3 Little Birds with Colored Pencils: Blue Jay with Polychromos Colored Pencils

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Lesson Description

In this lesson series, we’ll create a representational drawing of a Blue Jay on PastelMat paper with Faber-Castell's Polychromos colored pencils.

Lesson 1 - Materials

In lesson one, we'll review the materials used for this lesson series.

Lesson 2 - Background and the Head

In lesson two, we'll transfer the photo reference to the drawing surface and develop the background with PanPastels. We'll then begin colored pencil applications, starting with the head.

Lesson 3 - The Upper Body

In lesson three, we'll develop the upper body of the Blue Jay. We'll layer multiple applications to build up the texture and create complexity in the color.

Lesson 4 - The Lower Body

In lesson four, we'll continue working down the body, addressing the complex, overlapping feathers.

Lesson 5 - The Talon and the Branch

In lesson five, we'll complete the drawing by addressing the remaining feathers, the talon, and the branch.

Lesson Materials

  • Faber-Castell Polychromos Colored Pencils
  • PastelMat Paper
  • PanPastels
  • White Pastel Stick (Soft Pastels)

Lesson Resources

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Reference Image

Finished Drawing

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Lesson Discussion

  1. Just a recommendation! Prismacolor seems to have become the affordable standard in coloured pencils. Most videos, books, and some magazines now seem to be using in exercises what the majority of people are using. I believe on youtube two people have worked out comparison charts between Prismacolor and Fabre-Castill. I know what it is like to have the tools but they are not the tools that will do the job. Even trying,spending time and energy just doesn’t get the exercise done to ones satisfaction. Perhaps during exercises, regarding coloured pencils, you could provide such a comparison chart?

      • Hi Bill,

        Yes, you can but blending may be more difficult than necessary. Pastel pencils are simply a concentrated form of soft pastels – they are similar to hard pastels. For this reason, you may find it difficult to blend applications. Instead of pastel pencils, traditional soft pastels may be a little easier to work with.

    • Hi Louisa,

      Prismacolor Premier pencils are wax-based and will behave differently from oil-based pencils like the Polychromos pencils used in this lesson series. So even though you may use similar colors, you will not get exactly the same results. (For example, if I were using Prismacolor pencils for this drawing, I would not have used black.) The oil-based pencils do not burnish in the same way and layer differently than the wax-based pencils. The physical make-up of the pencil greatly affects how it performs.

      I would be wary of matching charts since the pigment concentration and the exact pigments used will vary between manufacturers. These are two different brands of colored pencils, using different binders, different pigment ratios and likely – different pigment sources. If I created a chart like this, I would feel as though I was misleading people into thinking that they can get the same results using a different brand with different colors.

      I should note also that this course is not necessarily just about drawing 3 birds, but it’s also an exploration in different forms of true colored pencils, how they behave, and how the surface plays a major role in the final artwork.

      I do know that Prismacolor pencils have become very popular. (They are still my favorite.) Their popularity is partly due to a broader distribution. Not too many years ago, you had to go specifically to an art store to purchase Prismacolor pencils. They were also expensive. Now you can purchase them nearly everywhere – including office supply stores. The price has dropped considerably as well. Some artists argue that the quality has fallen off – although I haven’t noticed this personally.

      Even though Prismacolor pencils are very popular, there are several artists out there that abhor them – and I mean passionately despise them. Some of these artists are very skilled with colored pencils and simply prefer to use a different wax-based pencil or an oil-based pencil. Among professional artists, the Polychromos pencils are well-liked and many prefer them. That’s why they’re included in this series.

      I hope this helps a bit.

      • How many professional artists are taking this course? How many people prefer something because it cost more? I know most of what you say and most are correct. However the price of Prismacolor has come down because of the volume of people buying them they are a good standard of pencil at an affordable price. That fact should always be worked in when judging something. Derwent has come up with an idea without lowering the price. You purchase a tin of so many pencils, say 24, and the tin actually will hold the entire collection, You purchase the rest as you go along and can afford to buy. Purchasing individually is more exspensive than buying a set. A very smart idea, especially for those into Derwent pencils, and the company. Other manufacturers would do well to follow it or come up with their own ideas. Although I believe some companies are a bit too snobbish to do this and wish their clientele to be possibly professional artists. I know the fundamentals of the course, but you did a course on pastels and concentrated on soft pastels not oil. In fact the course should have been entitled “Soft Pastels.” In order for all to get the best out of each exercise it would be good to offer as many options as you could. All three birds could have a selection of pencils to use, the members in turn would learn so many other thing not just about different pencils, but drawing colouring, technic, etc. If charts don’t work then people will soon discover that. Nevertheless we are all here to learn, me above all. Thanks for your time!

        • Hi Louisa,
          I’ll do my best to address everything you’ve responded with here. Firstly, there are several professional artists that are members. Are they taking this course – I don’t know? But that doesn’t matter. If you ever want to create professional level artworks, then you must consider using professional materials. This is why I try to use higher quality materials for the lessons and suggest that you do the same.

          I don’t know if people prefer things because they cost more or not. But sometimes, things that cost more are, well – better. There’s a reason why some things are more expensive.

          I can’t speak to Derwent’s practices as a business or other art manufacturers. I do think it wouldn’t make sense for a company to be snobbish with their product. They likely want people to purchase their product.

          As for this course… We already have a course specifically on colored pencils. It’s The Colored Pencil Course and you can access it using the main menu at the top. This course is different. It is basically a comparison between different brands of colored pencils and surfaces through the lens of three drawings of birds.

          As for Pastel Landscape Mastery in which you referenced…When most people refer to “pastels”, they are referring to soft pastels or hard pastels. Oil pastels are quite a different medium. The binders of these two mediums are very different and as a result, they behave differently from each other. One module on oil pastels was included in that course, but the focus on that particular course is painting landscapes with pastels. We will likely add a course specifically on oil pastels in the very near future.

          • Hi Matt.
            Thank for this lesson using Polychromos pencils. I am not an artist, just a beginner, and I only have Polychromos pencils and Arteza colored pencils. Prismacolor are not distributed in Spain. Sometimes it´s more expensive to buy Prismacolor in Europe than Polychromos.
            I´d like to answer Louisa that not only artists buy Polychromos. I believe that she´s only thinking in US members, but there are a lot of members out of US, as me. I think she has to open her mind.
            Thank again, Matt for thinking about all of us, living in or out US.

      • Thank you Matt, I just signed up for this course and was wondering the same thing.
        FORTUNATELY I have a trump to the art store today, musty added the oil based pencils to my list. I FORTUNATELY have the 78 set of Prismacolor

    • In response to the top comment, the purpose of this lesson is to get the artist to use the Polychromos pencils. If you’ve only ever used Prismacolor and wax based colored pencils as I have, the cost of the Faber Castell sets might seem pointless. I actually got my Polychromos pencils individually from De Serres (Edmonton, AB) just to try this lesson and try and see what the difference was if any.

      The difference is truly mind blowing to me. Layers and coverage are far superior to wax based colored pencils with less effort and soft blending between values is achieved easily. I’ve also found that even with my heavy hand I’ve only had to sharpen the tip without shaving off wood. With this said, I wouldn’t know there *was* a difference in technique and application if I hadn’t of used both types of wax and oil colored pencils, and this lesson serves to help the artist understand the practical difference. I’m still a little gun shy to apply turpenoid to my blue jay, as it’s turning out well, but I don’t see a specific disadvantage to the Polychromos in practice and find them worth the cost, so much so that I just invested in the 120pc tin because they left such an impression on me.

      Summary: Pick up the polychromos pencils for this lesson individually if cost is an issue and try the lesson. (Cost me $2.99 a pencil in CAD)

  2. Hi Matt! Love this project. I think you have a hit with these quick projects. The format is perfect. Thanks again for creating this option to your course line up. I am amazed at how much variety you continue to offer us.

  3. Printed off the second bird ebook. Again the detail of printed instruction and associated pictures is “outstanding”! A new artist has a leg up on classroom classes. It does get easier. Grateful for your continuous effort. Thanks

    • Hi Robin,

      The third bird is ready, but the drawing’s not :). I hope to have it published by the next newsletter (within two weeks). The art takes a while, but the editing, ebook, and other things take just as long.

  4. Made it! Amazing job Matt, as always. I’ve learnt so many handy little tricks during this lesson. I feel ancouraged to try some other birds myself but would be great to watch some more made by You.

  5. Outstanding instruction! Thank you!

    I’m a new member and so glad I stumbled across your website. I’ve always loved drawing but never had a foundation so I’m very excited to have this available to me now. You are a very gifted artist and teacher.

  6. Excellent quality, presentation and information. I have a lot to learn!!! I’m a new member, but I like your style enough to purchase the yearly plan and plan on having a fun and educational Winter! Thanks Matt!! Right now I am trying to find my “style” and what I am most interested in. I have done mostly graphite drawings to this point, but have mixed in a couple colored pencil drawings – was not real happy with those.
    Thanks again!

      • Matt
        Thank you for your hard work on all your tutorials. I just uploaded your 3 birds set in color pencils, too bad they were not all in prismacolor pencils which I have. If you ever considered making similar tutorial in pastel pencils ( which I got two sets ) that would make me so happy! Thank you again keep up the wonderful work!

  7. I have really enjoyed this course Matt. I would not have thought of using PastelMat paper with coloured pencil but it is wonderful to work on. I had a few pan pastels which had lain dormant for a few years. Had I realised how useful they would be in creating a blurred background it would have saved me hours of frustration! I had a little trouble maintaining really white areas and getting the white highlight to really glow on the top of the head. I have sent off for more white pencils in case it was just a defective pencil. These lessons on the Blue Jay have helped me overcome a period of artist’s block. It is so different from my usual style. Thank you. An excellent course. I look forward to trying the other two birds but first I must complete this picture.

  8. Hi math. I want to make these three birds on gray toned paper. And all three with Faber Castell. polychrome. Is that a good surface to blend. Can you compare that to Bristol smooth surface which I can also use but because I don’t want to color the background I prefer to use toned gray paper

  9. I’m a new member and I found this series of birds to be excellent… I like the idea that you use the different brands and we can discover the differences of each… I know it’s expensive to get started but in the end I think it will be well worth it.

    And since this is our art using one brand of pencil is just as enjoyable and still looks good, I’ve done the hummer in both prisma and polychromos.

    • Hi Matt
      just finished the blue jay with the polychromos and was very happy with the results, as I dont have any pastels, I left the back ground grey and I think it looks good.
      Thank you so much for your tutorial. I appreciate the help and learning the differences between the different brands of pencils. I have been using coloured pencils for a while and this is the first tutorial I have done that explains the differences well.

  10. Hi Matt,
    how can I create a super-sharp print-out of the blue jay? I tried for hours now but failed. Same goes with other references provided here. Since my eyes are pretty bad, I do need additional help.

  11. Hi Matt
    thanks for the demonstration in Faber Castell Polychromos pencils. My collection is largely that brand because the first workshops I did were in Australia and the UK with botanical artists and many of them seem to like the polychromos. I went through the video twice before then attempting one of our local rainbow lorikeets.

  12. Hi Matt,
    We have lots of Blue Jays here and I would like to draw one. I have Prismacolor Premier but no Polychromos. How can I select pencil colors to complete the Blue Jay in Prismacolor? I don’t mind winging it (pun intended) but thought I would ask first.

  13. I first went to art high school in 1964 and have been a working artist since 1972. I started taking courses on this site during COVID lockdown and have learned so much that I feel like a newcomer to the art world. There has been such a vast improvement in just about everything. This is a roundabout way of telling all that professional artists do take Matt’s courses. P.S. I loved that you used dip pens because very few artists today use them or even know how to use them.

  14. Hi Matt, i just completed the kingfisher bird and i couldnt be happier with the result! Im a beginner at drawing with coloured pencils and i did the course because i wanted to get better at drawing and also because i coulnt believe it was possible to create such rich art with just colored pencils! Your layering and very deliberate approach to drawing have helped me to get the basics down right very quickly and also encouraged me to dedicate way more time than i thought was needed to my drawing in order to make it look real. Your tips and encouraging words have kept me engaged and motivated throughout the project. Thank you so much!

  15. Hello Matt,

    I am new to your art school and am so glad I found you on line. Have been drawing for a while since I became disabled to help pass the time, being a A type personality just sitting at home was difficult. but had not had any lessons till I discovered I could find them on YouTube, “Getting Sketchy”.

    I am detail oriented so your detailed approach is so appealing to me and your teaching is clear and concise, So glad I joined your art community, as you make it feel like a community.

    I have not looked at the lesson yet since I do not have pastelmat paper, it is a little pricy for me, but I do mostly use polychrome pencils. Is their a second choice for paper that I could use to do this project? Also, what do you use for blending, as I have never blended with polychrome’s, just layered, probably never using them properly.

    Look forward to learn more everyday and enjoy all that I have learned so far since I joined. Thank you for all the hard work you do to make your site exceptional!

    • Hi Teri,

      Yes, PastelMat paper is expensive, but keep in mind that the paper is important too. Polychromos pencils are also expensive 🙂 I think if you made the investment in the PastelMat paper, you’ll be happy that you did. The paper is the foundation for your art. Unfortunately, I can’t think of a paper that is similar to the PastelMat paper. It is truly rather unique.

      • Thank you Matt for your quick response.

        I bought the Polychromos 3 or 4 at a time, when I first began drawing back in 2013, did not even realize I was buying quality colored pencils. I also bought Prismacolour pencils without realizing what I was buying. They are harder for me to use but plan to go through the colored pencil course soon.

        I will put this off for a while until I can purchase some Pastelmat paper. I have wanted to for a while, I just need to be patient.

        I do have one more question, on the hummingbird, would Derwent colored pencils work? I know there are many types that I have been looking at. I have purchased a few Luminance pencils but can not sharpen with a knife, and have difficulty getting a sharp point with a pencil sharpener, same with Prismacolour. Something made me feel that Derwent may be just a little more like Polychromos in hardness which would be a better option.

        One thing I love to draw is birds so really looking forward to starting this course when I have all the proper supplies. Thank you for taking time to answer all my questions.

        Thank you again, Teri

  16. This is the most amazing thing that I have ever drawn. My art class grades are improving so much because of the 3 little birds. You are an amazing artist and I look up to you! Thank you so much for this experience!!!!!

  17. Matt, thank you for these excellent courses! I always considered myself to have “no artistic talent” but have taken up art since retiring and am amazed at what I have learned by watching your videos. My three birds didn’t look quite as good as yours but are good enough for me to frame and display in my home for guests to see. Thanks for all the time and effort you out into this teaching platform. I can’t wait to try other mediums.

  18. Hi, Matt. I love your videos but I am on a tight budget and cannot afford all the extra types of paper, materials, etc. Is there a way to have an art lesson for those on a budget?

  19. Hi Matt, I love your coloured pencil videos. Would you recommend to use pastels or pastel pencils in any case if the background is blurred and in combination with coloured pencils for the main object? Would watercolor a suitable alternative to the pastels for blurred backgrounds? In my case I am not able to make the transitions so smooth with watercolor. Do you have any other alternative to pastels?

  20. Hi Matt, just finishing the Kingfisher ( loved the lessons and the result) and about to start the blue jay. I went to purchase the pan pastels and note that there are a lot of options of yellow and blue, each with various tint shades, not sure which ones to purchase. There is no simple yellow or blue! Can you kindly advise? Thank you.

  21. Hi new member here,
    I am wanting to try this course and extend my colour pencil drawing skills and knowledge of pencils, but only have prismacolors at home. Happy to buy Faber-Castells, but am unsure which size set to get. Because I am slowly working through each tutorial, I know they will be used – which set do you recommend purchasing that will give me the best options of colours.

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