Teaching Myself to Draw Birds!

I was still in the art mood after my last art series, so I thought I might as well teach myself something: to draw birds better!

My goal was to be able to pose birds in action, for future semi-realistic cartoons – basically, to reach a similar fluency with their anatomy as I have with humans.

The sketches below were done from photos and videos I took:

I started off by practicing how to build up from a gesture to a figure, using shapes.

For the first few studies which aren’t shown here, I referenced nature photography and anatomical diagrams that had more detail than my own photos.

This was loads of fun, and hopefully sets me up to include semi-realistic bird characters in my cartoons! And I need to decide on a category of animal to study next…

(Among the birds pictured are cedar waxwings, baby Canada geese, mallard ducks, a magpie, great horned owl, some kind of swamphen, a rail or crake or somebody, and a few fellers I can’t identify. If you know who and what they are, let me know!)

P.S. A few more details on how I got started.

  • I’ve been working through this class on drawing humans in action. ‘Gesture’ is a quick drawing that captures the dynamism of a pose with simple curved lines. I haven’t finished the course yet, but it’s already helped me draw people better.
  • I wanted to build up a similar technique for birds. This tutorial explains how to adapt the gesture technique to animals.
  • From there, I got a pile of photos and started scribbling. I landed on a method of starting with a curved line from beak to tail and a circle for the head, and adding forms onto that basic structure.

If you are brand new to drawing (and even otherwise), artist and author Betty Edwards recommends an exercise for seeing like an artist – drawing continuously while looking at your subject and not looking at the page at all. (Her book, Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain, was a huge help in leveling up my drawing skills.)

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