How should I paint feathers that are muddy? Jenny Conquest, England
It’s not easy to paint dirt and mud realistically, so having some references to hand is essential. The same goes for feathers. Let’s start with the latter and try to understand their construction.
Feathers have a rigid, thin central part called the rachis (commonly known as the shaft), which is joined to the skin of the bird, and a soft part called the vane that stems out from the rachis. We perceive the vane of the feather as a single thing, but it’s actually formed from a set of soft barbs. You’ll need to depict these features carefully if your feathers are to look realistic.
I roughly paint the feather without too much detail. I’m going to get it dirty with the mud, using brownish brushstrokes that follow the shape of the feather. When painting the mud, I bear in mind that it’s neither solid nor liquid. Mud is shiny and irregular, and contains lumps of earth. When it dries it leaves a lighter, dusty mark.
In my image I use a dark colours to depict the wet mud on the drooping feathers, and choose a lighter colour to paint the mud that’s dried on other parts of the headdress. I finish with a textured brush that gives a rough idea of the earthy and dusty component of the mud.
To make the mud look
irregular and slimy, I add some lumps and drips. I use very strong lights and shadows to accentuate its wet look. Knowing a feather’s construction will help you understand how it’ll appear when it’s dirty.