Since I’m focusing on how to draw birds in my upcoming free online workshop, I wanted to take a look at five quick tips for better bird drawings today.
Study Bird Anatomy
If you want to draw a convincing bird, you need to understand what lies beneath the surface. When you draw something, you simplify it, and without knowing what you see, you can’t simplify it.
Your drawings will become much better when they’re based on knowledge and not just on how something appears to look.
Familiarize yourself with bird anatomy if you want to make better drawings of birds.
Birds can seem a complicated subject because of their movement and all their different shapes and feathers, but with a bit of understanding of their anatomy and knowing what to look at, you will produce better drawings.
Make gestural drawings
A great technique to start with is to make quick gestural sketches of birds – to capture their movement and posture, but also to train yourself to draw moving subjects. If you want to draw live birds, then this is an essential skill. Don’t expect a finished, perfect drawing from these studies – they are what their name suggest, gestural studies. You will be surprised how much life and movement you can convey in a few simple strokes.
Don’t be afraid to leave your sketches unfinished at first – very often you will see that birds come back to their previous pose after a while.
Block in the general posture first, not the details. That way you will have something to work with when the bird flies away.
Even if you only want to draw birds from photos, adopting this technique will improve the quality of your drawings a lot.
Begin By Sketching – A Lot
In my experience it’s best to approach drawing birds, like any topic really, by sketching. Sketching a lot. I keep a nature journal in which I draw birds on an almost daily basis, and since I’ve started this I’ve seen huge improvements in my technique.
This also ties in to the technique I’ve mentioned above. Like with any skill, you don’t improve by having one perfect result, but lots and lots of trials (and errors). Embrace this thought of quantity over quality when it comes to drawing.
Since sketching birds is a lot of fun, this step usually isn’t the hardest.
Take photos with a grain of salt
When you draw a bird from a photo, don’t just take what you see for granted. The photograph is already an adaption of what the bird is like in reality. Perspective, light, colors, depth, all of these things can be changed and distorted in a photo. Photos can look flat, hide key features in shadow, and sometimes have massively differing colors from the real bird. I’m not saying never to draw from photos (I do it too and I believe it’s great for practicing and observing details!), but to be aware of the things that can be changed by a photo. It’s always best to rely on direct observation, particularly for colors, and to know how you can achieve a certain depth and perspective in a drawing.
Draw What You See
Approach every bird as a new shape. Even individual birds from the same species can differ a bit from each other (like us humans do). Don’t draw what you think is there, but what you can see. Trust the shape that you can see, and trust the bird. Don’t just rely on basic ovals to describe a birds body – work in the weird angles and shapes you can see if you really look at the bird. Look for negative shapes to help you while drawing.
Want to learn more? I will a teach a free online lesson about drawing birds in the upcoming Sketchbook Revival workshop! I will show my process for drawing birds there in a fun sketchbook session. You will also get access to over 20 other sessions by talented artists (illustrators, fine artists, art journalers, designers, expressive artists, etc.) from around the world. And there will be an online community for you to share your work! Join me for this, you will love it!
If you’re ready to dive into bird-drawing more in-depth, join my Skillshare class on drawing birds. You can absolutely do both, since I show a few different tricks in each class!