Waterfowl migration season is on! Now is a great time to head down to the local duck pond and get your duck sketch on. Here are a few thoughts about drawing duck and goose heads in a step by step demonstration. Remember the proportions of the bill and angles of the head will change dramatically from species to species. A single species can even change the angles of its head by raising and lowering the feathers on its crown. Check your duck carefully. This step by step demonstration of how to draw ducks will help you draw what you see. Do not just copy this drawing as a template but use the ideas here to help you focus on the details of the duck before you.
Click on the thumbnails below to see the details of each step.
Using a non-photo blue pencil rough in the oval of the head. If you are also drawing the body, pay particular attention to the proportions of head to body.
The wedge of the bill starts flat from the bottom of the head. If you place the bill too high, the bird will look like a gull. The shape and slope of the upper bill will change between species.
Now carve in the angles around the edge of the head. Look for corners. This is not the place or time to round out the shape. Notice the space between the bill and the neck. It is easy to start the neck too close to the base of the bill.
When looking at the angles, it helps to see the “negative spaces” or the shapes behind the duck. Notice how focusing on the angle of the forehead is more easily seen when you focus on where there is no detail- the air beyond the duck, rather than the duck itself with all of its details.
Place a big puffy cheek from the base of the bill, back across the head.
The eye sits up on top of the cheek. Note the distance from the eye to the top of the bill and to the top of the head.
Now the “drawing” begins. With the underlying framework of the blue pencil, you can work deliberately and still know that your proportions and angles will be correct. A few notes about drawing the bill. Notice the subtle duck smile. You can see only a little wedge of the lower mandible where it connects to the face. There is an oblong nostril in the upper mandible and a little black hook or “nail” at the tip of the bill.
Add color notes if your duck may move off or change positions. I use my own system of one and two letter codes for all the colors. Some colors like orange of violet only get one letter (O,V). Many colors start with b and g so I use the first and last letter (BE for blue, BK for black).
I start with subtle shadows. I mix a purple-gray from shadow violet and other dark muddy smudges on my palette.
I use a water brush. The pigment on the brush starts out more concentrated and dilutes as I paint. I start painting in the darker or shadow areas first. As I work my way out onto the highlight of the cheek, the paint becomes more diluted on my brush tip.
The general rule in watercolor is to start lighter and work your way darker. With the exception noted in the last step, this is my general pattern. It is better to add dark detail over pre existing washes so that your details do not become smeared by subsequent brush strokes. I was interested to discover the dark patch at the back of the head. I had never noticed that before making this detailed field drawing. It was fun to look back over old illustrations and see how I had overlooked this subtle detail.
Many pintails in the Radio Road pond showed faint orange on their chests. Is this another plumage detail I have missed or something in the water?
Once the watercolor was bone dry, I added the last texture and highlights with a white prismacolor pencil. What look like quick strokes were carefully planned. Many of the strokes started with a little back and forth wiggle to make a brighter end of a highlight, then finished with a flick of the pencil.