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).
Video by Funkenbeachin.