Toco Toucan

watercolor painting of a toucan

(Ramphastos toco)


my computer restarted the other day and showed me a photo of a toucan. I was entranced by the bird’s bright colors. reference photo. I thought that the big beak must also be strong. Here’s a fact sheet. The beaks are strong, but also lightweight. Ways this creature is strong include:

  • Size – this species can be up to 24 inches long and weigh up to 1.9 pounds. (Their beaks can be for times the size of their head.)
  • Beaks allow them to reach farther and deeper. (Note the beaks are made of keratin like our fingernails only stronger.)
  • Coloration provides camouflage.
  • They can use their beaks to open and crunch nuts and seeds.

Creation and session log

  1. I chose my colors (yellow, yellow-green, darker green, red-orange, light blue) I will be making black by using orange and dark green.
  2. I roughed in some yellow, feeling my way through the layout of head and beak. This goes very slowly.
  3. I started adding the body of the bird, mixing dark blue and orange. Now, I look at my notes and see it was supposed to be dark green. Whoops! Maybe that’s why I was painting gray instead of black. Try again… Mixing takes extra time and effort, but it feels satisfying to be learning something new. [I also looked at a different picture to think about background×721.jpg

Notice how the leaves and beak echo each other as far as size, shape, and color.

  • I finished the body and head of the bird and roughed in the beak. There I was, with a paintbrush full of dark orange. One jerk of the head and – whoops – the bird now has a unnaturally long beak. That bright orange seemed like it couldn’t be removed.
  • More details on the beak and eye. I needed black for several things. I mixed orange and green and blue. Used canned black for the eye because I was getting tired. It will be interesting to look at it next time I’m around the painting.
  • Once I started painting green around the bird, I found myself most interested in filling space. I’m hoping to get one more session in to add more interest. (Watched this today and regretted filling the space: )
  • I spend a lot of time imagining what I will do in my next painting session. Then I get the brush in my mouth and do something else. Today I painted a few leaves in two corners of the painting. I played around with using some blue in the leaves, but I don’t think it shows. Then I repainted parts of the beak, background, and head of the bird. Now I feel done.


  • What if I plan to leave empty space? How few marks could I make to get the point across?
  • I learned about mixing black by painting this and will be more confident in the future.
  • Meeting the white and around the subject does set it off and bring it forward.
  • I have a vision of where I want to go – be more comfortable and loose with painting. (Long way to go.)
  • The strength of this image comes from the bright colors in the beak.

Posted on

July 2, 2024


  1. Warren

    Your toucan is delightful! I gained a lot from your two posts today, besides smiles as a took in the toucan. I liked your discussion of seeing and sharing our strengths (“Let’s catch each other being brilliant”).

    I also was taken by your discussion of space and the essay about Chinese art and the use of space. I have an artist/Woolly friend who talks about the challenge of being mindful of space when he draws and paints. He talks about trying not to crowd out meaning with clutter.

    So I was drawn to the concept of seeing the beautiful and sacred in everyday, mundain activities — a practice of being mindful. More and more, I wonder if that truely is my life work.

    • Kate

      Thank you for your kind words about my painting and about this month’s newsletters. It’s easy for me to have good ideas (like catching each other being brilliant), but it’s hard to implement. It requires that I be awake to opportunities to speak and affirm people as they arise.
      You would probably like some queries given in a recent Daily Quaker post:
      How do you live your life to affirm the sacredness of the everyday?
      How do you turn daily habits into opportunities for connection to Spirit?
      How have you noticed the sacred appear in the mundane?


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