Materials
Materials

I use Prismacolor colored pencils and basic drawing supplies, for this piece I used a 4H pencil to sketch and a Magic Rub Eraser. Wet palette is all set up and I have a few mason jars: one for cleaning dirty brushes, one for wetting clean brushes, and one to hold brushes in-between use (tips up).

 

Wet Palette

I use Masterson 'Sta-Wet' palette paper inside a cake box lined with damp paper towel. This setup keeps your acrylic paint from drying on your palette while you paint and will keep it wet in storage as long as you use an air-tight container.

Acrylic Paint
Acrylic Paint

I'll admit I bought these for a class and am not 100% in love with them for this technique, but they work well enough. I'm hoping to experiment with a few other types down the line. I like to limit my palette and I'm not too choosey about it, sometimes I just like to reach into my bag and use the first 5-6 colors I grab. Limiting your choices can help keep your illustration cohesive and prevent things from getting too 'rainbowy' which is helpful for drawing subjects with neutral coloration (like this screech owl).

Sketch
Sketch

Sketched with 4H pencil on hot press illustration board. Not picky about brands, this one is Canson. Crescent makes a good one, I also occasionally use Arches hot press watercolor blocks for this technique.

Sketch is fairly clean without being too precise, it will be fully covered by the layering of paint and pencil.

Sorry these iphone photos are not so great, I am in-between living/working situations and camera, lighting, and workspace are all a bit out of sorts temporarily.

Cool wash
Cool wash

I start with a cool wash (green, blue, purple, or cool gray) to very loosely block in some shadows or tone. I'm not really using a strong light source in this illustration so it's more of a launching point to just get some pigment down on the paper and get things moving. 

This is over-diluted acrylic, basically you are adding water until it has the appearance of watercolor. Using water for transparency (rather than a medium) works nicely for this technique but it does negatively affect the lightfastness of the paints so if you are concerned about the archival properties of your artwork it is something to be aware of and you may want to seal the artwork with an archival finish upon completion.

Warm wash
Warm wash

After a cool wash I like to put in a warmer one (red, orange, brown, or warm gray) to get some more value. In this illustration I want more blue where the white areas are (chest, brow, nape) so I leave those areas alone. I'm making sure to overlap on the darkest areas (edge of face, top of head) so the structure becomes more defined.

Let things be ugly! The first stages are often more about gaining momentum than anything else. I find this to be especially true for acrylic. Just be loose and focus on the big areas of the subject, not the details. 

First round of pencil
First round of pencil

I selected a dark brown (cooler, umber) and a medium brown (warmer, tan) to start adding in the feather texture and defining some of the markings. For me it's often more comfortable to start in the focal areas of the subject (eyes and face) so the animal begins to have a bit more presence. It's helpful to pin down these areas as a sort of point of reference when moving around the artwork — just make sure not to get sucked in. This step is just to help set an anchor for your detail work.

In addition to the face I also put in a little color on other areas, it helps keep me from getting too fussy in the one area.

First layer of detail
First layer of detail

I switched to a dark, cool gray colored pencil and started moving outward from the focal points I established. This is basically a grayscale that I will start glazing over with acrylic and then working back into with pencil. You can go all the way with dark markings, but don't use black yet — save it for later.

This step is very helpful for a bird with this type of dark patterning and gray coloration, it allows you to really hone in on mapping out the patterns without worrying too much about color (which will be layered on top). For animals that are lighter or brighter colored I would not use a dark gray since it could make them too dull, I'd have to choose something more compatible for their coloration (browns, blues, etc).

Next round of acrylic
Next round of acrylic

This is when the subject starts to really take shape. For this stage I am still adding some water to the acrylic but with every layer I add a little less, so this layer is still quite diluted but not as much as the first wash.

First I focused on warm vs cool within a limited color range — more blue on the cheek, more brown around eye and lower right corner, with warm and cool transitioning into each other. This helps give the subject more roundness. Paint application more focused but it is still pretty loose, think of it mostly as toning or glazing the underlying detail that was mapped out in colored pencil. 

I also started working in some blues, purples, and olive green. I'm using indigo on the darkest areas to give them some extra color (rather than going with a pure black) and using a combination of shadow colors helps keep this gray subject from feeling washed out. Bringing in blues and greens can also help give a subject like this an 'outdoor' feel even if there is only a white background, the appearance of environmental light reflecting on them helps keep the depiction from feeling sterile.

Next layer of pencil detail
Next layer of pencil detail

This technique is all back-and-forth between the colored pencil mapping out detail and the acrylic adding tone and depth. At this stage I went back in with dark pencils and continued to work my way out from the focal point with more and more detail of the feathering and markings. This is also when I start using a black colored pencil for some of the darkest markings.

Also gave the eye and beak a bit more color.

Heavier acrylic
Heavier acrylic

Depending on the artwork I might do additional rounds of back-and-forth between the colored pencil and toning, but with this owl I was ready to move into heavier acrylic after just one round. This stage uses the least amount of water in the paint and switches from glazing over the pencil to adding opaque layers. With this gray owl I was able to primarily use white at this stage without worrying about washing the subject out — if this was a brighter or more colorful subject I would be using more compatible colors and not simply highlighting with white.

I also worked some more indigo into the darkest markings and started rendering the eye more fully.

Finishing with pencil
Finishing with pencil

I finish the illustration with colored pencil by going around and working on fine details or any areas that felt unfinished. In this case the ear tufts needed more attention and there were several areas where the features needed extra touches (brown rims on the breast feathers, around the eye). This is also the time to add little things (filoplumes) and clean up edges. I also like to add some subtle extra color in at this stage by having some small areas of bright blue in little nooks and crannies as an accent.

This is the final product. The illustration is about 9"x12" — this technique is that it reproduces very nicely when sized down, the details tighten up very well.

Thanks for reading!