Speed Drawing Birds II

Have you ever felt frustrated and overwhelmed drawing birds that keep moving and hopping around? Me too. Here is a great approach to break it down and get that flighty fellow on the paper. The trick is to try to grab little bits and pieces of what you see, discrete observations, and record them on your paper, not as a head to toe drawing but as field notes. Focus on one aspect of the bird and zero in on it from different angles. For example you could focus on the shape of the Junco’s hood, sketching 10 or more little heads with the shape of the hood from different angles and positions. A sense of what the hood does will seep into your brain. Once you have got it, you can jump to another detail such as the angle made by the junction of the Junco’s head and its back. Look up, notice one angle and jot it down on your paper. Do this again and again. Now try the angles made by the legs and the body, angle of the tail, shape of the body when seen from the front (how much white, how much black) shape of the mass of the wings, or whatever catches your eye. Fill up a page with these little notes and doodles.

You can get confused if you watch the bird too long, the angles and shapes with constantly change. To manage this, open and shut your eyes like the lens of a camera. You will have one pose momentarily burned into your vision. Jot it down before the vision fades. On the opposite side of the spectrum, you will run into trouble if you look at your drawing too long. The answers to your puzzles are out there on the bird. If you spend most of your time looking down at your paper, you will get sucked into the world of your lines and follow them instead of the lines of the real bird. Do not feel bad if you can not keep a detailed picture in your brain long enough to draw the whole bird. My memory will hold on to a detail for about five seconds. That is not long, but long enough for me to get it on paper. Then I look at the bird again.

I also find it really helps me to stay focused to talk out loud to the birds, verbalizing my observations. When I hear myself say my observation, it locks it into my memory. As I draw, I often am found mumbling observations to myself (see blog post on deep observation). Try incorporating both sketches and writing in your field notes. Some things are easier to show with a drawing, some with written notes.

When you get a bunch of notes together, you may, if you wish, compile them to draw a complete bird. You will have plenty of great raw observations to help with this. But do not feel compelled to do so. The most important part of what you are doing is actually in those notes, not is a portrait of the bird which often becomes more about the drawing than the observations and the bird itself.

Now give these ideas a try with a flock of Juncos! I suggest opening the video to full screen view (click the zoom box in the lower right side of the video screen).

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DR7LHCeam3c]

Video by Funkenbeachin.

5 thoughts on “Speed Drawing Birds II

  1. Great ideas! I’m definitely going to be trying this. When you break a bird down into its basic parts, the head, wings, beak, legs, etc., it makes drawing the bird much more simple and less confusing.

  2. Dianne says:

    I’m so sorry I’ve stumbled across your site. Now I must play hooky from work to get back into practice drawing these critters from my personal Sierra Mts. I apologize for being off topic but I have beaten the tar out of a book purchased quite by accident in some lodge near Donner Summit called “Sierra Birds”. It is the most beautiful pub. I’ve ever seen (and used!) in my life. I look forward to using your techniques and joining an outing in the Bay Area this summer. -Dianne G.

  3. Joseph A Nielsen says:

    John, I am fast approaching my 81 st birthday (June 29). For many years, more than I wish to admit, I have tried my hand at painting birds with limted success. Frustration has often been follwed by discouragement — sometimes leading to a “moo moo” face or worse — sulking. Luckily that feeling fades and I am once more on the long, winding trail to my goal. In the course of years, I have collected many books intended to help but I found most to be just a show case meant to display the artist’s talent.
    Finding your book, “Guide to Drawing Birds”, for the first time I have found a source of instruction I had long ago thought would never be available.

    your book iis a treasure trove of informaton, but more importantly conducts the reader through step by step process found in no other book of this type. I mine it daily and repeatedly. You have already answered many of my questions and have helped to push aside stumbling blocks that have hampered my progress for years.

    The book has become my field guide , and constant companion in the field and your web site only a click away I feel somewhat empowered to move on to fulfill a long held desire.

    Thank you!
    Joe Nielsen

  4. This is a fascinating site. Working very much as an amateur, bird studies have been very much the focus of my drawing for several years. I have to say the simplicity of your drawing advice is very helpful and accessible. I am buying your bird book but unfortunately from Amazon as I can’t get the link on your site to work.

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