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How to draw and paint animals and birds

Updated on December 1, 2014
"Swimming against the tide"
"Swimming against the tide" | Source

Learn how to draw and paint birds, animals and wildlife

Many people love animals, birds and wildlife. It's not surprising that very many people also want to be able to draw and paint wildlife and animals of every sort.

This website focuses on:

  • the best books about drawing and painting animals and wildlife
  • the best books about drawing birds
  • reviews of those books

In future I will also be adding in links to advice and information for those wanting to draw animals and wildlifeThis is a new website and will continue to develop in the next few months

Illustration: Swimming against the tide by the author (Katherine Tyrrell)

How to draw and paint animals and birds

"The Turkey Trot" pen and ink drawing by the author Katherine Tyrrell  (Thanks to Dan Smith 'Turkeys on path' - This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license.)
"The Turkey Trot" pen and ink drawing by the author Katherine Tyrrell (Thanks to Dan Smith 'Turkeys on path' - This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license.) | Source

"Observe much and long and draw quick and little"

The basic rule for those wanting to draw animals is that an animal illustrator should "observe much and long and draw quick and little".

Drawing animals and birds requires a good understanding of their anatomy and how they move.

In addition to studying animals from life and reviewing photographic reference books and studying animals from life a good book about how to draw animals can be very helpful to both the budding and experienced animal artist.

  • Which out of the very many books about drawing animals and birds are likely to be the most helpful?
  • Which have stood the test of time?
  • Which are recommended by animals artists?

I've reviewed the recommendations of a number of animal artists and the same books come up time and again. You'll find the following books, recommended by a number of animals artists, to be of help.

It's worth noting that it's not uncommon for a book to do very well in one country and not so well in another - and vice versa. It's particularly common to books which focus on indigenous animals and/or birds of the country of origin - which are then 'foreign' when the book travels! (See the books about birds below by way of example).

Drawing and Sketching Birds

Birds are very popular

If you go to any exhibition of wildlife art you will see an enormous number of drawings, paintings, prints and sculptures which relate to birds.

That's probably because birds are probably the wildlife which people most often see. That and the fact a lot of people are totally devoted to birds.

Bird art also sells very well! That's because of the devoted following, many of whom are partial to a drawing or painting of their favourite animal.

"Bert takes grooming very seriously"  © Katherine Tyrrell - six pencil sketches of a heron having a serious grooming session (drawn from life) at my local ecology pond
"Bert takes grooming very seriously" © Katherine Tyrrell - six pencil sketches of a heron having a serious grooming session (drawn from life) at my local ecology pond | Source

Three key tips by Laws

  • notice the bird's posture
  • focus on the bird's proportions
  • check out the defining angles associated with this bird

The Laws Guide to Drawing Birds - by John Muir Laws

A VERY HIGHLY RATED BOOK BY PURCHASERS.

Ranked an average of 4.9 out of 5 stars by 87 customer reviews on amazon.com

Goodreads: 4.75 of 5 stars | 12 ratings | 3 reviews

Its focus is on sketching birds from life as a starting point to bird art.

The range of birds covered reflect the fact that John Laws is an American natural history artist.

This book is published in association with the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB).

In the past some reviews have reflected those who have been disappointed because the drawings are sketchy rather than very detailed hyperrealistic drawings copied from a photo. The latter is emphatically not what this book is about. The book is however best used by those who have mastered the basics of drawing and are now looking to learn how to apply basic concepts and techniques to drawing birds. It's written by somebody who observes and draws in the field - for those who want to do likewise

It covers:

  • Bird Drawing Basics
  • Mastering Bird Anatomy - with little gems like 'Understanding Bird feet'
  • Details and tips for common birds - note these are typically American birds
  • Birds in flight
  • Field Sketching
  • Materials and Techniques - unusually this comes last

Laws Guide to Drawing Birds, The
Laws Guide to Drawing Birds, The

Paperback: 128 pages

Publisher: Heyday; First Edition edition

(September 1, 2012)

 

Reviews of The Laws Guide to Drawing Birds

This American book has received a number of excellent reviews by those expert in drawing birds, those who are fans of watching birds and those who want to learn how to draw them

It's recommended by David Sibley who has written the foreword

About Charles Tunnicliffe

Charles Tunnicliffe was a British engraver, illustrator, and painter specialising in natural history. He was an acclaimed painter of birds. He was best known as an illustrator of books with most featuring his natural history illustrations, particularly of birds.A Chronology of Charles Tunnicliffe1901 - born in Langley, Cheshire in 1901. (He lived most of his life on Anglesey)1915-21 - studied at Macclesfield School of Art1921–25 - studied at the Royal College of Art; Awarded Diploma for Painting1925-29 - taught part-time at Woolwich Polytechnic1932 - became wellknown as the artist who created the wood engravings for 'Tarka the Otter'1944 - elected Associate of the Royal Academy of Arts in 1944 2nd World War - assistant art master at Manchester Grammar School1954 - elected a Royal Academician and entitled to put RA after his name1974 - exhibition his bird drawings opened at the Royal Academy1974 - won the RSPB Gold Medal 1977 - awarded an O.B.E in 19771979 - died in February 1979.

A Sketchbook of Birds - by C F Tunnicliffe

Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars See all reviews (4 customer reviews)

This book portrays a wealth of different types of birdlife.

It's been called one of the best bird books ever published.

A Sketchbook of Birds
A Sketchbook of Birds

Publisher: Henry Holt & Co;

First Edition edition

(January 1982)

 

Tunnicliffe's Birds: Measured Drawings - by Charles Frederick Tunnicliff (Editor)

Tunnicliffe completed 300 measured drawings of birds over the course of some 40 years of studying birdlife.

This book contains those measured drawings and the book reveals that works of technical preciseness can also be works of art

Tunnicliffe's Birds: Measured Drawings by C.F. Tunnicliffe
Tunnicliffe's Birds: Measured Drawings by C.F. Tunnicliffe

Hardcover:160 pages

Publisher: Little Brown & Co (T);

First American edition

September 1984

 

Drawing and Painting Birds - by Tim Wootton SWLA

Rated:

  • UK - an average of 4.9 out of 5 stars (11 customer reviews)
  • USA - an average of 4.2 out of 5 stars (6 customer reviews)

The UK author of this book is a prizewinning member of the Society of Wildlife Artists in the UK and is a fulltime professional artist who is committed to working in the field to draw and paint birds.

You can read his blog at TIM WOOTTON WILDLIFE ART

Those wishing to learn how to develop their skills in observation, sketching in the field, collecting reference material and also painting in the field will value this book.

Drawing and Painting Birds
Drawing and Painting Birds

Paperback: 160 pagesPublisher: Crowood Press (June 1, 2011)

 

Reviews of "Drawing and Painting Birds"

Below you can find links to reviews on blogs by animal artists who have read and reviewed this book

Drawing and Painting Wildlife

Natural History Painting: With the Eden Project - by Meriel Thurstan and Rosie Martin

Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars See all reviews (6 customer reviews)

You don't often see a book commenting on how to draw and paint the subject matter covered by this book.

It includes rocks, birds, bugs, sealife, fish, shells, pebbles, feathers, bark, beetles, crystals – the contents of a compendium of country walks

This is a book for artists wanting to apply their art education to drawing and paintings natural history

Natural History Painting: With the Eden Project
Natural History Painting: With the Eden Project

Hardcover: 144 pagesPublisher: Batsford (August 4, 2009)

 

Keith Brockie's Wildlife Sketchbook - by Keith Brockie

Rated an average of 4.7 out of 5 stars by 3 readers

Recommended by John Laws (see above)

Keith Brockie is a Scottish born freelance artist specialising in wildlife who's been involved in a lot of environmental awareness projects around the world. If you want a sense of his approach to art, try looking at his wildlife paintings on Flickr. He also posts his artwork on Facebook

So - how does he go about painting wildlife? This book details his methods for drawing and sketching wildlife in the field - plus notes and commentary about the ecological and environmental context for the subject matter.

Keith Brockie's Wildlife Sketchbook
Keith Brockie's Wildlife Sketchbook

Hardcover: 130 pagesPublisher: Macmillan Pub Co (September 1981)

 

NEW BOOK in 2014: Wildlife Artists Handbook

This is a brand new book for 2014 - I've been sent a copy to review and will be posting that review very soon.

In the meantime 8 readers in the UK have rated it an average of 4.9 out of 5 stars!

The Wildlife Artist's Handbook
The Wildlife Artist's Handbook

Paperback: 160 pages

Publisher: Crowood Press

(May 1, 2014)

 

NEW BOOK: Drawing and Painting Insects - by Andrew Tyzack

Another brand new book about drawing for 2014 - this time focusing on drawing and painting insects.

I don't think I've ever seen a book on this topic before

Drawing and Painting Insects
Drawing and Painting Insects

Paperback: 224 pages

Publisher: Crowood Press

(May 1, 2014)

 

Domestic Animal Art

Drawing from Line to Life - by Mike Sibley

This book is written by one of the world's few professional graphite artists and is particularly suitable for people wanting to draw animals using graphite

RECOMMENDED by Gayle Mason (Fur in the Paint) who has reviewed this book (see Book Review - Drawing from Line to Life by Mike Sibley)

Rated and average of 5.0 out of 5 stars by 8 customers in the UK

Drawing from Line to Life
Drawing from Line to Life

Paperback: 288 pagesPublisher: MSFA Publishing (2006)

 

The Artist's Guide to Drawing Animals: How to Draw Cats, Dogs, and Other Favorite Pets Paperback - by J.C. Amberlyn

Highly rated - rates and average of 4.8 out of 5 stars based on 6 customer reviews

The Artist's Guide to Drawing Animals: How to Draw Cats, Dogs, and Other Favorite Pets
The Artist's Guide to Drawing Animals: How to Draw Cats, Dogs, and Other Favorite Pets

Paperback: 192 pages

Publisher: Watson-Guptill

(November 20, 2012)

 

BOOK: Drawing & Painting Wild Animals - by Vic Bearcroft

Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars See all reviews (1 customer review)

This book hasn't really made a mark on the US market - however it's written by a a professional wildlife and pet portrait artist who works in dry media and also teaches about drawing animals in dry media

Drawing & Painting Wild Animals
Drawing & Painting Wild Animals

Paperback: 128 pagesPublisher: Search Press (October 1, 2012)

 

© 2013 Katherine Tyrrell

Comments and Feedback - Has this site helped you?

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    • peachpurple profile image

      peachy 2 years ago from Home Sweet Home

      oh, you are so talented in drawing animals, where did you get the inspiration?

    • makingamark profile image
      Author

      Katherine Tyrrell 2 years ago from London

      I forgot to add (for the benefit of Yvette) - when minded to be very critical and to cast doubt on somebody's integrity, the sensible thing to do is to check out the author's profile first.

      All you need to do is click the name of the author which you can find top right on any hub. That will take you to their profile page and that very often tells you a lot more about the author and their level of expertise on a subject area or topic.

    • makingamark profile image
      Author

      Katherine Tyrrell 2 years ago from London

      Dear Yvette

      1) You may be skeptical - and very rude - however I am an artist and an author. Since you choose to cast doubt on both these assertions I must point out that my book about drawing - published by well known art book publishers - comes out in January.

      2) These are all my drawings. Are you suggesting I am a lier? Maybe you think I'm a thief as well and use other people's drawings without their permission? I can only assume you didn't click any of the source links! Don't you think it would be wiser to check your facts before making the assertion in your opening sentence?

      3) You fail to recognise that this is a site which has been transferred to HubPages from Squidoo. We have a period of time allowed to edit our hubs. Maybe you're unaware of this? My plan is that this particular site will transfer to a new website I'm building.

      4) Obviously you've never checked on Amazon or you would know that in fact Amazon categories and listings are absolutely appalling! I've been making sites about books for many years BECAUSE it's so difficult to find a list of decent books on Amazon. You may be skeptical but IN FACT curated lists of books are in fact very much appreciated.

      5) Shame on me for respecting the fact that a lot of people aspire to be animal and wildlife artists who sell their art! I've been reviewing and writing about art for very many years and I'm well aware of what's popular - and just how many would-be artists would like to develop their skills to become animal and wildlife artists who can sell their art. An awful lot of animal and wildlife artists are self-taught - and a lot of them learned how to drawn animals and wildlife through studying books.

      I'm so sorry that you felt you knew better than me and needed to be so rude when leaving a comment.

    • profile image

      Yvette 3 years ago

      I'm skeptical the birds are the "author's own" drawings considering the atrocious layout of this article, and other articles by this "author." What an obnoxious page of ads for art books! I could just go to Amazon.com. You can't say it's the limitations of the platform as I have seen other drawing guides on this site that present information in a less cluttered format, with a logical flow, without a hundred ads. Someone needs to go back to art school!

      And, this doesn't even explain how to draw birds! It says birds are a popular subject that sell well and buy all these books so I can make a commission. Hub-Pages really means it when they say anyone can "write" here. Shameful!