Chickadee: A Chalk Pastels Tutorial

Chickadees are a frequent visitor to our backyard feeder.

Photo of a favorite Christmas card

We love their little black caps – though our southern variety is the carolina chickadee. The two are very similar, as you’ll notice below. So, upon request, Nana taught us a chickadee pastel lesson. Thank you, Nana!

We pulled out the field guides and studied the chickadee shape. You may want to have your favorite field guide handy as well. The Cornell Lab of Ornithology site also has wonderful information on the chickadee. If you click over, you can view and study the perfect silhouette of the chickadee’s shape for your drawing. We learned that John James Audubon named the carolina chickadee while he was in South Carolina.

As we began with our pastels, Nana emphasized that the chickadee is a short, rounded bird.

The chickadee’s ‘cap’ and its back was our starting point, using a black chalk pastel to draw the outline. Notice also that the chickadee has a very long tail.

Next, we enjoyed drawing the chickadee’s beak. Just one, tiny ‘V’. Then, Nana asked us to again pay special attention to how short the little chickadee is. Take your time as you draw his little, plump shape.

As you complete your chickadee shape, notice the underside of the chickadee tail isn’t just straight.

Rather the feathers are layered beautifully.

Now we get to add his little cap! First the top, angled just like the chickadee in the field guide. Almost a mask. Then, a separate area of black below –  what Nana called his beard.

For the next step you might want to clean your fingers. Take your white pastel stick and add just a dot for the chickadee’s eye. The light is reflecting in his tiny eye. (The Christmas card at top shows the placement of his eye well)

Make the line that goes up around his neck. Next, add the details of the tail feathers. Still only using your black pastel stick.

Now we will add the little bit of gray on the underside of our bird. Take your black pastel stick, turn it flat on its side and – very lightly – skumble a small amount of black on your bird. (Turn your pastel stick like you are doing a crayon rubbing). You only need just a small amount for gray. Use your finger to gently blend and soften the color. Just a little on his tiny belly.

Your bird needs a spot to perch. We imagined our chickadee waiting his turn at the feeder while perched on a pine tree. You might choose a winter evergreen too. So, take your green pastel stick and make several sharp looking pine needles.

Next, draw a branch for your pine needles and your chickadee. Again, the Christmas card at top offers a good example of a pine tree perch.

(Paper towels, tucked like a bib, also make good ‘smocks’).

We also imagined our bird was waiting his turn at the feeder on a brilliant, sunny, winter day. So we chose to add a blue sky – a painterly effect. A painterly effect meaning that you are creating patches of color to compliment the focus of your scene but not filling in all of your picture with the color. Our blue ranged from a cobalt to more of a teal.

Skumble gently around your bird with your shade of blue. Then blend in your color with your finger.

Our results! Top left: 12-year-old, top right: nine-year-old, bottom left: 14-year-old, bottom right: six-year-old

A photo summary of the steps plus the chalk pastel colors needed.


  • Print this lesson: Just click the green, ‘print-friendly’ button at the top, left of this post. You can choose to print the lesson with or without photos. By clicking the ‘remove photos’ box, you may print the text directions only.
  • A note on chalk pastels: Pastels are an easy, forgiving medium. Fun for children and adults alike! Details on the pastels and paper we use, how and where to purchase, and links to all of Nana’s other pastel lessons (over 35 lessons now) are all contained in the post Pastels plus links to tutorials. A simple set is very affordable.
  • The practical aspects of a mess: Pastels are blessedly messy. We always have baby wipes close by to wipe hands. We wear something we don’t mind getting stained or don a smock.


  1. 1


    I think this is a perfect project for a cold winter’s afternoon. I am going to make sure to have the pastels and paper on hand for just such an occasion. We do not have chickadees in our neighborhood but I would love to have one to hang on my wall.
    Thank you so much for putting this tutorial together. As always, your family makes it easy to see how to do this step by step. Thanks to Nana too!
    Barb-Harmony Art Mom recently posted..10 Ideas For Art and Music AppreciationMy Profile

  2. 2


    Oh! Nana saves the day again! I am definitely going to set up this lesson today! We have Juncos in abundance, about the same shape. Our Chickadees are Chestnut Backed Chickadees and are very skittish – way up high in the spruce tree. Maybe we’ll do a contrasting lesson between the Chickadee and the Oregon Junco. .. . . Mind is waking up . . . .Ideas. . . . . Thanks Trish and Nana! (Love the Blue Topaz Ring!)
    Angie Wright recently posted..Beach Combing Time!My Profile

  3. 3


    Trisha and Nana, Thank you for another pastels tutorial! I love this one in particular. I really love adding them to their nature study journals after a study of the subject. We have studied Chickadees before a year or two ago. It will be nice to do this and have a refresher on them. I love it when, once we have done a study, they can easily point out the birds.
    Phyllis at All Things Beautiful recently posted..Farmer Boy BreakfastMy Profile

  4. 4


    I agree, Barb. Sometimes we just need a boost on a winter day. Art always does it for us. I like the thought of a chickadee pastel for the wall! Nana gave me the original bird’s nest pastel she did – all framed – as a Christmas present. Joy! Definitely a favorite.

    Angie – I love your idea of comparing the birds – we love juncos too! I’ll have to pass along your admiration for Nana’s topaz ring :)

    Phyllis – you are right. Studying our little chickadee up close – and sketching with the pastels helped us notice so many of his beautiful details.

    Thank you all for such kind comments. This is our great joy and pleasure – to share these with you all.

  5. 7


    I just came from Jamie’s blog where she shows her chickadees from this awesome tutorial! Thanks for sharing this! I think I need to join your site:)

    • 9


      Fabulous! I found you just in time! We sketched one of our chickadees, but we need to go back and sketch the contrast one (I can’t remember which one we sketched. I think we did Black Capped and want to go back and do the Carolina.)

      Thanks so much for posting this!

  6. 13


    Dear Schoolhouse on the Prairie – I commented on your post but I’m not sure it went through (maybe to spam?) So I am replying here with hopes you might see it: “What a wonderfully thorough study of birds! I love all the connections made, the enthusiasm – and of course those pastel chickadees. Beautiful!”

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