Behind the Scenes for "Bluejay - Light of Life"

Painting of bluejay in sunlit tree.

Despite being incredibly allergic to all things outdoors, I love birds and trees and flowers—and the role that sunlight plays in illuminating living things.

I sought to capture the feeling of sunlight rolling through the upper canopy of a forest for the background of my second blue jay painting.

The blue jay is striking all on its own, but the real centerpiece is the light behind it.


This painting started with a strong ink drawing. I used archival-quality ballpoint pen (a Uni-ball Jetstream 101, in fact) to get in both light and dark detail.

Ink drawing of piece.

After I finished the bones of the piece, I wondered what to do about the background. I had several ideas, but was unsatisfied with any of them. I let things cook on the back burner for a while.

Inspiration struck when I consider how to fill in the tree foliage. I started with a spiral of light greens just above and to the left of the bird’s head, and added darker greens and the red-brown bark of the tree branches.

Background painted in.

You can see how much the background is also a subject.

One issue with leaving the front subject for last is that your original ideas for coloring the frontispiece might not balance well against the composition. Here you can see that the red-brown tree branches adds an extra element that gets in the way of the intended focus subjects—the blue jay and the lit green leaves.

Foreground added, but color balance needs addressing.

There are a number of ways to fix this, and one of the best is to reduce the saturation (or brightness) of less important objects in the painting.

I added a semi-opaque wash of titanium white gouache to desaturate the tree bark. I was able to use varying amounts of the gouache, along with further shading, to emphasize even more the grace of the sunlight.

Final painting.