Capturing the Essence Re-Release Edition

Techniques for Bird Artists

May 2024
More details
  • Publisher
    CSIRO Publishing
  • Published
    20th May
  • ISBN 9781486318612
  • Language English
  • Pages 128 pp.
  • Size 10.23" x 7.87"
  • Images color paintings throughout

Once described by Sir David Attenborough as "the best ornithological illustrator alive," William T. Cooper was a generous mentor to many wildlife artists. His willingness to share his knowledge and skills is epitomized in Capturing the Essence: Techniques for Bird Artists.

First published in 2011, Capturing the Essence is a step-by-step guide that offers practical advice to observing birds, retaining the essential information and then painting them from field notes and sketches, photographs and other observations.

The author takes the reader through the processes involved in oil painting, watercolor and acrylic techniques, and a piece of art is built up in stages to demonstrate the skills required in each of these media. While the book concentrates on birds, much of the general basics will be relevant to painting a wide variety of natural history and wildlife subjects.

This re-release edition will ensure a whole new generation of artists can learn and benefit from William T. Cooper’s timeless knowledge and expertise.


  • A personal insight into the work of one of Australia’s greatest wildlife artists.
  • A "how to" book that will appeal to people of many age groups and experience levels.
  • Describes art materials, drawing and painting principles, bird anatomy, as well as providing painting demonstrations using watercolors, acrylics and oils.
  • Originally published in 2011 and now re-released so that a new generation can benefit from the knowledge and skills of one of the world's most esteemed painters, William T. Cooper (1934-2015).

A tribute to William T. Cooper

Part A – the basics
Some principles of painting
Anatomy of birds (for the artist)
Sketching from life
Measured drawings
Black and whites

Part B – the paintings
A painting in watercolours
A painting in acrylics
A painting in oils
Recommended reading

William T. Cooper, AO

William T. Cooper AO (1934–2015) originally painted landscapes and seascapes but turned to painting birds because of a lifelong love of natural history. He collaborated on many bird monographs with Joseph M. Forshaw. In 1990, William was awarded the Philadelphia Academy of Science Gold Medal, and in 1994 he was appointed an Officer of the Order of Australia for his contribution to art and to ornithology. A collection of his original paintings is owned by the National Library of Australia and many others are in private collections around the world.

Other books illustrated by William T. Cooper include Pigeons and Doves in Australia written by Joseph M. Forshaw, and Australian Rainforest Fruits: A Field Guide, written by Wendy Cooper.

ornithology, bird paintings, art, natural history