The body of a resting heron is confusing to understand anatomically. Instead of a head, neck, shoulder, wings, and chest, see the body parts as abstract shapes to copy and assemble. Focus on the unique shape of each of the parts.
Observe the posture, proportions, and angles of the head and body mass. Draw light lines to block in the relative size of the head and body. Once your guide lines are in place, fill in the body by breaking it down into interlocking geometric shapes. Your accuracy in observing the proportions and angles of each of these shapes will determine the accuracy of the drawing. If you just say “the neck bulges in the front,” your brain will take the easy path and you will draw a bulge below the head without really looking. However if you observe and describe the detail, you will say “from a point just under the base of the bill the neck angles out slightly, then drops straight down, then sharply in to a point, curving up to just above the shoulder, then turns up to the base of the beak,” and thereby capture the nuances of the shape. Assembling a drawing, one piece at a time, is my go to approach whenever I am confused by the anatomy of structure of what I am seeing.
This approach is even more powerful when combined with an anatomical understanding of the subject. If you know where the neck bends and connects, you will be better able to pick out and place the important angles that define the underlying structure.
Click on the first image to start a step-by-step slideshow.
Start with a light loose graphite pencil line to block in the posture and proportions of the heron. Then look at the shape of the head. Don’t think of it as a head, but an angular abstract shape.
See the neck as a dragon tooth, or comma. Attach it to the head shape.
See the shoulder as a semi-circle with a little tooth on the bottom. As you assemble the bird, piece, by piece, visualize each chunk as a flattened 2D shape.
The pieces begin to interlock with each other. Some edges of the new shapes will already be formed by edges of previous shapes.
Don’t think wing, see the angular shape.
As you add more shapes, the light gesture sketch keeps the proportions in check.
Shape, next to a shape, next to a shape. The drawing emerges.
Add value and detail and you have a heron.
Lay in the middle tones with transparent watercolor. Leave the highlights. This shadow was Daniel Smith Shadow Violet.
Add dark values with transparent watercolor. You can push rich darks with good watercolor.
Pop the light values with opaque gouache. This includes sunlit areas and lightly pigmented feathers,
Paint the background with opaque gouache, adding more white as you go down the page. You can match the background to what you see or invent one to add contrast. If the subject is light, add a dark background. If the subject is dark, add a light background. A few highlights add accent. Too many looses the impact.