Shorebirds are great subjects to sketch. They will hang out and nap in plain sight, do not hide in vegetation and will return to the same postures again and again (feeding, resting, sleeping, etc.). Once you are familiar with the basic structure, you can adapt it to drawing any shorebird by modifying the beak shape and proportions. I hope that this step by step tutorial and video will help you master the basics of how to draw shorebirds. Let me know how your sketches are developing.
Click on each picture below to enlarge the image and captions.
Posture: Start with a line representing the angle of the bird’s body. Imagine a line going through the long axis of the body. Make your introductory lines as light as you can while still being able to see them. I use a col-erase non-photo blue pencil.
Body: Place the oval of the body on the posture line like a hotdog on a stick.
Head: Place the head trying as best you can to match the distance from the body, size, and location (it is really easy to make the head to big and too far forward).
Check your Proportions: Look again, and again. Ask yourself did you make that head too large? I did (oops). If you are drawing lightly it is easy to change at this stage. Once you add any detail it is too late.
Bill: It is also easy to exaggerate the curvature of the bill. I like to use a straight line and note the location of the start of the downward inflection. It will be farther out than you suspect and not droop as much as you first think.
Angles: Look for the corners and angles in the body shape. Cut these in exaggerating the angles. This will counterbalance the over rounding that happens when you start with circles for your proportions. Remember the proportion circles are NOT the edges of the bird. They are only there to help you get the size of the head and body.
Negative Shares: Look past the bird to the shape of the air or water beyond it. By concentrating on these less detailed shapes you can better pick out the angles.
Legs: Note where the legs emerge from the bottom of the bird. Indicate how far down you see the ankle joint.
Linework: Draw over your guidelines with deliberate strokes. You have solved many of the major problems in the drawing already. Note how I soften some of the angles a little as I come around the corner. The far leg is drawn a little more lightly to suggest depth.
Add text: If your drawing starts to feel like a precious art project, pop it back into the realm of field notes by annotating the drawing. Once you have words on the page your brain will treat it like the record of observations that it is.
Now the bird moves! Our curlew is going to sleep, burying the bill in its feathers. Just add another head on the back of the bird and keep on sketching.
Hydra curlew: One body, two heads, the drawing is starting to animate and tell a story.
Shadow: I like to start a watercolor by painting the shadows. Here I use a mixture of mud from my palette and Daniel Smith’s Shadow Violet.
Base Color: Start with the big areas of color and move into detail. Here I overpaint the shadow with brown, fading to orange on the chest.
Details: Once the base coat is bone dry, I add details with the tip of my brush- steaks on the head and chest and back.
Details-step 2: Now I add bars across the stripes and onto the flanks with fine strokes. I am not adding feather by feather detail, just suggesting the sense of the plumage.
Water: Water does not need to be blue! Give yourself the freedom to paint the colors that you see. Water will reflect the colors of the sky and whatever is around, giving infinite possibilities.
Mudflats: Bold dark mudflats give solidity an contrast with the light water. Make this mud too light and it will feel like smudges on the paper. I used Daniel Smith Bloodstone Genuine (one of my favorite colors).
Erase one chest: I felt that the lines representing the chests of the two postures was a little confusing so I erased that for the head up posture. The metadata (date, location, weather, time) should be appended to every sketch. This turns the drawing from a picture to scientific notes.
More notes: As the bird became more comfortable, it hid one leg up in its feathers. Some observations are more easily recorded with written notes. Others with a sketch.
To watch and listen to this process in my recent lecture on drawing shorebirds, Watch the video below starting at 0:10:40.