How to save a photo

There are times when we take great photographs of our subjects in a variety of poses and there are times when we have that one photo of our subject that is blurred or ruined. I like to draw from my own photographs but when it came to the blue throated macaw I was not very lucky. The bird was behind glass and this blurred all but one image I took That image was spoiled by dirty glass. These birds are rare in zoos, so I could not get another photo anytime soon. But then I thought of something: why don’t I save the image by drawing it instead. This post will show several stages of how I went about “saving” the photograph.

  1. This was the photo I was attempting to rescue, it was of a pair that was trying to be bred by keepers to bring up the population. According to their website the pair was unsuccessful but at least I got to see these beautiful birds in real life (even if they were behind glass). As you can see it wouldn’t make a good photograph because of the dirt/ scratches on the window but the birds themselves are quite clear.

9.0.2 gridImage

  1. Using my tablet I uploaded my photo onto a free grid maker app called Proportion Grid Maker. You can click on the picture to add or take away lines. I don’t usually use a grid on my pictures but because of artist license I did not want the birds in an enclosure but wanted them in the wild. The way the bird on the right looks over the fence and onto the wood gave me the idea that these birds could be at a nest site looking out from the tree. As a result I wanted the birds placed onto the page correctly so a grid was a way to make sure this happened.

9.2 blue throated macaw op 3.4.2017.jpg

  1. Happy with the grid on the tablet, I proceeded to draw the grid on the page. I used the grid lightly to add the birds in the correct places but did not follow it like law. The lines on my page was not identical to the tablet grid lines so some parts of the bird was inevitably different to the grid maker photo. This was alright as long as the bird was accurately proportioned/sized and placed roughly in the same place. To help with placing the birds’ wings correctly, I drew the outline for the wing feathers.


  1. I carefully erased the grid lines. Using the line from where the bird looked out from the fence from the photo, I created the tree. I looked into many references of nest holes for these birds online. It was very important for it to be nest holes for these birds as they are smaller than some macaws and live in Bolivia, not Brazil like other macaws. I roughly indicated markings on the tree as it is very likely when colouring, that they would be placed differently than the guide.


  1. I then coloured in the tree and background. The tree and background could not be too detailed as they would not be in focus from that distance, so they were quite simple in design, with not extra detail. It took a few colours to get the colour of the tree, mostly reddish browns and greys and the hole itself had beige in it. originally when I did the hole it was too bright so it had to be dulled down by rubbing it out and reapplying it until the tones faded into the background enough. Using the eraser, I also created the patterns on the tree. These greyish and reddish tones were important as they would make the blue and gold birds stand out even more.


6.Although hard to see, I have replaced all my pencil lines now with colour. I always tackle the picture in the same order, the dull tones first then the colourful feathers of the bird. In previous backgroundless portraits, this meant tackling the beak, face and feet before the feathers. But in this picture it was done in the order of tree, sky, skin (feet and face) and beak then finally  feathers. These stages are very important to me as it usually takes two days to complete a picture for me. The light where i live, fades significantly in the morning to 10/12 o’clock and this means accuracy with colour becomes difficult. I do not need to pay too much attention to colour for backgrounds and beaks etc. in my pictures as the bird’s feathers are the main focus. So prioritizing the feathers to last, where I will have fresh light and most of the day to focus on the colours is very important to my pictures. I also changed the background foliage as I thought this one suited it more and being less uniform made it more realistic.


  1. Having finished all the background and gray tones of the birds the day before, I now have the whole morning to focus on getting the correct colours for the blue throated macaws. There are multiple layers in these feathers to make them as intense as possible. The gold has three colours and the blue several. If this was a close up I would have had at least three whole layers of colours built up over the entirety of the feathers. Usually the first two are too dull but in this picture the layering it just fine as the birds are further away.

blue throated 2.png

  1. The picture is now finally complete. What I achieved was that the birds had come from a man made environment to the wild and that I had turned a poor photograph into a reasonable art piece. What I need to improve on is backgrounds; the tree and greenery needs a lot more work and it will probably take many art peices before I can successfully create a background with coloured pencils.

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