some hints of trees through the mist as I wanted to put the bird in a natural setting. Unfortunately the woodpecker was on a peanut feeder and he had curled his tail around for balance which meant I couldn’t use a straight tree trunk. I spent many an hour studying trees in our local area to find a branch that would suit. Eventually I found this one on the internet. I did a mock up on Photoshop and the woodpecker fitted perfectly. In the original photograph the feeder was on the upper branches of a birch tree the bottom of the photograph shows the tops of the lower branches.  I used these branches to represent the top of a hedge and draw the eye upwards.

I chose pastel to get the softness of the feathers and blurred background. I used Koh-I-Noor soft pastels for the background and a mixture of Faber Castell pit pencils and Derwent pastel pencils for the detailing. The paper used was art spectrum colourfix rose beige to enhance the slight pinkness of the bird’s chest. I rubbed the soft pastel in with my finger to create the blurred background and then added the foreground on top filling in detail with the pastel pencils. The black was created using burnt umber and ultramarine blue using the black pencil only in the darkest places. If you look at black birds they are never true black but have hints of iridescent blue, purple and greens.

I really enjoyed this painting and the course overall. It reignited my interest in wildlife and has really given a boost to my confidence having been knocked back in the past. I would like to make a future career with my art something I never thought possible before. As I am a lover of wildlife and nature I think this is the area I would like to go down, hopefully selling through galleries and my own website.

Lisa – Pet Portraits Diploma


4 thoughts on “From Concept to Completion – Woodpecker in Pastels

  1. Dear Lisa,
    Congratulations with this wonderful pastel as your last assignment. I love the blurry background and the details of the tree and the bird. I just started the pet portrait course and I intend to send my first assignment today. I hope that as my last piece I will be able to send in someting as good as yours.
    Good luck with your painting career and seeing this pièce I am sure you will succeed.
    Regards, Anneke van Dijk

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