My process step by step

George, the stuffed Passenger Pigeon has gone home to his drawer at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History. It was great getting to know him as he stared at me day after day while I painted his portrait. But, as they say, all good things must come to an end (literally in his case as an extinct species of 100 years). The process of creating this homage was well documented and gives me an opportunity to share how it works. Passenger_Pigeon_on_Mint-background-500x500px-150pdi Step one is covering the canvas with a solid color in acrylic paint, followed by a flat pattern. Passenger Pigeon - painting progress There’s no room for error with anything that’s added from this point forward because the next layer of painting is done in oils – if I did make a mistake, I couldn’t paint over it with the background color because you can’t paint acrylic (water-based) over oil. So I’ve developed a way to eliminate or at least minimize mistakes – before I continue painting, I draw the bird(s) that will go in the foreground of the painting on craft paper exactly posed and sized as I want them on the canvas. Then I carefully cut them out and lightly tape them in place. Passenger Pigeon - painting process Now I use a color of oil paint similar to the background to trace the silhouette of the bird so I know exactly where everything goes. Passenger_Pigeon_on_Mint-bird_only-500x500px-150dpi And then I paint it in with oils. Passenger_Pigeon_on_Mint-500x500px-150dpi I usually freehand the foliage and insects because a stray brush stroke of a flower petal is far easier to “fix” than any part of a bird. Sometimes I add a design in gold leaf, but I don’t think this one needs it. So there you have it – a finished¬†“Passenger Pigeon on Mint.” Painting is still only one part of what I do. I’m also a textile designer and seamstress/maker. Just this week, Ben Saks of Float Pictures finished a video documenting my process from start to finish. So I will stop typing and let you watch. Enjoy!


  • I LOVE this! Thanks so much for sharing your process. I was wondering how you do this all, with such meticulous detail. Question – do you always hand paint/hand design the acrylic background on your paintings or do you ever use stencils? If you hand paint it all, how do you keep that consistent and straight in design?

    Sorry to see Georgie go. What’s next?

  • Hi, Julia. Sometimes I do freehand the designs in the background, but when the designs are at all symmetrical, I make a stencil in advance. When I do freehand it, I start with a layout in mind. However, it doesn’t matter too much if I deviate from the layout if the design is organic. Your questions raise a good point though, which is that I should do another post about that particular process.

    When I dropped George off at the museum, I picked up a male Northern Royal Flycatcher – you might have seen it in the new video I posted. It’s a pretty wild looking bird. I think it will make for a great painting!


  • Great to see your process Ashley and how your paintings are thought out. The video also turned out really cool! Thanks for sharing.

  • Hello, Cynthia! I’m glad you like the video. I can’t stand the sound of my own voice, so it’s reassuring to know that other people do like it. I hope your own work is going well.

Leave a Reply