One Swallow doesn’t make a Spring…

But it’s a good start! I thought we spotted one solitary swallow last week, but today there is definitely a newly arrived pair in the barn where they nest every year, above the chickens in their old converted stable. where the farm horses used to live in days gone by.

Imagine how it must feel to those swallows to make that immense journey from North Africa, across the Mediterranean, up through Spain, through the whole of France, to land up here in our barn on the furthest edge of Brittany in the middle of nowhere, and to whizz through the door and say “whew, we made it! – and the barn is still standing!”

Which is more than I can say for many of the barns around here, which are sadly falling apart, neglected more than ever now the Brits are fleeing back across the Channel in the post Brexit rush for safety in the homeland. The average French farmer does not give much thought to the “vieilles pierres” (old stones) that the Brits adore to restore. So rural Brittany crumbles around us, while the village cares more for its football facilities, its village hall and its traffic calming features than for their stony heritage.

However, nature still thrives, and our barn welcomes the swallows back. So today I have painted a quick watercolour of two swallows enjoying the view from the telephone wires outside our house.

This painting is an experiment in working on top of an already completed sky, and I plan to use this technique again when painting birds, as it does give an airy feel to the composition.

I hope you enjoyed this tutorial – and for a little more inspiration, here is a little selection of swallow paintings I’ve done over the years. They are all watercolours and the originals have been sold, but prints are available from my shop on this site. Go here to see more of my prints.

Each year the swallows in our barn return to the nest they constructed so carefully many years ago to raise their broods. The nest is built from mud, spit and leaves and twigs, and doubtless lined with scraps of fleece from our sheep and feathers from our chickens which are close by!

They lay eggs not long after arriving back, and soon are busy feeding their babies. In a good year they might raise three broods of chicks, and it is great fun seeing them learn to fly as they wheel around the ‘basse cour’ behind our house.

Painting swallows is a very popular subject, and you can choose to paint them stationary on a telephone wire, or in flight, as you prefer. A composition of several birds wheeling and swooping in the sky is very pleasing, but so is the sight of them perching briefly in family groups on wires to groom and preen themselves in their characteristic way.

You won’t need many colours for your swallow painting, unless you choose to do an abstract painting with imagination running riot. Basicallly a very dark blue or even black is your main colour. I usually use either Paynes Grey or Indigo, with touches of Pthalo Blue or Winsor Blue. For the warm rosy colour under the chin I would use from preference Potter’s Pink, but if you don’t have that colour you can use dilute Indian Red, English Red or mix a touch of Ultramarine with Permanent Rose or Opera Pink to get that pinkish colour.


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