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10 tips for drawing birds

Updated on June 5, 2012


Focused Photos. Work from good photos. You will drive yourself mad trying to discern details from a fuzzy photo. Investing in and learning a good photo editing program will help. While I use Photoshop, Picasa is a free photo editing program. It is fairly easy to use and does the basics.

Originality. A photographer’s work is their work. As an artist who draws from photographs, your job is to interpret the photograph. Take your own photos or use other’s photos as a starting point. You will find your photo editing program will come in handy helping you combine elements from different photos and making compositions that are truly original.

Composition. Understanding the basics of good composition will give your work the balance needed to elevate your drawing to fine art. The intricacies of composition are beyond the scope of this article. But, a great question to start with is: what is my focal point? What do I want people to be drawn to? Placing this element of interest on the page in a pleasing or provocative location is the essence of good composition.

Natural Environment. Do your research and place birds in their natural environment. This means placing them around plants and animals indigenous to their natural habitat.

Relationships. When you have more than one bird in a composition, have them relate to each other. Having birds on random branches looking in different directions can be distracting. How you position birds to each other can communicate a story beyond the mechanical composition of your drawing.

Build it. A cardinal isn’t just red. It is a multitude of reds turning subtly from vibrant scarlet to a muted rustic red. Learn to build color using several colors and rather than hard line to delineate a change in color. Work towards allowing the colors to mingle and merge into one another.

Backgrounds. I prefer to work on colored pastel paper. Choosing either a complimentary colored background or a color predominant in the image you want to render will save you countless hours. When working with white paper, unless you render the entire background, you will run the risk of your focal point floating on the page.

Whites. Working on colored paper makes achieving white highlights a challenge. For the highlights in the eyes I use acrylic paint and a liner brush. Just a tiny dab will do you. The paint can be laid right over the pencil. For other white highlights, I use a white charcoal pencil. It is important to lay down your white charcoal first and work your color in around them. Due to the waxy nature of colored pencils, you will not be able to lay the white charcoal over the pencil with much success.

Score it. Create texture by scoring the paper with an embossing tool. This is a really effective way to illustrate the spine of the feather. Use a firm but gentle touch avoiding tearing the paper. I always mount my paper to crescent board and flap to protect my work (see my tutorial.)

Sharpen up. While for accurate drawing, it is a good practice to draw with sharp pencils, it is really important when rendering feathers. By pressing down and then quickly flicking the pencil up in the direction of the feather, you will create the sharp tailored tip of the feather.

The remarkable beauty of nature is a never ending source of inspiration!


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    • Johanna Baker profile image

      Johanna Mary Elisabeth Baker 5 years ago from Christchurch, New Zealand

      Great tips for composing and creating some fantastic works of art, thanks for the help and encouragement

    • tobusiness profile image

      Jo Alexis-Hagues 5 years ago from Bedfordshire, U.K

      I'm so envious of people with artistic talent, mostly because I'm absolutely hopeless at drawing. However, my little niece seem to have a natural ability for art so I do encourage her, by commissioning her work. Love the images, especially the humming-bird. Voting up and useful

    • gregoriom profile image

      Deninson Mota 5 years ago from East Elmhurst, NY


      Beautiful drawings.

    • jhamann profile image

      Jamie Lee Hamann 5 years ago from Reno NV

      Incredible drawings and a well designed and written informative hub. Thank you. Jamie

    • Angela Brummer profile image

      Angela Brummer 5 years ago from Lincoln, Nebraska

      Amazing pictures! My daughters and I love to draw and this will be great information! I will share this!

    • Gulf Coast Sun profile image

      Gulf Coast Sun 5 years ago from Gulf of Mexico

      Love your hubs. Been into art, oils, acrylics and now watercolor. Starting pen and ink last year. Love the outdoors especially flora, birds, water and landscape a total of 45 years. Always looking to learn new techniques.

    • kuttingxedge profile image

      S.P. Kelly 6 years ago from Just outside of international extradition agreements

      I particularly like the first photo! The detail in the flower is amazing! Thanks for the instruction.

    • LittleHomestead profile image

      LittleHomestead 6 years ago from Illinois

      I like your suggestion to use paint for the white can be a struggle to get a bright white on colored paper, or over layers of colored pencil.

    • Marko M profile image

      Marko M 6 years ago from Kingsville, Tx

      Beautiful drawings.