How to Paint a Seagull With Acrylic Paints

Updated on April 29, 2018
carrie-kelley profile image

I've been drawing and painting for most of my life. My favorite subjects are animals, nature, flowers and scenery.

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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!

Here's the reference photo I used in my seagull painting.
Here's the reference photo I used in my seagull painting. | Source
Here are a few of the supplies I used for the seagull painting.
Here are a few of the supplies I used for the seagull painting. | Source

What You'll Need

  • Wood Panel: I used a basic 10-inch square wood panel from an art supply store. Another good option is an Ampersand Gessobord or a similar type of panel that’s already primed and ready to paint on.
  • 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 makes 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 a few smaller-size nylon brushes for fine detail and shading. For the background, I used medium-size brushes with stiff bristles.
  • Drawing Pencil
  • Gum 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: Wipe your brushes and clean up your work area with paper towels.

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1. Sketch the Seagull

Once your panel or canvas is primed and dry, use a pencil to lightly sketch the seagull in the center.

Tip:

Sketch lightly because you don't want to see pencil marks through the light-colored areas of paint.

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2. Start the Painting

I started by using a nylon fine-detail brush to fill in the seagull's eyes, beak, and legs.

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For the top part of the seagull's beak, I used a mixture of yellow, white, brown, and black. On the bottom part, I mixed 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.

Mix white with a small amount of black and brown to achieve a muddy gray color.
Mix white with a small amount of black and brown to achieve a muddy gray color. | Source

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.

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Blend your brush strokes well so you don't have obvious brush marks in your first layer of paint.
Blend your brush strokes well so you don't have obvious brush marks in your first layer of paint. | Source

4. Outline the Seagull

Use a small nylon 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.

The colors look pretty rough, but the first layer is just a place to start.
The colors look pretty rough, but the first layer is just a place to start. | Source
As you can see in the top portion of the painting, the color has improved with the new layer.
As you can see in the top portion of the painting, the color has improved with the new layer. | Source

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 stiff bristle brush for this part, keeping the paint thin and blending the strokes well.

The type of 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.

Tip:

After you've finished the first layer of the background, let it dry completely before adding another layer. Otherwise, you'll smudge the paint.

Use enough water and work quickly when blending acrylic paints since they dry fast.
Use enough water and work quickly when blending acrylic paints since they dry fast. | Source

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 a light gray.

Keep in mind that acrylics dry quickly. If you're blending colors and shading, you'll need to work quickly.

Tip:

Refill your water dish often, especially when painting with white or light colors. This will help keep your colors true instead of looking muddy or off-color.

Not all shades of gray are the same. In this painting, the grays have a blue tone.
Not all shades of gray are the same. In this painting, the grays have a blue tone. | Source

7. Paint the Seagull's Wing Feathers

Use a small- to medium-size nylon 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.

For shading and blending, have a few shades of gray mixed on your palette: medium gray, medium-to-light gray, pale gray and almost white.
For shading and blending, have a few shades of gray mixed on your palette: medium gray, medium-to-light gray, pale gray and almost white. | Source

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.

With how fast acrylics dry, it can be 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.

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9. Add Color and Shadow

While the wing area dried, I added some color and shadows on the seagull's face.

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10. Paint Another Layer of the Background

Next, I painted another layer of background color with a medium bristle brush and used a smaller nylon brush to paint neatly along the edges of the gull.

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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.

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12. Add a Shadow

With a nylon fine-detail brush and a slate-gray paint, I outlined the shadow in the sand beneath the seagull 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 even more highlights and lowlights to this section to try to make it look as natural as possible.

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From here, I returned to the seagull and continued to improve the colors, shadows and highlights on the face and body.

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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.

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I continued with small touch-ups and correcting any colors I wasn't happy with. For blending, I used a medium sized nylon brush.

Tip:

Have several brand new fine-detail brushes on hand when you're painting. Once the edges fray, it's difficult to get sharp, straight lines with the brush.

Once you're close to finishing the painting, start looking for anything to correct and add any necessary details, highlights or touches.
Once you're close to finishing the painting, start looking for anything to correct and add any necessary details, highlights or touches. | Source

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.

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15. Add Feather Details

To make the feathers look more realistic, I used the very tip of a nylon fine-detail brush to paint the feather tips. Be careful to have only a tiny amount of paint on the edge of the brush and not too much water in order to get extremely fine lines.

Painting fine detail on the bottom edge of the seagull's wing feathers.
Painting fine detail on the bottom edge of the seagull's wing feathers. | Source
This softens the feathers and gives them a more realistic look.
This softens the feathers and gives them a more realistic look. | Source

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.

The finished painting.
The finished painting. | Source

17. Add Varnish

If you plan to display your painting, you can add 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 suit your particular painting best.

Seagull Painting Slideshow

Thanks for Reading!

I hope this article has been helpful to you. Good luck with your painting!

Have you ever painted in acrylic before?

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© 2018 Carrie Kelley

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    • carrie-kelley profile image
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      Carrie Kelley 10 days ago from USA

      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! :)

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      Mystiquecat 10 days ago

      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!

      Donna

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