How To Draw And Paint A Rooster

Feathers to the left! Feathers to the right! How do you figure out where all the feathers go?

If you look at this rooster, you may well go ‘EEP! So much going on here! I can’t handle it.’  So let’s break it down into chunks that any brain can handle.


Rooster Reference Photo
Reference photo courtesy of PublicDomainPictures on Pixabay


How To Draw & Paint A Rooster – Step By Step

Before Pencil Meets Paper

If you look at the reference photo, notice some areas seem smooth, or stringy, or wild and curly.  Birds have feather groups and the feathers in each group are different.

Don’t try to see the exact number of feathers or the exact shape of each feather.  Instead, identify the:

  • feather groups
  • the direction of feathers in each group
  • the type of the feathers in each group
  • the colors in each group

Sound like a lot of work? Do it a couple of times and it’ll be a snap.  In the beginning, it might help to make a map-type chart.

The Map/Chart

It is easier to see the shapes if they are in black and white.

Drawing A Rooster Using A Reference Photo

My chart was drawn on a piece of plastic acetate with a non-waterproof pen so I could erase if I wanted to.  I traced chunks of information by tracing sections of the rooster.

The General Shape

Determining the overall shapes in a drawing reference

Surprising isn’t it? The rooster’s over-all shape is simply a heart.  Note the proportions.  The left side is larger.  The right narrows toward the top.

The Feather Groups

Drawing birds by finding and determining the feather groups

These are the groups that I see.  Getting these groups exactly right isn’t important.  You are learning what this bird looks like – creating a hand-to brain communication.  What your brain learns from this tracing, it will use to guide your hand later when you draw and paint.

I’ve also added in the head – beak, eye, comb, wattles, and ear.

The Direction and Type

Sorry – some of my drawing smeared in the scanner.

This tracing shows both the direction and the type of feathers in the groups.

Blocking in the feathers of a bird drawing

When you look at the shape and type of feathers, some differences are subtle – fatter feathers or a slightly different direction. In others the difference is drastic.  The neck is smooth, the tail feathers wild and curly.

After doing this step, I made another feather group drawing so that I’d have more detail.  You might decide you want less.

Finding the main feather groups in a rooster bird drawing

I showed more of the feathers that were the same type – all the ones numbered 7, all the ones numbered 10, etc.  They might not be the same group, but the shape, direction and colors are similar enough that I treated them the same.

The tail feathers are more confusing, because you have an outer group of feathers, but you can see some inner feathers too.  The inner and outer feathers have different shapes and directions.

Bird Feather drawings simplified lines

On the left, you can see what the inner feathers are doing.  Those outer feathers on the right cover most of the them up and you just get a few peeks at the inner group.

Overview of finding shapes and feather groups for a bird rooster drawing

You’ll learn more if you do a chart of your own, but feel free to use mine if you don’t have a reference photo, acetate or the time to make a chart.

Remember, the accuracy of your chart isn’t super important.  The point is that you are creating a hand-to-brain-to-hand conversation that will pay off when you start drawing.

Okay – now your brain knows what it needs to do.  Let’s do that drawing.

The Pencil Drawing

I followed the chart, drawing the heart shape first, making sure it fit on my postcard.  Then I did the feather groups.

Initial Pencil Drawing of a Rooster

The Pen Drawing

In my pen drawing, I outlined, added detail and shadows.

Pen Drawing of a Rooster

I did have the reference photo on hand, but I used my chart more than the photo.  If I felt confused, I looked up the area and studied it to help clarify what I wanted to do.

Pen and Ink Rooster Drawing

The Painting

I start off with a Quill style brush.  These are great brushes for washes, juicy, drippy effects and light color.

Princeton Neptune brush top

The first color I apply is a watery mix of Cadmium Yellow Primrose.

Rooster painting step 1

Then I apply a light wash of Transparent Pyrrole Orange.

Rooster painting step 2
Rooster painting step 3

I add a light touch of Quinacridone Rose to the comb and wattles, and Nickel Azo Yellow to the beak and feet.

Rooster painting step 1

Sap Green is used for the tail feathers, quickly follow by Phthalo Blue. I drop the blue into the wet green, letting the two colors blend together.

Rooster painting step 4

I continue with the Phthalo Blue, adding it everywhere I want shading, including the comb and wattles.

Rooster painting step 5

I use Nickel Azo Yellow for the grass, quickly followed by Sap Green dropped into the yellow.

Rooster painting step 6

Phthalo Blue is used for the sky.

Rooster painting step 7

I let the paint dry.  The card curled a bit, but that’s easy to fix.

I just bend it – gently – in the opposite direction a couple of times.

Rooster painting step 8

Now it lies flat again.  This will work with most papers, though a lot depends on how wet you get the paper and the quality of the paper.

Rooster painting step 9

Switching to a smaller, less thirsty brush, I start using creamy mixes.  I darken by adding more color, leaving some areas light.

Rooster painting step 10

I add more orange.

Rooster painting step 11

More blue.

Rooster painting step 12

Even more blue, deepening the shadows.

Final Rooster Watercolor Illustration by Sandra Strait - Doodlewash

The last step is to add highlights.  I could have used masking fluid or left white spaces, but both would have been difficult with so many at this postcard size.  I could also have scraped the paper with palette knife – but that creates an effect more like sparkling water than shiny feathers.  In the end, I decided to take the easiest route, and just added the highlights with a white gel pen.

How To Draw & Paint A Rooster – The Video

The Tools

Creating a map/chart of objects isn’t just for when you are ready to draw or paint something.  You can do it anytime, even if you are looking at something in real life rather than using a reference photo.  The acetate isn’t necessary unless you want to trace.  The point is to deepen that communication between hand and brain.  Add in a little heart and soul, and you have art!

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35 thoughts on “How To Draw And Paint A Rooster

  1. Sandra, thanks for a super tutorial – an excellent technique we can apply to any subject! I like the way you break down the subject matter into easy-to-study smaller parts. And using the clear plastic makes adjustments easy. I have tried making a black and white copy of an image but it can get muddy and hard to see. This is cool! bob.c

  2. Thank you for this tutorial! I have great difficulty drawing animals, and haven’t really tried drawing any birds, but I guess it is due more so to lack of practice.

    I like how you pointed out that there are chunks of feathers that we have to look at, rather than the individual feathers.

    Have a nice day.

  3. Thank you for the great explanation of how to get started – as a rookie painter this is always a stumbling block for me but your breakdown gives me encouragement to tackle more complex subjects. Many thanks

    1. Thank you, Claire! Even after years of drawing, I often look at something and wonder how I’ll ever figure our the jumble of detail. Breaking it down definitely helps you get past that.

  4. I love this! I could have also used it yesterday when I was sketching a Mourning Dove. Thank you Sandra for sharing this. Maybe some day we can have a meet up. I would love to see you work in person. 😉

  5. You’re an excellent teacher, Sandra. Thanks for the lesson. It’s all about learning to SEE and then practicing technique. The rooster is outstanding as line art but I was interested in watching you use the Neptune brush to such good effect. I was surprised to see the white gel pen as I’d thought you’d applied a resist and then rolled it off after the art was dry. Do you ever dry with a hair dryer? Waiting for paint to dry usually finds me running to the kitchen to see what I can snack on, so a faster dry is important for my figure. LOL. I love QoR paints but am saving them for the 4 Hahnemuhle accordion books I want to paint for my 4 grands.

    1. Thank you, Sharon! I have a combination water bottle/fan that I use to speed up drying at times. Most of the time, here, the paint dries quickly enough that I can work on one part of the painting and then move back to another. For those times when it doesn’t, I usually have a second piece that I’m working on and just switch back and forth. If I had been working larger, I would have used masking fluid. At postcard size, and for such small highlights, it is difficult to get a line of masking fluid that is thin enough. and the white of the paper would have been too stark. Not impossible to work with, but more complex than I felt this tutorial should deal with.

  6. I enjoyed your tutorial very much and plan to try this. I have to mention that the song played at 9:45 is almost exactly like my late father played it on the piano when I was young. It brought back many fond memories. I don’t remember the name of the tune and wondered if you know.

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