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Watercolor Tutorial #1: Painting an Indian Peafowl

Well, here we are, all living in a world ironically connected by isolation. I’m thankful for technology as it serves to build community and foster creativity, and this post is my first attempt at sharing information that will hopefully promote fun and relaxation with the use of some educational materials and a colorful activity. I am now going to ask you to turn your eyes from the overwhelming pandemic to the radiant Indian peafowl (Pavo cristatus). I’ll share a few fun facts below in addition to a watercolor tutorial showing how to paint this proud bird. The tutorial is only 15 minutes long because I had to make it so speedy (just now learning the ropes of YouTube), but the activity should take you 45 minutes to an hour to complete. Here’s what we will be painting (see below). Save this image and feel free to trace it or measure out the proportions if you feel at all intimidated by the sketching. This tutorial is about practicing watercolor skills and having fun.

First, let’s learn a few feathery facts! (Painting tutorial is at the bottom of this post. Feel free to skip ahead or go here: https://youtu.be/mRcvnL6KDyw !)

I was lucky enough to witness wild peacocks and peahens while visiting Nagarahole National Park just last February. (Yes, I am still reminiscing about my travels and will continue to do so for a long time.) Before that experience, I had only seen these brilliant birds at the Cincinnati Zoo where they roamed the grounds freely. Their abundance in the forests of Karnataka, India came as a surprise to me, though this should have been expected since the Indian peafowl was named the National Bird of India in 1963 (Ranjith & Jose, 2016). 

Most of us have seen the fantastic train peacocks use for courtship rituals, but have you ever noticed their head crest? Both female and male peafowls have this, and I will focus on that specific detail in the watercolor painting tutorial. A study on peacock social displays was conducted in 2018 and suggested that this flamboyant head piece may actually possess mechanosensory functions and respond to train-rattling (the action observed when peacocks shake those pretty tail feathers) by resonating at that exact same frequency (Amador, Van Beveren & Roslyn, 2018). So, a peahen (female) can not only see a peacock shake those train feathers, but she can also feel the vibration through her head own crest. This might not seem all that fascinating at first since it’s obvious that feathers respond to airflow and vibrations, but the fact that these colorful crest feathers can sense the rattling of a peacock’s train feathers and respond to that specific stimuli as a social display demonstrates nature’s intricacies and perfection. Cool, huh? That would be like your hair vibrating at the exact same frequency as a potential mate’s booty shaking. Imagine those moves on a dance floor!

Now, time to go paint these elaborate birds and bring color to the isolation. Here’s what you’ll need…

Watercolor paper: You can use whatever watercolor paper you have at home, but if you’re interested in really focusing your watercolor skills in the upcoming weeks of isolation, I recommend ordering some Winsor & Newton Professional Watercolor Blocks. I always order the 7” x 10” Cold Press option for smaller paintings. For most tutorials, I will be using this size. Link: https://www.dickblick.com/products/winsor-and-newton-professional-watercolor-blocks/

Paints: Inktense Paint Pan Travel Set: Again, you can use whatever watercolors you have at home, but this compact set of Inktense products is fantastic for travel and nature journaling. It will last you a very long time. I recently brought these to India with me, and they were a game changer because you don’t need a cup of water since the travel set comes with a waterbrush (see video for explanation). This kit is wonderful for artists of all ages and the colors are incredibly vibrant. Link: https://www.dickblick.com/items/01680-1019/

A towel of some sort (I chose to use a small washcloth since those paper products are in high demand right now!)

A pencil and eraser

Join me in painting a peacock!

In the comments, post your favorite peacock fact and share your painting with me on Instagram!

References:

Amador, K., Van Beveren, D. & Roslyn, D. (2018). Biomechanics of the peafowl’s crest reveals frequencies tuned to social displays. PLoS ONE, 13(11), 1-27. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0207247

Ranjith, V & Jose, B. (2016). Habitat preference of Indian peafowl (Pavo cristatus) in selected areas of Palakkad district, Kerala, India. Current Science, 110(11), 2177-2181. doi: 10.18520/cs/v110/i11/2177-2182

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