Birds on Birds

Self-Study Class Includes Lifetime Access, Online Community & More!

6 Lessons – $72.25 $85

Alison O’Donoghue shares her technique for creating a stacked and harmonious world within the bounds of an 11″x14″ wood panel. In this acrylics painting class, you’ll start with preparing a panel with gesso, then painting your birds and the spaces around them, working with layered washes and highlights before finishing your work with a varnish.

Now available as a self-study class.

TEACHER: Alison ODonoghue

Class Description

Join painter Alison O’Donoghue for a super fun class in acrylic painting, “Birds on Birds.” Alison shares her unique techniques for creating a stacked, interactive, and harmonious world within the bounds of an 11″x14″ wood panel. She will guide you expertly through six lessons — starting with preparing the panel with layers of gesso and finishing with varnish; and in-between, magic!

Alison likes the stacking up method of composing because it allows for a lot of images within the painting without any concerns for traditional perspective (a common folk art approach around the world). Through Alison’s process of layered washes and highlights, your painting will glow with light and color.

Plus… BIRDS!

Class Itinerary

Lesson 1 – Supplies & Preparing Your Board
We’ll go over the supplies needed for this project and prep your board for painting.

Lesson 2 – Drawing It Out
Here is a place to begin letting the ideas flow. Your birds don’t have to be realistically drawn and you can let go of the idea of right and wrong; instead do it your way. You do have a way.

Lesson 3 – Painting the Simple Shapes
Create a palette of color choices ahead of time and have fun with color! It’s good to be aware of the negative spaces — or spaces between — the objects and imagery, because they are as important as the birds in creating a balanced and vibrant composition.

Lesson 4 – Painting the Negative Shapes
In this lesson you will create lines around your birds by NOT painting the lines, and paint in the negative shapes of the background.

Lesson 5 – Transparent Color Washes
This part is really fun, and here is where the dimension, volume, sense of light and shadow and nuance are begun. We are staining the shapes we have painted with the washes. (It may feel as though you’re ruining the painting, but you aren’t!)

Lesson 6 – Highlights and Details
In this step, my favorite step, we are adding a final layer to bring out the form, as well as adding pattern to some of the shapes. Add spots, stripes, patterns or follow the form of the object to highlight the form. All of this will create depth, a push and pull and sense of shifting light that is exciting and interesting to the eye. We’ll finish with a nice coat of varnish to give your painting more luminosity.

A detail:

And one more of Alison’s work:


  • 11″x14″ smooth wood panel
  • Black gesso (can use white gesso if you are unable to get black)
  • Fine-grit sandpaper
  • White watercolor pencil. Make absolutely sure it’s water soluble- as we will be washing away the lines with water after painting.
  • Acrylic Paints: Back, white, and a your choice of variety of opaque colors.
  • An assortment of transparent acrylic paint- red, brown, yellow, burnt orange, sap green are good choices.
  • Brushes: A variety of sizes, I prefer sable brushes for their ability to paint larger areas and also hold a point for detail.
  • Varnish: Gloss polymer
  • Optional: Hair Dryer to speed drying process

Alison O’Donoghue

The artwork of Alison O’Donoghue can be described as contemporary folk art. Partly naïve, sometimes illustrative, at times cartoony, with some of her pieces being heavily patterned. Her paintings are mostly playful with creatures and people that are quite often glowing with life… awash in dimensional color and shade in a mostly two dimensional world. She combines everyday objects such as cups of coffee, fruit, plants, humans, birds and odd, made-up animals, into a fluid motion of interaction of intertwined shapes. The playful next to the sinister, give the paintings a sense of humor and the complexity of an unfolding story.

Alison O’Donoghue’s contemporary folk art and patterned worlds invite us to explore visually the simple beauty, complexity, interactions and sometimes the humorously sinister aspects of everyday life.

Nuts & Bolts

  • This class is now available as a self-study class.
  • Immediately upon class signup, you will receive access to the class videos and corresponding materials.
  • A private Facebook group will be available for you to (optionally) share your artwork and enjoy and learn from the artwork of others. You may also email your teacher directly with questions or feedback.
  • You will have indefinite access to this class.
“Loved your class and looking forward to doing another with you as this one was so much fun.” — Ruth H.
“I had such a great time in your class and learned a lot about layering paints. Thanks, Alison!” — Lydia B.