Capturing the Essence

Hardback - June 2024 - AU $59.99

A re-release of William T. Cooper's invaluable guide for aspiring wildlife and nature artists.

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 epitomised in Capturing the Essence: Techniques for Bird Artists. + Full description

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, watercolour 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.

- Short description


This re-release edition is publishing in June 2024. Need your copy sooner? The original edition (2011) is still available to purchase in eBook format.


Reviews of the original edition:

"Beautifully presented, this detailed yet accessible book will appeal to both beginner and experienced wildlife artists. So stunning are the images, and clear and friendly the text, the book may well compel bird or wildlife enthusiasts to take up painting or sketching who have never considered doing so."
Denise Elias, Sunbird 41(2), 2011

"Each painting a true work of art! Wildlife artists, and bird enthusiasts, are fortunate indeed that Cooper has decided to provide us with an insight into how he goes about creating his art, and in doing so I believe he gives us a deeper appreciation of his formidable talent… Just try it, put away the camera, pick up the pencil! Capturing The Essence shows a master at work, but highlights that the rewards of such an approach to studying birds are tangible to us all."
Steve Tredinnick, Corella 35(4), December 2011

“The presentation of this book is visually exciting. I could not wait to read the text and it does not disappoint. It will appeal to both the artist and the observer who love birds in the wild… Capturing the Essence is a beautiful book and will capture the heart of everyone who enjoys birds.”
Noelle Rigby, The Bird Observer, August 2011

"There is absolutely no doubt that William Cooper is one of the world’s greatest living bird artists... this book contains all the information any budding bird painter could wish for."
Talking Birds, July 2011


Hardback | June 2024 | $ 59.99
ISBN: 9781486318612 | 128 pages | 200 x 260 mm
Publisher: CSIRO Publishing
Colour Paintings


  • Personal insight into the work of one of Australia’s greatest living artists.
  • A ‘how to’ book that will appeal to people of many age-groups and experience.
  • Divided into a Part A (describing art materials, drawing and painting principles and bird anatomy) and a Part B (painting demonstrations using watercolours, acrylics and oils).
  • Originally published in 2011, and now re-released so that a whole 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

View the full table of contents (PDF, 91KB)


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 (USA) 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.