How to Paint Iridescent Bird Feathers & Make Them Glow

hummingbird and orchid oil still life painting with chinese flaskOften, I get asked how I make my paintings and birds seem to glow. A few months ago, I made a video while painting this still life painting, “Jeweled Visitors” and decided to edit it down into a short clip to illustrate how I paint iridescent bird feathers.

This is a quick little flick, but I hope it helps you understand how to make your bird feathers look iridescent and make them glow!


Here are a few tips to remember:

  • To give the illusion of light, use very little white. White makes subjects look ‘chalky’, not light! I use cadmium yellow with a dash of white most of the time.
  • Use warm notes against cool tones to help the illusion of light.
  • Use a variety of different colors against each other. For example, a warm blue (ultramarine blue) and cool blue (cobalt blue) next to each other make the blues sparkle.
  • Use these brighter colors next to earth tones.
  • I use an old brush to help me paint the feathers…
  • You might like this book > Keys to Painting Fur & Feathers

You might like to see My Tips for Painting Animal Fur, or

The Importance of Value and Tone in Painting

The Secret to Painting ‘White’ Objects

On My Easel #3: From Lemons to Lemonade

On My Easel #2: The Challenge of Painting the Illusion of Blown Glass

On My Easel: Still Life Oil Painting Demo #1

Save Money. Learn How to Gesso a Hardboard Panel for Painting

Bringing the Still Life to Life: A Painting Demo by Master, Jeff Legg

The New Still Life Paintings of Lori McNee

Top Paint Brush Tips from the Art Pros on Facebook

And here is a great book by North Light Books you might like: Keys to Painting Fur & Feathers

2011-08-16T21:44:17+00:00 September 29th, 2010|Fine Art Tips, General, How To Paint, Draw & More, Videos|5 Comments


  1. sandy November 24, 2010 at 2:36 pm


    I thank you for sharing your knowledge with us. In some lines, I learnt many things. (Use of colors)

  2. Malu February 3, 2011 at 8:56 am

    Thank you very much. We love this paint. It was our inspiration in 3d.

  3. Sister Shirley Le Blanc June 10, 2014 at 7:10 am

    Hi Lori,
    First time here (finding you). I am interested in painting birds and wondered if you
    could advise me where to start. I was in a doctor’s office looking at a copy of Birds & Bloom
    when I got the inspiration to do this and also realized that I’ve wanted to do this long ago but
    never had time to pursue it. Any advise would be deeply appreciated.
    Sister Shirl

    • Lori McNee June 15, 2014 at 10:29 pm

      Hello Shirley, I am happy you are going to paint birds. Be sure to practice drawing first. That is most important. Also learn about their anatomy. I first block in the mid-tones, then add the darks then the lights last. Good luck with your new endeavor!

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