Painting birds in oils with Jo Shepherd

Ref: SWE31503

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About this course

Learn how to paint realistic portraits of birds in oils that capture the character of the individual bird and that breathe life into the created image.

Course Description

Birds have been a fascinating subject for artists over the centuries from Carel Fabritius’ famous ‘Goldfinch’ to Paul Klee’s ‘Landscape with yellow birds’, and birds continue to provide inspiration across so many different, contemporary art forms today. With we have over 9000 different bird varieties on the planet, encompassing every colour under the sun, with a multitude of shapes and sizes, there are certainly a lot to choose from. Birds are truly incredible.

For this course you will be working from photographic references of familiar British garden birds. By looking at the anatomy and structure of birds in different poses, you will start with learning how to draw a bird; you will practice observational drawing in order to create an accurate representation of the subject.

With an introduction to the fundamentals of oil painting, you will progress to painting portraits of birds on primed board. Beginning with looking at tonal values, the process will be broken down into steps which will give you the confidence to create your own bird portraits.

You will leave with several studies and a completed painting plus all the skills needed to progress your painting journey to the next stage.


Arrival Day - this is the first date listed above

Courses start early evening. Residential students to arrive from 4pm, non-residential students to arrive by 6.45pm.

6.45pm: Welcome, followed by dinner (included).

8 - 9pm: First teaching session, attendance is essential.

Daily timetable

Classes 9.15 - 5pm, lunch is included.

From 6.30pm: Dinner (included for residential students).

Evening working - students may have access to workshops until 9pm, but only with their tutor's permission and provided any health and safety guidelines are observed.

Last day

Classes 9.15am - 3pm, lunch is included.

Residential students are to vacate their rooms by 10am please.

(This timetable is for courses of more than one day in length. The tutor may make slight variations)

Course Materials


  • On this course, the College will supply some of the materials, including painting boards (two 16cm x 16cm and two 25cm x 18cm), gesso primer, studio safe solvent, some oil paints to get you started, oil painting paper and A3 cartridge paper.

What students need to bring

  • Glass jar
  • Kitchen roll or paint rags
  • Sketchbook
  • Pencils, rubber, sharpener
  • Palette - wooden or disposable, palette knife
  • Dipper pots
  • Stand oil
  • Small brushes (for detail): bristle - filbert, round and flat; synthetic filbert, round and flat
  • One or two slightly larger brushes: bristle and synthetic filbert/flat
  • Oil paint suggested colours: Titanium White, Cadmium Yellow, Yellow Ochre, Naples Yellow, Cadmium Red, Pyrrole Orange, Cadmium Orange, Ultramarine Blue, Light Blue, Viridian Green, Sap Green, Burnt Sienna, Payne’s Grey, Dioxazine Purple.

Available to buy

  • Available from shop:
  • A good variety of art materials including brushes in a good range of sizes in filbert round and flat, stand oil, Zest it, dipper pots, a good variety of oil paints, palette knives, palettes, oil paper, sketchbooks and drawing materials

Additional information

Please wear appropriate clothing/aprons for the workshop or studio, this includes stout covered footwear (no sandals or open toes).


Jo Shepherd

Jo is an experienced tutor having taught life drawing and painting for over 10 years.


Residential option available. Find out accommodation costs and how to book here.

Courses of interest

Further study options

Take the next step in your creative practice, with foundation level to Masters in Fine Art study. 

Depending on your experience, start with an Online Foundation Certificate in Art and Design (one year, part-time), a Foundation Diploma in Art and Design made up of 10 short courses taken over two years (part-time) or advance your learning with our BA (Hons) Art and Contemporary Craft: Materials, Making, and Place (six years part-time). All will help you develop core skills, find direction in your practice and build an impressive portfolio in preparation for artist opportunities or higher-level study. See all degree and diploma courses.