I've been painting with acrylics since childhood and enjoy sharing tips about working in this versatile medium.
Learn How to Paint a Seagull
If you've ever wanted to learn how to paint a seagull in acrylic, I will provide you an overview of the entire process. Seagulls are one of the easier birds to paint, even for beginners. I used a photograph I took as a reference photo, which you can see below. Feel free to use this photo for your painting if you'd like.
I've also included some general tips and techniques for working with acrylic paints, and I hope you enjoy trying out this project!
What You'll Need
- Wood Panel or Stretched Canvas: I used a basic 10-inch square wood panel from an art supply store. Other options include a pre-primed wood panel (such as Ampersand Gessobord) or a stretched canvas.
- Gesso: Gesso is an acrylic primer that should be used prior to painting on unprimed wood panels or unprimed canvases. It prepares the surface and helps the paint adhere better. Once you apply a layer of gesso, let it dry overnight before starting the painting.
- Acrylic Paints: You can use any brand of acrylic paints in tubes. I used Liquitex Professional Heavy Body Acrylics. Here are the specific colors I used:
- Titanium White
- Mars Black
- Raw Umber
- Cadmium Yellow Medium Hue
- Ultramarine Blue (Green Shade)
- Paintbrushes: Choose brushes suitable for acrylic paint. I used an assortment of small and medium size round brushes for details and shading. For the background, I used medium size brushes with natural bristles.
- Drawing Pencil
- Kneaded Eraser
- Water Dish/Container
- Palette, Palette Pad, or Styrofoam Plate: You'll need this to mix the colors.
- Towel/Cloth: This is to cover your work area.
- Paper Towels: For wiping your brushes or cleaning up the work area.
1. Sketch the Seagull
Once your panel or canvas is primed and dry, use a pencil to sketch the seagull in the center.
2. Start the Painting
I started by using a round brush to fill in the seagull's eyes, beak, and legs.
I used a mixture of yellow, white, brown, and black for the top of the seagull’s beak. On the bottom, I used a grayish-brown tone.
After that, I filled in some of the dark brownish-black feathers on the tail and lower body. With a light gray shade, I started to define some of the wing feathers.
3. Start the Background
Once I finished some initial details on the seagull, I started working on the first layer of background color. I mixed a lot of white with a little black and brown to make the muddy clay color of the sand.
I added enough water to my paint to keep it fairly thin at this point.
4. Outline the Seagull
Use a small brush to carefully outline the seagull with a light layer of the background color. It's difficult to cover dark colors with white, so be sure to stay outside the pencil lines of your seagull as you paint the background color.
5. Paint the Background
After you've completely outlined the seagull with your background color, start adding a light layer of the background color on the rest of the panel.
I used a medium-size natural bristle brush for this part, keeping the paint thin and blending the strokes well.
The wood panel I used needed more than one layer of paint for good coverage, so I used thin layers of paint to avoid a 'cakey' appearance.
6. Paint the Seagull
Once the background layer was completely dry, I started painting the white areas of the seagull and outlining the wing feathers in light gray.
Keep in mind that acrylics dry quickly. If you're blending colors and shading, you'll need to work fast.
7. Paint the Seagull's Wing Feathers
Use a small-to-medium-size round brush and a pale gray color to lightly outline each feather on the wing. Don't worry about being exact. Just try to capture the general outline of the feathers to give them a natural appearance.
For this painting, I created the gray color for the seagull's wings by mixing white with a small amount of black and a touch of ultramarine blue.
8. Blend the Colors
To blend and shade the colors on the seagull's wing feathers for a natural look, I worked on small areas at a time, blending the gray shade with pure white.
Since acrylics dry fast, it’s sometimes difficult to get the look you want at first. If you paint in light, thin layers, it’s easy to improve your shading in stages.
At this point, I concentrated on getting the basic shape of the feathers and colors put in. Highlights or definition aren't added until later.
9. Add Color and Shadow
While the wing area dried, I added some color and shadows on the seagull's face.
10. Paint Another Layer of the Background
Next, I painted another layer of background color with a medium-size natural bristle brush. Then, I used a smaller brush to paint neatly along the edges of the gull.
11. Add Highlights to the Background
I decided to create a smoother, sandy look to my background rather than paint the pebbles seen in my reference photo. I used a combination of lighter and darker shades to give my background some color variation and dimension.
12. Add a Shadow
I outlined the shadow in the sand beneath the seagull with a small round brush and slate gray color paint, and then filled it in.
Since the shadow in my photograph isn't one solid color, I used some variations of the gray shade. Later, I added more highlights and lowlights to this section to try to make it look as natural as possible.
From here, I returned to the seagull and continued to improve the colors, shadows and highlights on the face and body.
13. Add the Fine Details
When you add subtle details, the painting starts to come to life. Look at your reference photo and add additional highlights or shadows as needed.
In this painting, I used pure white for the lightest areas and black or brownish-black on the tail feathers and legs.
I continued with small touch-ups and correcting any colors I wasn't happy with. For blending, I used a medium-sized brush.
14. Add Colors to the Background
In the next photo, you can see how I used a combination of all the colors used in the painting (except for yellow) to make highlights and lowlights in the background.
15. Add Feather Details
To make the feathers look more realistic, I used the very tip of a small round brush to paint the feather tips. To make fine lines, keep only a small amount of paint the brush.
16. Add the Finishing Touches
Before I considered the painting complete, I added a few more lights and darks to the background and some bright white on a few areas of the top and left side of the seagull where the sun hit the strongest.
I also did a little more shading and blending on the shadow beneath the seagull's feet.
17. Add Varnish
If you plan to display your painting, consider adding a layer of varnish with UV protection to keep the paint from being damaged by dust, smoke, fingerprints, or sunlight. This is an important step if you want your painting to look the same for years to come.
Varnishes are available in matte, satin, gloss and high gloss. Each of these will give your painting a different look, so take time to decide which one will best suit your work.
Seagull Painting Slideshow
Thanks for Reading!
I hope this article has been helpful to you. Good luck with your painting!
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
Questions & Answers
Question: Which type of paint is better to produce effects, water or acrylic?
Answer: One kind isn't better than another, it just depends on what kind of look you want for your painting. Watercolors produce a more translucent look, and acrylics are more opaque.
© 2018 Carrie Kelley
Carrie Kelley (author) from USA on May 10, 2018:
Hi Donna, Thanks so much for your question. The eyes are pure Mars black and the legs and strip of feathers on the lower body are a very dark (almost black) gray. Near the tip of the tail feather, there's some brown (Raw Umber) mixed with the black. I hope this helps! :)
Mystiquecat on May 10, 2018:
I’ve been looking for a good beginner tutorial that wasn’t a landscape. This is perfect, thanks! Maybe I missed it, but what is the color used in the first step- eye, legs, etc? Is it pure Mars black? Thanks!