I have developed new ideas about how to draw a bird and make the quick sketch lines that capture the basic shape. Here is a walk through of my process with some refinements and new details.
Click on the first image in this series to see a step-by-step slide show.
Start with the posture. This is a line going through the central axis of the bird. That is the angle of the bird’s body, not including the tail.
Place an oval for the body. This also could be an egg shape with the larger end higher.
Add the head on top of your body. Pay attention to it’s size and distance and orientation to the body.
Double and triple check your head position and proportions. Most birds will hold their head back behind the level of the chest. I tend to make my heads too big. What is your tendency? This is your time to catch and change your mistakes.
Add a line through the eye and down the beak and a second line for the tail.
The head and body circles are NOT the edges of the bird. They are only there to help you get the proportions of the bird. Create the edges of the bird with angles. Look for the places where the edges turn. Do not be tempted to just follow your circles.
When carving in the angles, it helps to look at the negative spaces- the shape of the air in front of the throat, behind the head, below the tail. You often see interesting angles where the head and tail attach to the body.
Show the location of the leading edge of the wing from the point of the wrist (close to the head, to the tip of the wing. You may also want to add a smaller cross line to indicate where the secondaries stop.
Note the angle, length and origin of the legs.
If you draw these lines lightly, or with a pale, erasable non photo blue pencil, you have a great framework on which to add detail.
Add the major features of the bird, paying attention to the shapes of the edges.
Draw the legs and then the branch to meet the feet. If you draw the branch first, you may have to make the legs too long or put them in a strange position to meet the branch that is a little too far away.
Add more details to the drawing but avoid drawing in individual feathers unless you are doing an extreme close-up.
Lightly add color notes. If you write lightly, you can add them directly on top of the areas to be colored. I use my own codes for different colors, c for cyan, be for blue, bk for black etc.
Using your pencil, shade the bird. Let your pencil strokes show through to add texture and show the planes of the bird.
I like to add my shadows first with a gray-purple wash (mostly gray). If you add them at the end, they may blur your details and not work with your composition.
Now paint the local colors directly onto the dry shadows. Note that I use blue on the head but cyan on the back of the wing and tail. Blue and cyan are not the same thing. Look for them.
I added grays and soft browns to the body. There is a slight hint of buff in the chest. Add contrast with a dark bill and eye.
The day was overcast and gray. By painting a little window of color behind the bird, you get a sense of the habitat, even without detail.
Add written notes. This is not art class but field note taking. Some things are easier to show with words, some with a drawing. Be sure to include location, date, and weather.