How to Paint a Seagull

Phil Whitmer

Flocks of seagulls and individual birds make interesting subject matter for paintings. They can be painted in any number of positions. Seagulls can be found almost anywhere near water or a food source. They're not too shy or flighty, so you can get close enough to draw and paint them.

Seagulls make dynamic subjects for paintings.

Seagulls can be painted as part of a watery landscape or as free spirits, flying in the open sky. The birds have lots of character waiting to be captured in a painting.

  1. Find some seagulls to observe, sketch and photograph for later use as reference material. Practice drawing the birds flying, standing on the shore or floating on the water. Familiarize yourself with seagull anatomy. Study and draw the anatomical features of the birds. Make a single bird the focal point of your composition, or arrange them in groups. Make studies of ideas for the overall design of the painting, integrating the seagulls with their landscape or seascape backgrounds.

  2. Prepare a canvas for your painting. Brush on at least three layers of gesso, and sand the surface smooth between each coat to allow for the painting of the seagull's fine detail. Use your photos and drawings to compose a final composition. Use a small, flexible, pointed brush to draw the scene directly onto the canvas using thinned paint. Focus on the drawing as it is the skeletal framework for the painting.

  3. Block in the background colors and forms with a large, wide, flat-tipped brush. Use broad flat washes of blue for the water and yellow for the sandy beach. Create graded washes to create the illusion of depth and add visual interest to your painting. Paint the top of the landscape in light feathery colors for an atmospheric effect. Surround the mostly white seagull with darker colors to set up a contrast to emphasize the bird.

  4. Observe the position of the sun and keep its rays going in the right direction throughout the picture so you can correctly place the shadows for a consistent and convincing painting. Closely observe the bird's feathers and their cast shadows. Imitate their look and direction with your brush strokes. Define the rounded forms and contours of the bird with your strokes.

  5. Wait for the preliminary layers of paint to dry before proceeding. Look closely at your efforts and decide which direction you want it to go. Mix up many shades and tints of white and gray to match the color of the sea gull. Use pointed filberts and round brushes to define the wings and tail feathers of the gull. Paint in the bird's facial features with your smallest detail brushes. Paint in the accented highlights. Don't forget to add the little points of reflected light in the bird's eyes.

  6. Tip

    Draw and paint sea gulls from life for a naturalistic look in your artwork.


    Don't feed the sea gulls; they will call in hundreds of squawking friends.