View Full Version : Birds from Life

08-18-2010, 05:02 PM
Hi everyone,

At the risk of challenging Robert for the most in-process sketchbooks in this forum - :o :lol: - I've decided to start another one. This will be the same general theme as my other two - birds - but with a big difference. The next major step for me with birds is to draw them from life. For those who have visited my other two sketchbooks on birds, you know that I have basically used photographs or other drawings for reference - I have a large number of species that I've personally photographed, and also have several friends who have given permission to use their photos, and also I draw from field guides (since I'm not attempting to sell any of these images, there isn't any real issue with that). But ultimately, I want to be able to do credible drawings and paintings from life.

I've had two college-level figure drawing from life classes, but models more or less sit still for the sketching period (those classes focused on large drawings done quickly to build 'draw-what-you-see' skills and used poses that were a maximum of a half hour, with most being less).

Still, a short 5-minute pose with a human model is an eternity compared to what most birds do in the field. Some families of birds (warblers, as perhaps the best example) are well known for being in constant motion. Birders who carry high-power scopes, for example, rarely even try to get a warbler in the scope - relying instead on just binoculars - because it's usually a lost cause getting them to stay still even the few seconds required to get them in the scope's field of view. So, they're a challenging subject. And further complicating this, for me at least, being a serious birder, is the self-imposed pressure to get the key field marks correct. Problem is, a lot of key field marks are pretty subtle and/or require careful placement of feather groups and other parts of the bird's anatomy to be accurate. Yet it isn't my intention to become a photorealist artist - I'd rather go in the other direction of trying to capture the 'essence' of a bird. So, it's time to take the plunge and go for it.

I decided to do this first post without having a drawing in the new sketchbook yet so that I didn't waffle and back down...:lol: ! I also decided that I'm going to post everything I do, no matter how it comes out - if nothing else maybe it will inspire someone else interested in doing this to not be concerned about their work when they see some of the stinkers this sketchbook will probably produce...!

The sketchbook I've chosen is a 9 x 9" Aquabee Super Deluxe book because it's good heavy paper that will allow pastels if desired, and also takes wet media well. I have also set aside a 14 x 11" Aquabee in case the smaller one proves too small, and I may wind up using both books in this thread. I will allow myself to do watercolor and/or gouache washes after the from-life drawing if it seems like it might add to the drawing.

Finally, for those interested in some very inspiring references for from-life bird artwork, I've listed two books that are real favorites of mine. I'm not sure either one is still in print - although Busby probably is. The Tunnicliffe book is almost certainly out of print - I found a copy through Amazon.com. Both the artists/authors are from the British Isles, which have a long history of a keen interest in birding and natural history.

Busby, John. Drawing Birds. Published in the US by Timber Press, Inc., Portland, Oregon, 2005 and reprinted 2006.

Tunnicliffe, C.F. A Sketchbook of Birds. Published by Victor Gollanz Ltd., London, 1979.

Tunnicliffe produced his sketches between 1934 and 1962, and they are masterpieces. His subject matter is somewhat limited in that he focused a lot on waterbirds - gulls, terns, shorebirds, ducks, etc. - although other species are included as well.

Busby's work comes across to me as more spontaneous and 'sketchy' in a good from-life sense, and sometimes has hints of an Asian (sumi) flavor to it. Busby's book is more instructional, whereas the Tunnicliffe book is more of a body of work.

Sorry for the long introductory post. Maybe I'm delaying getting started with the real stuff...:) .

08-18-2010, 09:05 PM
Well, here are the first two sketches for this journal. We have a birdbath with a slow drip line on it, and it attracts birds to drink and bathe. The birdbath is about four feet from my computer work area, just outside a kitchen nook window. So, it's a very convenient observation point, although the birds always are aware of anyone sitting inside, and size me up carefully before dealing with the water. We also have a small recirculating stream just beyond the birdbath, which is also a bird magnet.

The first bird is a House Finch, one of the more common species that frequents the back yard. The overall coloration isn't bad here, but the details are not right - there is more patterning on the back. But...it's a start.


The next image shows two American Goldfinches, the most common species in the yard at this time of year (replaced by Pine Siskins or Dark-eyed Juncos in the colder months). One of the challenges of drawing from life is that you don't usually get the classic side view shown in the field guides and most photos. The pictures here are views from the backside of the birds. In the larger one, the bird landed on the little 'waterfall' gizmo in the birdbath, leaning over to take a drink, then sat up straight and rotated its head to check me out. The overall shape is passable, but I'm not clear on what the exact patterning between dark and yellowish is on the lower half of the back view. Doing these from life will really force me to see and remember details better than I've had to so far. The second smaller bird was an attempt to foreshorten the view to reflect the bird bending over to sip the water. The color of these birds is dull and drab compared to a male's full breeding plumage because these are either hatch year birds, or adults that have mostly molted into their drab non-breeding plumage.

C&C always welcome!


08-18-2010, 09:05 PM
Good luck John! I like hearing others challenge themselves to be pushed a little harder and out of the comfort zone (whilst I comfortable watch lol!).

I am sure you will find it extremely valuable to draw from life - you already have a strong knowledge of your subject from studying photos and other artists work, but watching the birds movement and behaviours will certainly increase your anatomy knowledge etc greatly. Looking forward to it ;)

08-18-2010, 09:08 PM
oops, we posted at the same time! You have made a great start! The finch on the drip feeder is very good, and the goldfinches have caught the essence - you can always add the extra details or the surrounds after the bird has flown!

08-18-2010, 09:11 PM
Thank you, Jackie!

08-18-2010, 10:06 PM
John, these are fantastic given the limitations of drawing them from life. You've got a great sketching perch. You're not only challenging me for most sketchbooks in this thread - thank you for that, it helps justify my habits - but also for "most fidgety models." Birds would be a serious pain compared to my cat. Ari at least holds two to five minute poses while he's sleeping or if he's feeling kind toward my sketching him.

I take it you drew the bird bath after the bird moved, at least I would've. Part of getting fast-moving critters from life is getting so used to their anatomy from photos that you can memorize the pose. One thing that may also help is using modeling clay - kids clay would work - to do a bird shaped maquette, a three dimensional one that can be turned and posed. That way your initial observation can focus on those accurate markings and other details. When it flies off you can finish up from the model, adapting it to that bird's proportions.

They have manikins for horses, dogs and a kitten, even for iguanas. I wonder why no one's come out with a bird manikin that's accurate in its proportions and has a moving head?

08-18-2010, 10:18 PM
Hi Robert,

Yes, I figure if I can get passably good at drawing birds from life, other nature subject (theoretically, anyway!) should be a bit easier. I did draw the birdbath after the bird. Actually, I got the overall bird shape in pencil first, then added the drip line, birdbath (and the bird's feet) after it was gone. I did the watercolor on the bird from memory, as I know this species quite well, although as mentioned I didn't attempt to get the details on the dorsal (top) of the bird accurate since I didn't have the bird long enough to do that.

Hadn't thought of clay, since I don't do any 3-D work (I have enough challenges with 2-D - :lol: ).

Good question on the mannikin. My guess would be that there are too many families of birds that have significantly different anatomical structures, although there are obviously differences between cat and dog breeds as well. But the differences between birds is significant - think Great Blue Heron and House Sparrow, as only one example.

Thanks for looking.

08-19-2010, 06:43 PM
Here are three more I did today. All are in the 9 x 9" book, done in pencil from life, then adding a watercolor wash after the drawing was complete.

The first one is more American Goldfinches drinking at the birdbath. Drawing birds as they're drinking will be good practice because they are always going to be at an angle of some sort that is not the standard 'side shot' that the guidebooks use. The first bird here is on the drip tube, and leaning and twisting down and forward to scoop up a drop or two of water as it drips. The second bird is on the edge of the birdbath and bending over to drink. One interesting fact about birds and drinking - except for the Rock Pigeon (the common 'barn and bridge' pigeon we all know about), birds can't swallow like humans can where the muscles of the esophagus contract and allow things to be swallowed 'upside down'. The birds have to fill their bill with water, then lift their heads up and back and the water runs by gravity down to their stomach. Check it out if you have a birdbath...


The next image is of a Rock Pigeon (these are the 'feral' - meaning non-native birds that escaped from captivity and established themselves in a location they didn't originally inhabit) - the common 'bridge and barn' pigeon we are all familiar with. This bird did not survive a collision in the yard (our windows have a couple of 'ghost prints' of pigeons that smacked into the windows - generally they are just stunned and eventually fly off). So I took advantage of the opportunity and sketched it quickly (10-15 minutes max). I'm glad it wasn't a native bird, especially a relatively rare one. John James Audubon, as many of you may know, did all his famous bird paintings from dead birds - a bit ironic given his name association with Audubon societies. It was a different time then, although on some unusual occasions biologists will still 'collect' specimens for close study. Nowadays, if you want to draw with great accuracy, the best way to do that in addition to photos (which really are limiting) is to go to a natural history museum and draw from preserved bird 'skins' that they keep. It's also good to know that museums do this in that if you ever find a bird hit by a car (assuming it's in decent shape) or one that didn't survive a window collision, put the bird in a ziplock bag and then in the freezer. Call the history museum and let them know what you have and ask if they are interested. 95% of the time they will be, even with common species - they keep multiple specimens to study individual variations and particularly species with multiple subspecies. Be aware it is technically illegal to possess birds like this, but museums have permits and realistically no one is going to bother you if you keep one to give to a museum. With endangered species, of course, your best bet is to immediately contact your state's department of fish and wildlife and let them disposition the bird. So here is the Rock Pigeon...


The final drawing is a White-crowned Sparrow sitting in our neighbor's spruce tree at the corner of our lot. In fact, there were 7 of this species - 3 adults and 4 juveniles - sitting in the tree when I drew this. They fortunately sat there calmly for about ten minutes while I was doing the drawing. My wife calls birds 'Christmas tree ornaments' when this happens. The details on the head are not right on this bird, but getting better accuracy will come with more practice (I hope!). I also think the bird's body is a bit too elongated. Adult White-crowned Sparrows have black and white stripes on their head as shown here. Juvenile (or 'hatch year') birds of this species have alternating dark and light brown stripes until they molt into their adult plumage.


08-19-2010, 09:20 PM
Great work John! I love the little one on the drip feeder - the stance looks as I imagine it should. Shame about the pigeon, but good opportunity for you to observe it closely, I particularly like the colours you've used and your washes are very subtle and pure. I can't testify to the accuracy of your work as I don't know much about birds, but I do like the way you are going about your sketchbook and making notes with your sketches :)

08-19-2010, 11:56 PM
Thank you, Jackie!

08-20-2010, 08:59 PM
John these are really good. I love the idea of the drip feeder in your yard, what a great place to watch your visitors. The drinking poses are very natural and interesting. You have given me a whole new appreciation of birds. Not that I didn't love looking at them in the first place. The other day I was waiting at the train station and there was a bread roll someone had left on the bench next to me, a bird very bravely came over and investigated it while I was sitting there. I think it was one of the smaller wattle birds we get. It was so nice to sit and really look at the soft colouring variation in the feathers and its shape while enjoying its company and antics. Thank you for that.

08-21-2010, 02:46 AM
John, your latest ones are great. I love the goldfinches, they have so much personality. Great detail and accuracy on the rock pigeon - especially the neck iridescence is beautifully painted. The white-crowned sparrow, yes, it's inaccurate but not what you think. The body's proportioned right. I've seen sparrows a lot, and I'm used to spotting proportion errors - the head and feet are too small for the body, you painted it to two different scales. Very common error, especially in life drawing. A very natural one in terms of measuring, if working down the body it's easy to go off a little and have that become progressive.

Happens a lot in portraits too - even though I did portraits for a living for years I still sometimes sketch a person and get a perfectly drawn mouth that's too small for the nose and the rest of the face, or too large, or one eye much bigger than the other. Head's detailed, takes concentration and care, lots of little strokes. Body's looser and strokes more vigorous so your hand goes a bit looser.

They diminish with time and habit, mostly with the number of times painting the same subject in different poses. I've done Ari literally hundreds of times but if I'm tired sometimes he gets the tiny feet of a lady cat or the giant head of a baby kitten.

On a very close look, the back of the head is a lost and found line. All that's there is the sketch line. So if the back of the head expanded by about an eye width, and modeling shadows were used to define it (gray-blue against white) that would correct the problem nicely - since the eyes are that close to the beak normally.

As for the legs, that's probably when he moved - they look blocked in, not as nicely detailed as the rock pigeon's feet.

I think what I'm awed by here is that you're painting them from life.

Not just sketching them where a quick swipe of a kneaded eraser can fix a proportion error or lighten a misplaced dark area or remove it, but actually painting, right on the spot, from life. That's incredible. Your accuracy on those goldfinches is amazing and the sparrow's beautiful despite the proportion error and sketchy feet.

08-22-2010, 01:22 AM
Thanks Jacqui and Robert!

Robert, thanks for the detailed comments, and yes the legs are too short. I think in reality the toes were buried in the spruce tree and I shouldn't have put them in.

Also, to make clear...I'm painting them after sketching them, not during the actual sketch. That was in my opening post that I was going to allow myself to add watercolor and/or gouache after the sketch, but the post was so long it was pretty buried.

What I'll do on future posts is to make clear what was done from life and what was done after. On the posts so far, the watercolor was done immediately after the pencil sketch.


08-22-2010, 02:36 PM
That makes sense, John. I often shade or color on a life sketch after the subject's wandered off into the bathroom.

One thing that would be cool, especially for anyone who hasn't tried life drawing yet, would be if you scan your life sketch and then do your coloring, shading, tweaking and fixing. It'd be great to see what you got on your first go and then see how you develop it afterwards. I do this all the time in life sketching and I'll try to remember to do a progress scan after the cat moves when I post mine.

08-22-2010, 10:53 PM
Good suggestion, Robert and I will try to do that on some future birds.

These are three pages in the 9x9" sketchbook that I did this Friday and Saturday in Hoquiam, WA, where my band played at a music festival. Hoquiam is on the ocean, and I drove to a couple places to see some gulls and other waterbirds. These are very quick (5 minute) pencil gesture sketches. Instead of 'regular' watercolor, this time I added the colors today (Sunday) using Albrect Durer watercolor pencils from Faber Castell. I love their Polychromos oil-based colored pencils, and this was really my first attempt with their watercolor pencils - which I think are going to be equally satisfying.

Most of these sketches were of birds that were far enough away to require binoculars. So I would take a look, then draw a line or do some shading, then look back, etc. Challenging, but good practice. I also need to fill up the pages better - my sketches are smaller than they need to be (or should be) and the birds are therefore unnecessarily small.

The first page has a Great Blue Heron and a California Gull from a sewage treatment plant lagoon (final 'polishing' basins like this are often gold mines for birding, especially if they're near the ocean).

The second page has a couple views of a Glaucous-winged Gull (our most common gull in western WA state) and a Western Gull (also pretty common). The straight-on view looks pretty goofy but I am going to post everything here, good or bad.

The final page is a Barn Swallow that was resting on a barbed wire fence near the same lagoon. I was excited to see a couple of these birds actually perching fairly still within painting distance. I stayed in the car, as they would have flown had I gotten out (cars make good bird 'blinds' many times, because birds are very used to cars as non-threatening, whereas they react more strongly and more quickly if there is a human in the situation.)

C&C always welcome.




08-23-2010, 12:28 PM
These are excellent! I recognized the heron and barn swallow immediately from the drawing, also the gulls though I didn't know their names. I've seen them. I love the different poses you got. Great coloring with the Albrecht Durer pencils. I think those are working out well for you coloring the life sketches - washing them is easy and you've got good control of tone and hue with them.

Wow. Great new pages here! Keep birding and drawing! Now you've got me interested in doing birds, even though my window is not a great birding spot because our dogs patrol the back yard that's my view.

08-23-2010, 09:18 PM
The gulls are lovely - very spontaneous and lightly washed - perfectly suggests a "seaside" feeling! I think these are some of my favourite ones..... ;)

08-24-2010, 03:30 PM
This is amazing! No, really, I mean it. Doing birds from life has got to be a huge challenge. I have a hard enough time drawing the inanimate from life, I can only imagine what it would take to draw something moving so quickly as a bird from life. I'm enjoying following your adventure.

08-24-2010, 04:35 PM
Thanks Robert, Jackie and Debby!

Yes, drawing birds from life is a challenge. It sometimes makes it intimidating to post the results, because sometimes the results are pretty 'wonky'. With a photo, you can take your time, make corrections, etc. - but a bird may only be in a given location and position for a matter of seconds, rarely more than a few minutes (and moving around typically during that time in one spot). I'll keep posting as time goes along...!

08-24-2010, 08:26 PM
Wow, John. You have set yourself a challenge. I think I'd have to limit myself to birds that were roosting. :D

08-25-2010, 10:55 PM
Thanks, Herb. Yes, it's definitely a challenge. I am ascribing to the logic (from some excellent bird artists) that 'any line in a sketchbook from life is a good line' - meaning the only way you learn to sketch from life is to sketch from life. It's been fun so far!

08-26-2010, 11:13 PM
Here is a page of American Goldfinch sketches of the birds outside my kitchen windows. I tried to depict a number of the different orientations of the birds. Some came out reasonably ok, given my small amount of experience doing from-life birds, and some are good for a chuckle. But, it's all good learning experience, and necessary dues to be paid to get better.

The bottom ones are graphite only and I decided not to do a watercolor wash on them, perhaps a mistake. Also, the page was photographed at night and the graphite is a lot lighter than in real life.

C&C always welcome.


08-28-2010, 03:48 PM
John, great little goldfinch sketches. I love the varied poses, they all look very natural and recognizable. Beautiful series, you're lucky to have them so handy coming up for food or whatever draws them to your kitchen window. That's so cool! I like the back views and turned head views and variety, that's awesome.

That first one, the darker gold, is absolutely perfect. The shape, shading, form, pose, proportions, everything looks so natural and gorgeous. Beautiful series.

08-28-2010, 04:01 PM
Wonderful seeing your goldfinch series. You seem to be gaining skill exponentially.

08-28-2010, 08:38 PM
Thanks much Robert and Debby! I think I'm getting better, Debby, but I kind of doubt its an exponential increase...:o . The sketching from life, at least for birds, requires suspending any concern about how good they come out. As one outstanding bird artist on another website advised me - 'don't even think about making a pretty picture', just put lines and marks down and you'll get better.

I tagged along on an Audubon field trip this morning that my wife went on but I was not signed up for, and stopped at a couple of spots to sketch. These are the results. I managed to luck into a juvenile Sora, a type of rail that is very reclusive and rarely seen, and particularly in the location where we were. Fortunately, the main group of birders were nearby and I yelled to get their attention, and everyone got to see the bird.

The first page is quick gesture sketches (maybe 10 seconds) of some House Finches and one European Starling in a treetop. The goal here was simply to get the body shape as close to realistic as possible very quickly before they moved.

I should also mention that all the sketches today were done in sepia Pigma ink. John Busby suggests sketching in ink because it prevents you from erasing and doing things over - therefore forcing you to really see and really work quickly instead of continual fussing with something to get it 'right'.


The next page was fun to do, although the results are not as accurate as I hope to get eventually. I found two juvenile Cooper's Hawks (a relatively small hawk in the accipiter genus) that preys on other birds. These two were appearing to be like teenage brothers, goofing around by doing mock chases of each other in the air, then perching again, then off to do a short chase again. I was able to do a couple sketches while watching. (I opted not to add watercolor to any of today's sketches and just leave it as originally captured in the field.)


The next four images (which might have to carry over in another post, I'm not sure what the image limit is in one post) are of a Great Blue Heron that was hunting, and then preening, conveniently near me. Herons are nice to draw from life I decided because when they're hunting to don't move quickly. In fact, they move at a downright glacial pace to try to sneak up on prey items.





08-28-2010, 10:23 PM
Super job. You're so brave to draw birds from life. They move faster than my eyes can keep up with. Even when I draw birds from photos they are rather unrecognizable as birds :)

08-28-2010, 10:48 PM
What a great field trip. I laughed about the antics of the juvenile hawks. But, they kept returning so you could sketch them. I like the sepia pen on these without watercolor.

08-29-2010, 02:02 AM
Thanks EP and Debby!

EP - you are describing your ability with birds exactly the same as I would have when I started, so it can be done...! :)

08-29-2010, 10:15 AM
The latest round are wonderful. By focusing just on body shape and gesture you've gotten so accurate with that - it'd be easier to fill in details later or watercolor them in later from photos. The heron is fantastic, I love the many different views of its poses. Heartening that it moves so slowly. I may get to draw one from life someday and actually succeed.

Thinking about it, if I didn't live with a window facing a back yard full of dogs I might manage to get a bird feeder set up by my window. Something to remember when I relocate, get a bird feeder that hooks on a good window and I'll at least get urban birds to draw from.

All of the birds you've done are recognizable by type from their contours. I could see that the finches are finches, the juvenile hawks are hawks, the heron's a magnificent heron. Is the starling the fluffed up one at the bottom of the page? I've seen them all do that when it's cold. One of the great gestures in itself, that's something to include in bird paintings.

Every one of your latest would be a good reference for a serious realistic bird painting, with snapshots to get the markings right. What you're doing is wonderful. I may only be working from photos but every time I see these, it makes me want to find a good reference and have a go.

08-30-2010, 12:02 AM
Thanks so much, Robert! I am having great fun - and I think learning a ton as well - by jumping in and doing the from-life sketches of birds. Even though I've done a lot of birding, I'm finding that focusing on the birds from an artist's viewpoint has me seeing a lot more than I do when I'm just doing a field ID of a familiar bird.

08-30-2010, 12:14 AM
I believe it! Birders have to do accurate identification. Artists have to see clearly past the labels and details to understand shape, gesture, shadow, light. I think in the long run being an artist is making you more observant and that'll even help the birding someday. It can't hurt!

These sketches are helping me too. Gestures like the heron preening itself are helping me remember having seen it ... I may be able to draw herons in looser, more natural poses instead of standard profile with the S-curve of the neck entirely to the side. So many poses on so many birds. You're showing me where I'm staying too cautious in poses when I do birds. Thank you!

09-01-2010, 10:26 PM
Thanks Robert!

Well, I said at the beginning of this thread that I would post all my bird sketches from life, good or bad - because there are no truly 'bad' sketches if you take the view that any sketch is a learning experience. And, sketching birds is a very difficult thing to do when working from life.

So here are some more. First, the background...

A Merlin is a small falcon that was used way back in medieval (and later) England by royalty when practicing falconry (which was very popular back then, and is depicted in a number of famous art pieces). Because it was small, it was considered the bird of choice for female falconers. It is actually the basis for a saying in English - '...off on a lark.' The current usage of that phrase is that someone is pursuing something of dubious value for the effort involved. It evolved out of falconry when a Merlin would chase a lark instead of a game bird, which was the preferred quarry. Larks' escape flight pattern involved spiraling up in the air as fast as possible, with the Merlin in hot pursuit - thus the Merlin was 'off on a Lark.'

Anyway, these falcons are not too uncommon in our area, but any falcon is always a nice surprise to see. We get them only once or twice per year where they are in or visible from our yard. A couple days ago, one showed up and chased (and caught) a bird near our yard. Sure enough, it showed up again briefly in a snag tree about 150 yards from our house. When I saw it there, I ran in and got my spotting scope and put it on the bird in a way that I could sit in my chair and sketch, while periodically looking into the scope to get details from the subject. I probably had five minutes to look and sketch before the bird flew away and disappeared. This was my first attempt at a from-life sketch of any raptor and some of the line drawings are not very good. But it's all great practice, right!?

So here are the Merlin sketches. I tried to get a variety of poses in, including preening behavior. (Oh yes, in the upper left corner of the first page, there is an American Goldfinch sketch that was done earlier.)

Sorry about the poor light on the sketches - this was taken indoors at night with flash. Should have waited until natural light outside the next day.

C&C always welcome!



09-02-2010, 08:27 PM
John, these are splendid! Absolutely wonderful life sketches. Exactly the sort of thing to do when the live bird is there constantly moving. These are like my cat gestures. They each have a great pose and lots of information, concise, elegant and undetailed. I love these pages.

They're not bad drawings. They're great gesture drawings. Even the unfinished ones are packed with information before the Merlin moved. Thanks for all the detailed background on them too. I never realized that's where that expression originated, now it really makes sense!

09-02-2010, 08:47 PM
Thanks, Robert! I plan to keep on sketching...it's very educational and, of course, fun.

09-02-2010, 08:52 PM
That is so great. It's been educational for me too... maybe someday I'll find a way to set up a feeding station so high the dogs can't get at them and get some visiting my window.

09-02-2010, 11:37 PM
It's so interesting to see your from life sketches of birds. The merlin you drew is really well done. Super learning experience.

09-03-2010, 10:05 PM
John, you are so right - there really is no bad drawing - even when we get it wrong we have still learned something. I agree with Robert - when your subject is moving you really just want to catch the "essence" of what it is doing. You'll develop an understanding about the anatomy that you can't get looking at a static photograph. I particularly like the bottom right sketch on your first page of the last post, your line looks more confident on that one and you've got the most important information about the pose down without the details. :)

09-03-2010, 10:33 PM
Jackie's right, the bottom right sketch on that first page is a perfect gesture. You've implied the anatomy just in a contour line and it's beautiful.

09-06-2010, 06:00 PM
Thanks Debby, Jackie and Robert!

Here is the latest batch of life sketches. This morning the rain in the forecast held off and so I ran out to a nearby oxbox slough knowing that there are two juvenile Green Herons there who have been active close to a path and convenient sketching location. Herons are a good subject for where I'm at right now because they are not quite as constantly active as many other birds. Still, they tend to be reclusive and do move around quite a bit.

Luck was with me, as I located both heron 'kids' and one stayed in sight while the other went after something in the vegetation and disappeared. I sketched the cooperative one, and actually got a couple decent sketches (although as noted earlier - any line and any sketch is a good one at this point in the learning curve) done. Then I took a break and walked around the nearby off-leash dog area and walking trail, and found some very nice migrating warblers and vireos. On the way back to the car, I found one of the Green Herons again, and was sketching him when he took a quick but stealthy step off his log, simultaneously stabbing with his bill, and he came up with a pretty good-sized frog. It didn't take much work or manipulation by the heron before he oriented the frog head first pointing toward the bird and with a couple of gulps, the frog was history.

So here they are...as usual all C&C is welcome.





09-06-2010, 08:25 PM
like these last few John, and laughed at the little comment re the neck! Birds are amazing creatures if you watch them long enough ;)

09-06-2010, 09:53 PM
More great life sketches. I'm so glad you sketched the caught frog after reading your narrative.

09-07-2010, 05:05 PM
Thanks Jackie and Debbie!

I've resolved to attempt to do at least one life sketch of a bird per day through 2011 to try to make up for lost time in this area that I'm finding very challenging and satisfying now. No doubt I'll miss some days, but with feeders and birdbaths right outside the kitchen window, I don't have a whole lot of excuses not to do one. Starting in mid-October, I will be taking an 8-week Birds and Wildlife in Watercolor class with a very good painter and instructor, so that will be more motivation to do the life work but also convert some into 'finished' pieces.

Today I took my 14-year-old Yellow Lab in the back of the car and we went to a parking lot right by the beach near a dive park on Puget Sound. I figured there would at least be some gulls there (there were - only a few) and that gulls were a bit less flightly than other bird subjects, so I spent some time drawing them from the car. My pooch didn't understand why we wasted all that beach and water by just sitting in the car, but at least she got to go along - :) .

These are roughly A3 (14 x 11") in the larger of the two sketchbooks I'm using for this activity (the other is 9 x 9" or about 23 x 23 cm). The birds are Glaucous-winged Gulls (and two really fast and marginal sketches of a Great Blue Heron that showed up as I was about ready to leave). These are done with Pigman Micron pens in .05 and 1.0.



09-07-2010, 08:55 PM
Poor doggy. The bird sketches are great. How wonderful that you have a class to look forward to.

09-08-2010, 12:02 PM
Thanks, Debby. I'm really enjoying the sketching, but I'm feeling the need to do a 'real' painting here soon as well. My doggy is always happy to go along with 'dad' no matter what...however, she has always been very high energy. I'm surprised she didn't burn her engine out by age 7, actually. We have another (chocolate) Lab who is 14 1/2 years old who is the exact opposite disposition. She 'hyperlates' (my term for sort of hyperventilating and sort of quivering with excitement and nervous energy) when she thinks we're going to do something fun, when we are doing something fun, or when she thinks she is being left out of doing something fun. I've always been high energy as well, so like master, like pooch, I guess...

I actually have three classes to look forward to in the fall. Last year I took credit classes three of the four quarters at college, but this year the classes are non-credit, subject-focused things - birds/wildlife in watercolor; plein air watercolor (let's hope our area's notorious soggy fall and winter weather holds off for at least some of the class); and an autumn landscape painting class in oils.

09-08-2010, 09:21 PM
Well, today's sketches were of Northern Flickers - a woodpecker species that is very common in our area. We get lots of them in our yard since we have two suet feeders out all year...we've had as many as eight in our yard at once, although much of the year they get a bit territorial and one or two keep everyone else out.

I was going to save Northern Flickers until winter set in, since they're so convenient and I can sketch them from inside. However, it was soggy today and I decided not to go someplace else when they were right there for the sketching.

These are in Pigma black ink in a 14 x 11" sketchbook.

C&C always welcome!



Carole A
09-08-2010, 09:51 PM
John ~ you're so fortunate to still have your Lab at 14. My black lab's 11 and slowing down. He still looks so forward to our morning walks: social hour for doggies. I need to write an article or short story about our morning meet and greets. You know the kind: nose to butt; sometimes an attempt at a love fest. I was telling my husband just tonight, we know every dog we meet by name, but even though we often stop and visit with the owners, we really don't know them or their names. But I know about every dog's bad habits, where they liked to be scratched, and whether they're really a threat or just full of hot air. ;o)

I am going to try tomorrow to email some photos of the burned area around Dant. It's funny to see the sage brush (apparently non-combustible) still standing in the midst of ash.

I'm loving your birds.


09-08-2010, 10:19 PM
Thanks, Carole!

I would definitely be interested in pix from Dant. There were several families of folks around Dant when we floated by this year. It would have been scary to be there when the fire started, given that they would have to take the 'boat on a wire' to get to the road and head for the locked gate.

We've had good luck with dogs. Prior to our current two, we had a rescue black Lab that was 7 when we adopted her. I almost didn't do it, fearing I would get attached and then she might only live until 10 or 11. Well, she was a fantastic dog - and lived to only a few days short of SEVENTEEN years. Like your pooch, no matter how slow she got, she insisted on her morning walk, which got slower and slower and slower, but we always went. Boy was it tough losing her, but that's the price you pay for canine companionship.

09-08-2010, 11:01 PM
John, your gulls are great and the later sketches look like a lot of fun. I hope you don't mind me saying, but I think I can see an improvement in these sketches even in this short time of working from life - there is certainly more confidence in your lines.

Your pooches sound like great company - my husband is waiting for our bunny to go to rabbit heaven so he can then get a dog! We figure it isn't really fair to the bunny if we bring in a boisterous dog after he has had the run of the garden for the past 6 years or so ;) Hubby is after a german shepherd (he has owned several in the past ) or a rottweiler - I am hoping for the shepherd...... (or even something a little smaller but he knows what he wants apparently :eek: )

09-08-2010, 11:11 PM
Thanks, Jackie! I do feel a bit more confident, but I'm sure I've got plenty more unintentionally funny sketches left in me...! :) If you lived in my area and had the bunny running around in the garden, it would have departed for bunny heaven a long time ago...we have a lot of Bald Eagles, and they take even small dogs sometimes. I'm partial to bigger dogs - in fact, I have a 'ten pound rule' for dogs with my spouse - if it isn't ten pounds, it's a creature, not a dog. I've never had either a shepard or Rottie, but know people who have had good luck with both. Rotties have a checkered reputation here due to their popularity (second to Pit Bulls) as guard dogs by folks who don't want people entering their premise due to illegal activities.

Joan T
09-09-2010, 11:04 AM
John - Birds from life!!!!!!!! Great job on the sketches. I think doing birds is even harder than sketching people. They fly off even faster. lol

09-09-2010, 03:46 PM
Thanks, Joan! No doubt in my mind that birds are tougher, at least in some respects. I've had two life drawing credit classes in which we did fast sketches of the model for warmup purposes, and what seemed like no time at all to draw the model often seems like an eternity for birds. I'm fortunate to have recently joined a website with multiple world-class bird artists and so am benefitting from their experience and advice...but it's still the toughest thing I've tried to do in my art 'career' so far...! :)

09-09-2010, 09:26 PM
Well, today's 'from life' drawing was sad to do - because it was done from a freshly dead bird I found while birding this morning. All the bird artists that I admire strongly recommend drawing and painting from dead birds when you find them and they are in good enough shape, so I took it home and painted these two views. (The bird appeared to have flown into a wire fence, and was in the process of expiring when I found it, so it was a good specimen.)

This is a Swainson's Thrush, which is a shy and secretive bird that is common in our area but sometimes hard to find because they stay buried in the woods and riparian vegetation. Thrushes are in the same family of the familiar American Robin.

The first view here was started with a light pencil drawing, then finished in watercolor. I overworked the watercolor, unfortunately, but it was good experience. The second view was done in graphite. The sketchbook I'm using is good paper and set up for wet media, but it still isn't as robust as my regular Arches paper, so getting used to it was another issue. I'll do better next time, hopefully...!

C&C always welcome.


09-09-2010, 10:11 PM
Wow! John, that little dead thrush is spectacular. It doesn't look overworked to me, unless it's a whole lot darker than life it looks fine. I like the subtle patterns in the brown feathers. The detail and accuracy is so beautiful. You've given it a wonderful memorial, and it'll help me and others recognize a living Swainson's Thrush if we're ever lucky enough to find one.

My cat would meet your ten pound rule for dogs, except of course he's a cat. He's 14 pounds. Very big solid cat full of muscle, but he growls (purrs) when he's happy, swishes his tail when he's aggressive and puts his ears back if he's going to attack rather than putting his ears down to be submissive.

Took me the longest time to get used to watching for reverse ear gestures in Rhiannon the Corgi.

He's melted on my lap now being a very large cat.

I'm not sure I'd want any of the dogs doing that though, they're a lot bigger than he is!

By the way, what's riparian vegetation? (The stuff that rips your jeans?)

09-10-2010, 03:55 AM
What a great series of sketches on the flicker. Poor thrush. But, you can work on the anatomy, feathers and markings from a dead specimen. The detail in the graphite sketch is wonderful.

09-11-2010, 12:44 AM
Today's sketches are of a Spotted Sandpiper, found in a natural area near my house, and I was able to take a video of it. I actually sketched from the video to do these drawings.

Spotted Sandpipers are unique in a couple respects. They breed further south than most other sandpiper species, which tend to breed very far north in Canada or Alaska, as far north as the tundra. Spotted Sandpipers are common and breed all across the northern third of the US and into Canada - along small streams, or ponds, or lakes. In breeding plumage, they have...spots. :lol: In non-breeding plumage, which this bird was in, they have no spots. They do have a very engaging and slightly comical 'butt bob' way of moving. They are constantly their hindquarters up and down as they scurry around looking for food.

Near our house, we have a number of small ponds that were put in as mitigation ponds when the area was developed. A number of these have Spotted Sandpipers breeding during the summer.

The first three pages of sketches were done with Pigma ink, and the last page was in graphite. The main issue I had here was getting the eyes to look natural. This species has a large white eye ring around the dark pupil and that proved hard to duplicate.

C&C always welcome.





09-11-2010, 12:48 AM
Looks like you were getting the white ring around the dark of the eye. These are so great, you sketching birds from life.

09-14-2010, 10:51 AM
Thank you, Debby!

Here are yesterday's sketches which are not technically completely from life, but close enough that I'm counting them as such while I'm still at the beginning stages of learning how to do this. They were done from a video I shot at the natural area where I frequently bird. What I have been doing with the videos is to put them on a continuous loop and then sketch during the video. This is like doing it from life in that the birds are in normal motion and activities, but it allows you to get several tries on a given pose when it comes around again. I'm hoping this will help shorten my learning curve on drawing birds from life.

These two pages are a Western Tanager adult female. These birds have been migrating through our area for the last couple weeks, heading south for the upcoming winter. I lucked into the video opportunity. I pulled into a golf course parking lot that borders on the natural area where I bird and sketch - the parking lot overlooks a slough which usually has some birds on it. In the riparian vegetation right by the car, I saw movement and several Western Tanagers were working the trees. This one was on a limb very close to the car and I actually shot the video while leaning out of the car so as not to scare the bird. It turned out pretty well.

The sketches are done in Pigma Micron ink, then watercolor washes added. A couple of these you'll notice don't include the wing bars - on those I was just worried about getting the shape and the head features correct.



09-14-2010, 08:49 PM
hehehehe - actually did laugh out loud at the "riparian vegetation" ripping your jeans comment Robert! So, John, what exactly is it......?! :eek:

Your last sketches with the watercolour are great - watching the video is another great tool to improve your observation and drawing skills. The sandpipers are a great collection and your notes to yourself are good for when you want to refer back later and refresh your memory. Sad for the thrush but another wonderful opportunity to study it closely, there have been some fantastic studies of birds this way in the past.

09-14-2010, 08:54 PM
PS - Bald eagles take small dogs???! Scary! You and my hubby are on the same wavelength when it comes to dogs then...... he will not entertain the idea of a "lap dog"! German Shepherds and Rottweilers do scare a lot of people here too - maybe not to the same extent, but having had shepherds in the past we know they can be big softies and very loyal if they are treated well.

09-14-2010, 08:58 PM
Thanks, Jackie!

Sorry Robert, I missed your question about riparian vegetation. And yes, some riparian vegetation can rip your pants, and your legs, etc. But enough levity, I'll be serious here - riparian is a term for the area immediately adjacent to a stream, lake, or pond. So the 'riparian zone' is a narrow strip by, say, a river. And riparian vegetation is whatever grows in that zone - which is often different than surrounding vegetation. So, for example, on the Deschutes River in Oregon where I take my annual float trip, the surrounding country is high desert that gets about 12 inches of rain annually. The vegetation in that country is sagebrush and junipers primarily, which can survive in that low-water situation. However, in the riparian zone along the river, there are willows, water birches and other water-loving tree and shrub species because the river water seeps into the banks and is available to them a few yards away from the river.

The riparian zone is often critical to the health of an ecosystem, to stabilize the banks of a stream, provide habitat to certain species, etc. And so in today's world, just as one example, cattle ranches often have only a few areas where the cattle can reach the river, because otherwise they will graze the riparian plants and tromp it down and eventually, if there are enough cattle, totally destroy that mini-ecosystem.

So now you know...! :)

09-14-2010, 09:01 PM
Your threads are a wealth of information John, thanks for the explanation (however I am still chuckling to myself..... :) )

09-14-2010, 11:41 PM
The tanagers are delightful. Good idea to use video for your drawings.

09-15-2010, 12:08 AM
Thank you! It's such a fascinating term. Now that you've explained it, I love it - have seen it many times at the edges of creeks in forests and always wanted to go down and sit on a rock and paint that rather than what was farther away from the water. Beautiful variety in riparian vegetation.

On to your latest. The spotted sandpipers are in great poses. I love the way you mentioned the white eye-rings, those would be hard to capture in ink but you did a good job. Love the female tanagers. Very cool that you took your own video and worked from the video while it was running - that is a lot like painting from life, you're right. I've done it a few times with some things that I watch with my granddaughter and it's very tough. Results are so beautiful.

Makes sense to omit wing bars on some of them if you're more focused on body shape. Though one thing you can do with that is lift afterwards once the paint is dry. Get a brush damp but not dripping, paint over the area you want to lift with water, blot it clean. Repeat a few times. Then paint over the area in the other or lighter color.

I used to think of transparent watercolor as "when it's down, it can't be changed" until I started coming here to WC and reading up more on it. I've been pleasantly surprised at how reworkable it is.

09-15-2010, 05:23 PM
Thanks Jackie, Debby and Robert!

Here's the next installment of birds drawn from life. These are gulls - mostly Ring-billed Gulls - that I sketched at a nearby state park that borders a large lake. I was happy to find the gulls there because we usually don't get many gulls inland from the salt water until winter sets in a little harder. These were pretty adjusted to people, so I was able to get pretty close. And of course, gulls tend to be a lot more cooperative as models than most other bird families - when at rest as these were, they aren't constantly flitting, etc. These are in the 14x11" Aquabee sketchbook and were done in Pigma Micron ink.

C&C always welcome.





09-15-2010, 05:39 PM
These are great, at least the first page of them is. I saw only broken images for the second two images, but those first gulls are gorgeous. Great beak shapes on them, that's something I know you were having trouble with.

09-15-2010, 07:52 PM
good stuff - like your attempts at foreshortening - tricky but you're getting the hang of it!

09-15-2010, 11:14 PM
Awesome. I'll say it again. You are a brave soul to do these birds from life. Birds are the most active creature. You are getting some wonderful sketches in here.

09-16-2010, 09:29 PM
Thanks Robert, Jackie and Debby! I'm not sure brave is the right word for drawing birds from life - crazy might be a better adjective. :)

Last this afternoon I looked outside and decided to sketch a male and female House Sparrow (not the world's most exciting species, of course) that were sitting in the neighbor's spruce tree. It rained off and on all day, so going outside to sketch wasn't really feasible, and the House Sparrows were visible from the kitchen table window. These are in ink and in the 9x9" Aquabee sketchbook. Unfortunately the 'models' didn't stay still very long, so I only got the basic outline and a couple of field marks.

C&C always welcome.


09-16-2010, 11:36 PM
Love the house sparrows! They seem very detailed for your having to work that fast in pen! Gorgeous shapes and even the basic patterns to recognize them. They rock. I also finally saw your other two pages of gulls. I love the one with its beak open, such a fantastic pose. Good job on the beak studies at the bottom.

They're like playing Hide and Sketch with my cat. You can't get much detail but the more you watch, the more can be put in from memory in the few minutes after they move. Every time you do them you get better. I hope you detailed those pine branches after they flew off though, looks like that probably ate some time.

09-17-2010, 05:19 PM
Thanks, Robert. How on earth do you make the time to do all the posts you do - not only your own, but your generous and thorough input on other people's as well? It's much appreciated, but I do wonder if you're one of those people who can get by on three hours or sleep a night (like one of my college acquaintances could - she was a 4.0 student as a result, studying while everyone else slept).

I've been enjoying using pens for the birds, and it does serve the function that was suggested by my favorite bird sketcher (John Busby, now deceased) - that being taking away the temptation to be a perfectionist with the eraser. However, for quick sketches, it doesn't provide much opportunity for shading or subleties (of course, I do need to improve my pen technique - pulled out one of Claudia Nice's books and was paging through it last night).

So, now that I've accumulated a little life drawing experience with birds, I think that when I use pen, I'll start with a quick, light pencil sketch, then do the ink work and see if that improves the result at all. Sometimes, as well, I'll only use graphite - which is what I did here.

This is another very common (to the point of being annoying sometimes) bird - the good ol' American Crow. I had two picking seed off the gravel path in our garden this morning and so grabbed the sketchbook and several woodless graphite sticks (HB, 4B, 6B) and didn't use ink. Of course both birds, probably knowing that I needed them to stay still for a minute more, flew off in the middle of this, so I didn't have a chance to do all the shading I wanted. There is too much contrast here between the darker area around and under the eye and the rest of the bird, but I decided to leave it as is.

C&C always welcome.


09-17-2010, 10:45 PM
Gorgeous crow! I love the strong values in this pencil sketch. Well done. Good shape and shading too. It's fun to switch mediums every now and then. Often I'll pencil loosely and ink afterward, correcting any problems in the inking. Claudia Nice's books are great for that.

09-17-2010, 11:27 PM
Great stuff here. The crow drawing, even if it didn't cooperate as a model, came out really well.

09-18-2010, 12:54 PM
Thanks again Robert and Debby! Here is one I did using woodless graphite late yesterday afternoon. This is a Dark-eyed Junco (which is actually in the sparrow family). These guys - along with Pine Siskins most years - are the most plentiful winter resident bird that visits our yard for the seed we scatter. So, as the winter starts to set in, I'll be doing a lot more sketches of (and hopefully getting better at) these guys.

I cut off the tail here - it's a bit longer than it shows here...:) .

C&C always welcome.


09-18-2010, 05:19 PM
Awesome. I'll say it again. You are a brave soul to do these birds from life. Birds are the most active creature. You are getting some wonderful sketches in here.

I'll second that. I tried a duck once and it was just a lesson in frustration, and that fellow was just sitting on a culvert sunning himself.

Funny story. There has been a big "plein aire" festival nearby this week. We also had our art club meeting this week. One of the painters participating in the festival presented at our meeting. He was working on a painting of some koi and lilies in the garden koi pond. He said that at one point a crane came down and started eating the koi! He had to shoe the big bird away to save the koi so he could finish his painting! :lol:


09-18-2010, 05:49 PM
Looking forward to seeing more juncos. I can see that it's in the sparrow family. It kind of looks like a sparrow.

09-18-2010, 10:55 PM
Great little junco! I've got photos of that one in my birds reference book and I like how you just ran the tail off the page rather than deliberately shortening it - it's obvious that it's longer and just fit on the page that way. It can be very attractive to let a drawing fade off and the mind extend the parts that don't show.

09-20-2010, 12:07 PM
Thanks David, Debby and Robert!

Here are two that I did yesterday. These are 'virtually' from life in that I used the sketch-from-video technique. The Black-headed Grosbeak was filmed in our backyard and I sketched it from life then, but decided to do it again with the video on continuous loop. Not exactly a purist approach, but in the interest of pushing my learning curve faster than otherwise, I've decided it's ok from this journal. Done with woodless graphite, HB to 6B. The head-on view is pretty wonky - his right side was in strong shadow and I wasn't able to pull that off well in the sketch.

The second ones are Ring-billed Gulls in a typical resting pose and preening. These were also done from a looping video that I took recently. However, I'm getting much better at gulls purely from life because - unlike virtually all the other species - gulls stay relatively inactive when they're resting on a beach or sandbar. I either keep looking at them with binoculars, then sketching a bit, then looking, etc. or if I've brought a spotting scope, I train that on one of them and then alternate between the scope and the sketch. This one is also woodless graphite. I strengthened the outlines of the birds after the sketches were finished and I probably overdid it here in making them too dark. Oh, and yes, the preening gull is not a double peg-leg specimen - his feet were buried in the sand enough that I couldn't see them and so decided to leave them out. :)

C&C always welcome!



09-20-2010, 12:19 PM
These are fantastic! Sketching from video is really good practice. I should video my cat moving around more often!

09-21-2010, 08:53 PM
You really are getting better and better doing this. Amazing sketches.

09-23-2010, 07:40 PM
Thanks Debby and Robert!

Today it was raining and breezy a good part of the day, so any comfortable opportunity to sketch outside went by the wayside. So, I decided to stay and sit at our kitchen table watching our yard birds thorugh the window and sketch something from there - even if it was one of our 'usual suspects' and very common. There were half a dozen White-crowned Sparrows out, so I did a couple quick sketches of them. These are in a 9x9" Aquabee sketchbook and were done with woodless graphite, then fixed. I feel like I'm making some progress in the sketches, but the subtleties of the bird's features are still a bit 'off' from what I would like to see. Hopefully I'll get 'there' some day...!

The lower right pose, which didn't really capture the moment I wanted correctly was when the birds go on alert. Normally their neck is pretty squat and almost non-existent as it's pulled up against the body. However, they stretch their neck way out and look alertly around when something catches their attention. I'll keep trying to get better sketches here, obviously...

C&C always welcome.


09-23-2010, 10:37 PM
John, these are great. Excellent life sketches. The white crowned sparrow is one that I've seen and I've seen the way they look like no-neck birds so often. That's awesome. The plump one or fluffed up one staring at me facing me is great. I love that look. Very cool stretched neck pose too. The pose where it's turning its head is wonderful.

You've been getting so much better at their heads and beaks lately, your study is helping a lot. I look forward to these every time you do them.

09-23-2010, 11:47 PM
I have to say your life sketch poses are so much more interesting than the profile poses one usually sees in bird drawings. This little sparrow is darling.

09-25-2010, 02:26 AM
John, you are really nailing the gulls so well - they are a bit of a favourite with me I think!

09-25-2010, 03:05 AM
Thanks Robert, Debby and Jackie! It is interesting how all the field guides show side profiles, and when I was doing serious bird photography, that was one of the targets I was always trying for. Which is fine for field guides, but pretty static for art. So I've been trying to sketch poses that are different than the cliche side profile, at least some of the time.

I do think I've 'gotten' the structure of gulls down more than other families of birds at this point. It really helps that they're fairly large, and sometimes sit for a long time so they can be studied.

Thanks for the continued feedback on the thread! :) :wave:

09-26-2010, 01:39 AM
That is so great. I'm learning a lot from all of your birds but especially the gull studies. They always kick-start my memory of all the times I've seen gulls. I used to feed them chunks of sourdough bread in San Francisco.

09-26-2010, 07:02 AM
THESE ARE AMAZING, just simply amazing!!!!!

YOu are gaining confidence and more "information" with every sketch. YOU SHOULD BE PROUD OF YOURSELF!!!!!!

09-29-2010, 12:33 PM
Thanks Robert and Stacey!

Well, I had a fantastic opportunity this morning. About 100 or so yards from our back yard is a 'raptor snag tree' as we refer to it - a huge Douglas Fir which has about ten or twelve feet of the top that has died, and is therefore completely expose - no needles to block the view. Raptors, of course, love this as a hunting, eating or resting perch, and it attracts hawks and the occasional eagle or falcon during the year.

So this morning as I headed downstairs to breakfast, I looked out at the snag and immediately saw a raptor shape. I got the binocs and it was a Peregrine Falcon adult - the first one we've had visible from the yard this year (usually we get three or four visits a year to the snag tree). There is a pair that has nested successfully at nearby Snoqualmie Falls on the cliffs there, so the birds we get are probably from that pair. In any event, breakfast could wait and I grabbed my scope and sketching stuff and sat down on the patio. The bird stayed there for a good ten minutes - an eternity compared to what you usually get to sketch a bird from life. So, I got a decent sketch. This is HB pencil in my 14x11" sketchbook. I added 6B pencil after the bird flew to darken its eye and the 'helmet' on its head that is so characteristic of Peregrines.

I learned a lesson here too - because I had so long, I kept adding detail to the sketch. Which was ok, except it would have been better practice to do more poses as the bird moved its head, preened, stretched its wings, etc. I could then have used reference material to refine the sketch later if I wanted.

After darkening the eye and the helmet, I decided that since it was my first Peregrine sketch from life that I would just leave it as is.

The image is not well color-balanced - it is the best I could do with it. I think the early morning shade coupled with the light pencil sketch just made it hard to get the blue color temperature out.

C&C always welcome.


09-29-2010, 06:43 PM
Excellent work. Glad you gave up breakfast to do this one.

Carole A
09-29-2010, 11:22 PM
Nice catch John. We don't see the peregrines in the wild around here. Some have nested under (or on top of) one of the Portland bridges and a TV station has had its webcam on the nest, so there's some opportunity there to observe them.

You really have gained opportunities from your backyard bird habitat.

Carole A

10-21-2010, 10:38 PM
Thanks Debby and Carole! Well, the last three days, the Peregrine (presumably the same one - looked the same) showed up in our 'raptor snag' tree for brief periods in the morning. Yesterday I grabbed the scope and sketching kit and drew for five minutes. The bill looks better (at least in two of the cases) and I got more sketches in about the same amount of time as the original one took - I've been trying to do the sketches more quickly to help the sketching from life skills. So here are the latest falcon sketches.



10-22-2010, 12:17 AM
I love these peregrine sketches. The first long pose is great, but the second series is spectacular. Wonderful drawing them from life. You're so lucky to live near them, they're beautiful birds.

10-22-2010, 05:58 PM
These are awesome. So full of life.

11-01-2010, 07:32 PM
Thanks Robert and Debby!

Well, back to this book after a hiatus for the October sketchbook-in-a-month challenge, which caused me to drop a number of threads temporarily (but extremely well worth the time and effort - thanks again Robert). These three sketches qualify loosely as sketches from 'life' in that they are not from photos. However, they are from a Short-eared Owl mounted specimen from the Burke Museum of Natural History at the University of WA. I'm taking a wildlife watercolor class and our instructor checked this one and a very bedraggled Great Horned Owl mount out for our class to sketch this morning. The Short-eared Owl wasn't in too much better shape than the Great Horned, but still it's better practice drawing from an object sitting in front of you than from a photo.

The instructor wanted us to do quick, loose sketches to start the day today, using a more geometrical (angles, planes) approach to really speed up the process.

These are done in a 14 x 11 inch Aquabee sketchbook. All were done in five minutes or less. The first was an initial graphite sketch and then some quick watercolor washes were added. The second two used a water-soluble Tombo pen with two tips (brush and regular nib), which uses water-soluble ink, followed by a water wash to give some value gradations. I like the look of this type of sketch (often done with Walnut Ink also) even though it is nowhere near an accurate depiction of the subject.

The first graphite + watercolor wash came out looking rather goofy, but all short timed practice is good practice, nevermind the result.


This is the first of the two Tombo pen + wash sketches. No initial graphite drawing was done - went right to work with the pen. I tried really hard to let myself go on this one to get a loose result, and you can see angles rather than curves in a number of places, and for a quick sketch I was pleased how it came out.


The final one was done obviouosly from a different angle and again I tried to stay loose. These were fun exercises, and helpful.


C&C always welcome.

11-01-2010, 10:34 PM
Great sketches John, birds are obviously a passion for you.


11-14-2010, 02:23 AM
John I just had to pass on some exciting bird news for you. It is exciting for me and I'm not really a birdwatcher. I was out the backyard and kept hearing this clicking crunching sound. When I looked up there is a huge pine tree in the neighbours yard and there was around 6 or so Yellow Tailed Black Cockatoos in there munching on the pine cones. And boy were they ripping into them. i tried taking some photos but only have a basic digital camera and they are not very clear. If you'd like a look anyway send me a pm and I'll pass them on for you.

Just thought you might be interested. I have lived here for nearly 5 years and never seen them before. Very nice treat.

11-14-2010, 02:57 AM
You're going great sketching from life. The second page of peregrine is terrific.
Love how you cought the different angles and I certainly get the sense of it looking around for breakfast.

11-14-2010, 12:33 PM
Thanks Chris, Jacqui and Elain!

Yes, birds are a strong interest for me. I do volunteer work for the local Audubon societies and around the end of the year will be doing at least three all day-long 'Christmas Bird Counts' which are bird surveys that have been done for a number of decades and are used to track population and species range trends. (They're done at that time of year because migration is over and that minimizes the risk of counting the same birds at multiple different locations, compromising the data.) Given the time of year, the weather can be challenging.

Jacqui - I'm very interested in seeing your photos. I'll send you a PM.

11-14-2010, 07:11 PM
John your info is as interesting as your artwork. Thanks!

11-14-2010, 07:16 PM
The sketch isn't goofy looking. Owls are goofy looking. I like owls, but they are a strange looking bird. Good for you sketching straight with ink. Something I'm still loath to do.

11-15-2010, 05:09 PM
Thanks Candace and Debby!

Debby, I'm afraid I'm going to have to report you to the Benevolent Association of Owls for a reprimand. :) Actually, it's probably the artist that's the goofy looking one here - one reason I stay away from self-portraits! ;) My nomination for one goofy bird species would be American Coot...they have that big ol' ivory-colored schnoz that looks out of place with the rest of their plumage, and then for good measure they have gangly, seemingly too long, weird greenish legs. There are plenty of others as well...

11-16-2010, 08:58 PM

That American Coot sounds hilarious. You should draw us one so we can see.

11-16-2010, 09:38 PM
I will get around to doing one, hopefully not too far down the road. A quick sketch that doesn't show the feet is post #33 in this thread - http://www.wetcanvas.com/forums/showthread.php?t=615041&page=3.

11-16-2010, 10:20 PM
American Coot !!! I did not know such a bird exist till now!!! :cool:

11-17-2010, 01:12 AM
The Tombo pen has such a neat effect - they look like they would go very well as prints onto shirts and the like on Etsy! Your class sounds like heaps of fun as well!

11-22-2010, 08:15 PM
Thanks Chuck and WYSIWYG!

Well, despite being very busy with the November journal, two classes (soon to be three in the winter quarter) and trying to keep my toe in a couple other forums, I did get to do some bird sketching from life today. The impetus to do this today was our lousy weather. We got (are still having) an uncharacteristically early snowfall here - 4 inches/10 cm at our house and still snowing. (Actually any snowfall of significant depth or staying power here is unusual for our climate.) This meant that the Dark-eyed Juncos which are the most numerous species in our yard in the winter (unless it's a Pine Siskin irruption year, which the last couple were - and yes, the spelling of irruption is correct, it's a term specific to wildlife) were scrambling around having a harder time finding seed. So I tromped down the snow by the kitchen nook window, and cleaned the snow off the frozen birdbath there and spread out a bunch of seed. Soon, there were a dozen or so juncos there which I sketched while they were hyperactively eating the seed. I also got a couple of quick House Finch sketches, and even a Varied Thrush which gave a 15 second look before flying off.

These were just done on the spot, no work afterwards, no intent on being 'finished' anything...just a good learning experience. They're all in graphite and in a 14 x 11 inch Aquabee sketchbook.

C&C always welcome.





11-22-2010, 09:29 PM
Quite an extensive front. I'm feeling the effects too. Tho' I will say that snow is expected when you live about 3000 feet, as I do. :rolleyes:

These are wonderful life sketches. All the different poses are great.

11-23-2010, 12:56 AM
very nice quick sketches... great job at capturing their shapes....

11-23-2010, 02:00 AM
Your birds are brave to be out and about in the snow! If I were a bird I fancy I'd be one that migrated in winter. LOL The 'from behind' ones with the birds looking over their back are appealing, the somewhat vaulted (sorry if this is incorrect term here - it'd be the term if they were a chicken LOL) look to the skull/crown feathers is well observed.

11-24-2010, 10:15 PM
Thanks Debby, Chuck and WYSIWYG!

Here are three pages of sketches of Varied Thrushes from today. The weather helped here as well - we had TEN of the thrushes in the yard simultaneously when I usually see one or two a couple times per month. I spread seed on the ground for the ground-feeding species (of which the thrushes are one) and so had a great opportunity to sketch these guys today - normally they're pretty shy and retiring, but the need to eat trumps everything else I guess.

The first two pages were trying to get the shape and structure, and then I did one sketch that was fairly detailed, and it came out well enough that I decided to add watercolor washes. The thrushes are normally pretty round anyway, but with the very cold weather, they are fluffed up and really look round. If you see a resemblance to the American Robin, that's because the Varied Thrush is in the same family and so fairly closely related.

Here are the results from today...




11-24-2010, 10:26 PM
Hi John. . . cool to see the progression from getting the shape down in different poses to the final colored version that shows him in all his glory (ok, well, unlike you I don't know if its really a him or not!) I've learned already with drawing my ducks that getting the outline and proportions of the bird right is hardest for me.

Nice work.
PS, the one looking front on is so cute :)

11-24-2010, 10:52 PM
nice sketches:) birds are fun to draw, I need to get outdoors more often and learn the species we have.

11-24-2010, 11:50 PM
Like the progression from quick sketches to a final version. Wonderful.

11-27-2010, 12:29 PM
With the quick sketches it shows the movement from pose to pose. You must have sharp eyes too.

Like the written notes describing the features too. Nice colour on the thrush. I must look good when there are several of them.

11-27-2010, 12:58 PM
Thanks Rainy, Chuck, Debby and Elain!

Yes, the Varied Thrushes are very pretty birds. The male, shown here, is the brightest of the two sexes. The female has the same basic pattern but it duller - the dark grays/blacks on the collar and head are a lighter gray, and the orangeish-yellow breast, belly and markings are more neutralized than on the male.

11-27-2010, 03:08 PM
There are beautiful and so inspiring!

12-16-2010, 09:54 PM
Thanks, Arty!

I've been spending all my time on sketchbook challenges and online classes, so haven't been doing other things as much as I would like. Today while walking the dog through the neighborhood, I found a little Pine Siskin that had died recently - it seemed undernourished, but it could also have hit someone's window and flew to where I found it.

In any event, all the bird art experts say to take advantage of every opportunity to draw from bird specimen, so I wrapped it up and took it home. Here are three quick sketches followed with watercolor of various parts of the bird. Pine Siskins are very tiny birds - significantly smaller than sparrows with a very small, pointy bill. They are mostly LBB's (little brown birds) along with so many other little birds that take some work to identify. They have some small hints of yellow of varying amounts in a couple places. They're gregarious, flocking birds that flock to feeders in the winter - we had 95 in the yard at our feeders last weekend.

C&C always welcome.


12-19-2010, 02:09 PM
Great sketches of the siskin. My husband would have a fit if I brought a dead bird home but that is certainly a good idea.

Mind you, usually I just find a scattering of feathers the feral cats have left.

Now how did you count 95? That's a great number.

12-19-2010, 04:51 PM
Thanks, Elain! Yes, it can be a bit gross, but it is just such a great opportunity, I'm overly careful and use nitrile gloves, etc. but know folks who don't (including people who work for museums).

The way to count large numbers is pretty simple, and accepted for official bird survey counts - which I do for several Audubon societies and a watershed biologist. The concept is 'area counting'. So you take a relatively small area and count the number of birds in it, say you count 7. Then you estimate the number of areas the size of your mini area in the total flock or group, multiply and you have the number. Works well once you get used to it.

12-19-2010, 05:20 PM
Maybe I am a bit macabre but I think it is great that you are studying the dead birds :lol: I don't think I could do it myself mind you, but I admire you for doing it!

Like the anatonomists/doctors/scientists of years gone by - it is the only way to study something really in-depth, and thank goodness somebody did otherwise we would still be in the dark ages!

Anyhow I digress, your sketches are continuing to improve John, and your sketchbooks are filling up with some fantastic work ;)

12-19-2010, 07:40 PM
Poor bird. You must have found it soon after it died since it was still intact. Splendid drawings.

12-20-2010, 12:29 PM
What jaunty owls. Love the brushwork. Cool to see the studies of the head and beak. That's a tricky thing to get correct - good to see you "study" it :)

12-30-2010, 09:44 PM
John I have just perused the whole thread, what and awesome array of bird sketches, they just get better and better. I want you to know I am absolutely green with envy that you have a Peregrine that comes to your yard! Loved those and the owls, my next favorite after the raptors. Are owls technically raptors? They have the same beak and are carnivorous. I'm sure you know the answer to that silly question.
Happy New Year and may it be a most auspicious one for you.

12-31-2010, 01:11 PM
Thanks Jackie, Debby, EP and Margo!

Have a happy new year, everyone!

12-31-2010, 11:29 PM
Doing a bit of catching up here, John, lots more good bird sketches for me to peruse. :clap:

There is a big difference between living and dead animals; great opportunity to get some details, but I prefer the lively hard-to-see experience.

01-01-2011, 04:03 AM
some neat sketches in yer journal here, you capture the attitude of the birds so well. Really like the sandpipers, and yer crow looks ready to rumble...

01-22-2011, 03:28 PM
Thank you Chris and Scatty!

It's been some time since I posted in this thread, but had an opportunity this morning to do a sketch. With drawing birds from life, you either have to plunk down someplace they will probably be (eventually) and wait until they show up, go to a place where you know there will be birds (and there is no sure bet) or what happened this morning - one shows up serendipitously and you drop everything else and grab the sketching materials.

So this morning as I was getting breakfast around, I looked out of the window and up the hill to our 'raptor snag' tree. Two birds were in it - one was clearly a huge raven, but below it was a raptor I first thought (based on shape) might be the Merlin (a small falcon) that has been around off and on for a couple months. However, the raptor this time turned out to be a Cooper's Hawk - a type of hawk that preys on smaller birds. So I grabbed my spotting scope, which is all pre-set for the right height and angle for that tree, got it on the Cooper's Hawk and started sketching. I had a couple minutes to do this - an eternity compared to most from-life sketches with birds. It turned out passable, but from a birder's viewpoint it isn't really all that accurate in a couple respects. I am still on a learning curve (and will be for a long time!)...

This one is in pencil and the actual drawing is about 4 x 7" in an 11 x 14" Aquabee sketchbook.

C&C always welcome.


01-22-2011, 04:35 PM
Very cool opportunity and you seized it with both hands. Hope your breakfast didn't go bad.

This is an great sketch. You got that intent hunter's look on the bird.

01-23-2011, 07:19 PM
A nice quick sketch, John, I like the head pose / attitude, you captured something real there.

01-23-2011, 08:53 PM
Oh, wow. . . that is a great sketch done through a scope and in a couple minutes! Impressive that you caught it so well.

I went to the lake with the dogs today and TRIED to sketch things that were not moving like a plant and a lake in a few minutes and did not nearly even close as well. You are skilled, John.

01-23-2011, 09:09 PM
Thanks Debby, Chris and Rainy!

Rainy - I really appreciate the comment, but at the same time I feel like I've just scratched the surface. There are a few amazingly talented from-life bird artists in the Wildlife Art forum of BirdForum.net. I have a long way to go to get to their level. But, I have improved. Like everything else it's having the interest plus practice, practice, practice...! :)

01-24-2011, 12:22 AM
Your work rocks.:thumbsup: I'm inspired- I tried one bird sketch just from memory/imagination. Now I want to try more. I have a Robert Bateman book I want to use for art-photo references to copy. A good omen this morning- my feeder is only about 8 feet from my back door so birds usually flee when the dog comes & goes or I open the door for any reason. But this time a junko (?) was eating and did not even flinch when I opened the door & let in the dog!! Maybe they know it's a bird friendly zone! What a challenge to try to sketch from life without a camera! But fun... if I could only learn all the names.

01-24-2011, 10:53 AM
Cool! Cool! Cool! To sketch a bird from life while squinting through a scope shows such determination and skill!!!

01-25-2011, 01:34 AM
Thanks so much for the nice comments, Candace and EP! :o

Maybe given my most common subject matter, instead of purring like Robert I should chirp-chirp-chirp. :)

01-25-2011, 01:33 PM
LOL, John. :)

02-12-2011, 01:29 PM
Well, it's been some time since I've sketched birds from life...classes are a priority right now. But this morning as I was sitting down to my morning oatmeal, I saw a raptor in the snag tree near our house and it was a (the?) Merlin which has been a periodic visitor for the last few months. So out came the scope the sketchpad and graphite. I didn't get very far on the first sketch (the upper one) before the bird flew - and my approach at this point is to not attempt to complete the bird too much from memory unless I'm pretty confident about the details. The bird's shape is too skinny in that first image, and the bill not quite correct.

About fifteen minutes later, however, the bird was back and I was already set up - so this time I got a little further and was also more accurate in the proportions than the first time. However, my hyperactive model left pretty quickly again. The body proportions and the head are much better on the second try but again I didn't attempt to finish it from memory.

One of these days I'll get to the point where I can finish a whole rough sketch while the bird is still there - quickly and yet accurately.


02-12-2011, 07:57 PM
I really like the lines on the second one. Looks great to me.

02-12-2011, 08:19 PM
Your bird drawings are always so amazing to me. So cool you have the scope to see your subject.

02-13-2011, 01:17 AM
Having tried to draw birds from life I think your sketches are fabulous, you have caught his character so well in these drawings.

02-13-2011, 07:28 AM
Nice effort with the Merlin, John. The second one shows you were warming up, too bad it didn't hang around a bit longer.

02-13-2011, 09:37 AM
What a fantastic place you must live in to have these beauties so close to sketch them! You're doing an excellent job of capturing gesture and expression. Love 'em!


02-15-2011, 04:47 PM
Thanks Rainy, Debby, Linda, Chris and Jamie! Yes, we are lucky to live where we do - except for the soggy, rainy winter. But no place is perfect of course - and for outdoor activities and critters, it's hard to beat the Pacific NW.

Well, the cooperative Merlin (or its mate, or perhaps - though not likely - an entirely different one) showed up again yesterday and actually sat still between hunting sorties for a few minutes. So, I was able to get more of the bird, but it was still a challenge. (None of the hunting forays were successful, leading me to hope that this bird survives the winter. Mortality rate for first-winter raptors in many species is very high - nature doesn't allow for slow learners when it comes to hunting.)

So here are the latest two. Still a lot of opportunities to get better, but also a few things to like here.

C&C always welcome.



02-15-2011, 10:23 PM
More merlin magic!

02-15-2011, 10:36 PM
I certainly hope your merlin learns to hunt soon. And will hang around so you can keep sketching. Great sketches.

02-22-2011, 07:42 PM
Thanks Chris and Debby!

Today I noticed a small raptor flying into the yard and it turned out to be a Sharp-shinned Hawk that landed in the neighbor's tree. It stayed there for five minutes or so and I grabbed the sketchbook and got a bit further than usual. This is graphite in a 9 x 9 inch sketchbook. It was snowing out (very late in the year for us) and so the bird fluffed itself up to keep warm.


02-22-2011, 08:12 PM
Great sketch. It's really wonderful that you have such a variety of birds available to draw. It's snowing here too. Wish I had feathers I could fluff up to keep warm.

02-22-2011, 08:25 PM
Thanks, Debby! Yes, I'm lucky to have a bird-friendly yard. The life list for the yard is up to 88 species at present. Don't know that we'll ever get to 100, but it's possible if we stay here long enough. We've had a weird winter - cold and snowy at the start, mild during most of the middle, and now cold and snowy at the end. A bit strange...

Joan T
02-23-2011, 11:34 AM
John - I really admire how well you sketch these from life!!! It is great that you yard is bird-friendly, so they can pose for you. I'll be back to see more soon.

03-20-2011, 05:57 PM
Thanks, Joan!

Here are the latest attempts from the live subject(s)...always a humbling experience. These two pages are in the 9 x 9 Aquabee sketchbook done in graphite. The subjects are Double-crested Cormorants, on a freshwater oxbow slough in the Three Forks Natural Area a couple miles from my house. We have three species of cormorants in our state (Brandt's, Pelagic and Double-crested) and only the Double-crested shows up on freshwater...although they are also found on saltwater. They are fish-eating birds and dive for their food, using their long bills with serrations in them to grab and hold the fish.



03-20-2011, 07:03 PM
Hi John, great to see you doing birds from life again! cool fisher birds :)

03-20-2011, 09:49 PM
Marvelous sketches. You do a wonderful job.

03-21-2011, 04:01 AM
You've captured that ungainly look that cormorants can have when sitting out sunning themselves, good job with these. These birds know how to catch fish, that's for sure!

03-21-2011, 11:17 AM
Thanks Rainy, Debby and Chris!

03-22-2011, 02:50 PM
More great sketches. I am still in awe of how much you can get done from life.

04-18-2011, 11:53 AM
Thanks, Elain! Here are a couple of quick sketches from yesterday. The largest sketch is a Black-capped Chickadee, and the other two are of Pine Siskins.


04-18-2011, 01:07 PM
cool. . . sketching birds from life has GOT to be difficult. I know that doing dogs is as they move a lot and birds, well. . . you must have a photographic memory to do them from life! :) nice work

Joan T
04-18-2011, 01:30 PM
I like that you tried sketching them from life too. That is a challenge.

04-19-2011, 03:26 PM
Great sketches. Good to see you back in this journal.

04-19-2011, 03:32 PM
I missed a few posts, like the cormorants. I like the way they dry their wings. I've seen them doing that on the rocks in Maine.

Chickadee's are a favorite of mine. They are just so cute!

04-23-2011, 12:38 PM
You are so inspiring. I just added my binoculars to my sketching kit so I can start to do birds too. Cute lil chickadee!


04-24-2011, 03:14 PM
Thanks Rainy, Joan, Debby, Michelle and Jamie! We finally had a really nice day yesterday - first time we've hit 60 degrees all year in this incredibly rainy and cold spring (even compared to our normal wet and cool spring weather). I wound up going for a hike rather than sketching and of course today it's raining again, sigh. I really hope the weather will break for good here shortly and I can get going both on journals and plein air in earnest.

Thanks again for taking the time to check in! :wave:

05-29-2011, 04:24 PM
Hi, im looking for hawks,n eagles, dove's .... anything native american in colored pencil. I haven't done anything for some time. Need to get back at it...ty and blessings sent.

06-09-2011, 02:50 AM
The benefit is clearly evident I think in your drawings, to be able to draw from life. It certainly is not easy, and I think that each drawing you have made is better than the last... I especially like your raptors. Keep it coming!

06-09-2011, 10:05 AM
Thanks for looking, Judy and Jenny! :wave:

06-09-2011, 10:23 AM
Love the pine siskins and the black capped chickadee. These little birds are so true and accurate, it blows me away. Cool gestures of the cormorants. I love their odd postures and perfect anatomy. Also love the merlins and the sharp chinned hawk on the previous page. It's been too long since I came back to enjoy your birds from life journal, it's wonderful!

06-09-2011, 07:57 PM
Thanks, Robert!

06-10-2011, 12:31 AM
Here is a sheet of Rufous Hummingbird sketches I did this afternoon. One of the hummers that frequents our feeders has taken to sitting on the wire from which the feeder hangs. Which means the bird is about 7 feet from my work space. And today it sat still long enough (still not long!) to allow a couple quick sketches. The lower right mini sketch shows the hummer feeder and where the bird sits.

The color balance is not good here due to the picture being taken at night inside (and forgetting to re-do the white balance). But the sketches are monochrome anyway, so I left them as is. This is done with pen and ink and a waterbrush in a 12 x 9 inch Aquabee sketchbook. The paper is not even because of a watercolor on the other side.


06-10-2011, 10:56 PM
The hummingbirds are adorable! Nice gesture sketch with him preening under his wing.

06-11-2011, 09:06 AM
Your bird sketches from life always so well done. The humming birds are very cute too.

Joan T
06-11-2011, 10:25 AM
I'm just amazed at how you can sketch birds from life. I get two dots down on my paper and they are gone! lol Great sketches.

06-11-2011, 10:43 AM
Thanks Jamie, Michelle and Joan!

Joan - I think what helps me with sketching is that I've studied birds from a field identification viewpoint so much that I can do a passable 'mental snapshot' for at least some species. So, I get what I can from observation (always the most important aspect of drawing from life, obviously) but if (when, typically) the subject flies off I can (sometimes) retain enough of the mental image to get a half decent sketch down.

This said, I have so far to go to get to where I would like to be that it seems like crossing the Grand Canyon. If you want to see a world-class bird artist (both sketching and in studio) check out Tim Wootton, a UK artist, at http://www.tim-wootton.com/. He just wrote an amazing book - Drawing and Painting Birds - which is excellent. It has not only his work, but work from a lot of contemporary and earlier bird artists. His field sketches are just incredible.

06-11-2011, 02:21 PM
Very cute hummer. Awesome poses you caught.

06-12-2011, 09:13 AM
John, like many others here have said, I am in absolute AWE at your bird sketches, all from LIFE!!!!!

I have a love and hate relationship with birds - particulary with biscuit! - basically I just LOVE all birds and help my Aunty (she's 80!) in rescue and rehabilitation of birds to be released back in the wild.

However, it doesn't always works - thus I have "Flutter" a young female Pegeion with my Cockateils and King Quails. However BISCUIT is a different matter entierally - he is a self professed garbage bin, oh and a Miniature Cocketiel!

What I was trying to say before going totally off tangent (sorry!) is that although I have Biscuit close at land - I am HOPELESS at drawing or painting birds (even from photos!). What's worse, I couldn't tell you the difference between one bird than from another - unless my Aunty tells me!

See more soon I hope?????

Gentle Hugs, Stacey

06-12-2011, 10:50 AM
Thanks Debby and Stacey!

Stacey - not to worry, as long as I'm doing art of any kind, birds (including some from life) are going to be in the mix! Sounds like your Aunty is a great friend to the birds!

06-12-2011, 02:57 PM
Hi John, yeah she is mad about birds! Her back yard is set up to be bird friendly and the dogs have been taught NOT to touch them, or frighten them - and considering one is a fox terrior - that's some achievement!
She and Uncle have approximately 150 birds in massive averies, all breeding and then they sell them hand-raised! (this is where we got biscuit from!).
On top of that, as a registered rescue/rehab center, she gets between 2-10 birds a month to save, rehab or find a permanent home for! Considering they are on old age pensions, and both medically unwell, they are truly amazing and truely bird LOVERS!!!!!

Gentle Hugs, Stacey

06-12-2011, 06:29 PM
Wow, Stacey, they sound like really neat folks! We have re-done our yard to be bird-friendly as well, and it has definitely made a difference in the number and variety of species we get in the yard. Australia would be a great place to be in the bird rehabbing line of work - you folks have some wonderful bird species.

06-13-2011, 03:34 AM
Yeah we have a huge variety, I just downloaded a "basic" list of spotted birds in Queensland, particularly in my area - it numbered over 250 species! YIKES - I have trouble telling one white bird from another, let alone trying to figure out 250 of the little things!!!!!!...... running away now........ hehe

Gentle Hugs, Stacey

06-13-2011, 07:21 AM
These little guys are so great! Wonderful field sketches of the rufous hummingbirds. You're getting there. Sketch by sketch by sketch, you are approaching the point where you can do those detailed, accurate life studies. I know this from what you just described about how you do them. The mental snapshots and general knowledge has to be how a lot of these famous artists do it.

I know it's worked that way for drawing my cat. When I slow down to do him from a photo I know what key details to look for, what strokes will give the fluffiness of his fur, what's essential information and what's not. I get all that from the 25 second pose leading to a 2 minute drawing where I filled in the rest from memory or looked at him in a different pose. You're really getting a lot better on their shapes and proportions. Not to mention the sense of motion and their gestures.

Bird anatomy is coming truer and truer in all your sketches. Keep going!

10-25-2011, 05:25 PM
Thanks Stacey and Robert!

Time to resurrect this thread again. I have been sketching birds from life recently, but am focusing on oil painting at present, so haven't been posting any sketches. This morning, a sketching class met at Lake Washington in chilly but dry weather to sketch birds from life.

Here are the sketches I did - these cover about three hours, though some of that time was spent walking to get warm.

The gulls are mostly Mew Gulls, but there is a Western and a Glaucous-winged in the mix as well. Plus a Gadwall drake that swam by.

These are all in a 6 x 10 inch Arches Carnet de Voyage Travel Book, and were drawn directly in pen (Pigma Micron) then quick watercolor washes added..








10-25-2011, 06:13 PM
Hi John,

Glad you are back to doing the birds from life journal. Nicely drawn and painted birds . . . I am especially fond of the second page of gulls! Sounds like it was a cold day. . . BRRR.

10-25-2011, 07:09 PM
Fun sketches. Glad you are still sketching and haven't given up completely.

10-25-2011, 09:06 PM
Very nice birds.
We get a lot of hummers here in NM but they never sit long enough to really get a good look at them.

10-26-2011, 11:57 AM
Thanks Rainy, Debby and cat1lady!

No, I definitely have continued to sketch, and have no intention of giving that up...just reallocated some time over the next six months to push really hard on my oil painting. I'm doing a lot of homework grading and exams with the current master birder class that's in process right now, and have been sitting in on lectures about half the time. When I do, I'm doing quick sketches (15 to 45 seconds) from the slides the instructor is showing as he talks through them. That has been great practice and generated a ton of pages of sketches, but they're pretty basic and so I haven't been posting them here.

12-22-2011, 01:07 PM
Time to resurrect this thread again, since I had a great opportunity for some life sketching this morning. The 'raptor snag' visible from my work area in the kitchen nook has been visited the last three days by the pair of falcons that nest yearly on the cliffs at nearby Snoqualmie Falls. The first two days I didn't sketch them as I was otherwise occupied, and they didn't stay long. This morning, however, they were wonderfully lit by the low morning sun and I grabbed my sketchbook and a pencil. The pencil was too hard to get dark darks, so I just focused on trying to sketch a couple head positions. There was a breeze blowing, which moved the tree and which had them shifting positions constantly, so it was tough keeping a reference in mind, especially through the scope, which magnifies the movement of the tree (at first I thought I might get motion sickness - :) ). These are just such magnificent birds, which we've been so privileged to have as nearby residents with so much breeding success as well. Makes me wonder how long they'll be around, as they have been fixtures now for at least six or seven years. Anyway, here are the quick sketches, done in a 12 x 12 inch Aquabee Deluxe sketchbook.


12-22-2011, 01:13 PM
I'm envious of the falcons outside your window! Have you ever tried the Wolff's Carbon Pencils (http://www.dickblick.com/products/wolffs-carbon-pencil/)? I often use a 4B-6B to sketch. It's a graphite/charcoal combination --- yields the best of both worlds, plus can be washed with a waterbrush. I think it could be perfect for bird sketching. Going to try it out my window later today!


12-22-2011, 01:22 PM
Thanks, Jamie!

No, I haven't those pencils. Sounds like another must-have item for my supply inventory, though...:evil: .

12-22-2011, 05:34 PM
wow, your words and drawings together paint a lovely picture of the birds. Beautiful sight, I bet! Raptors are awesome. . . one in a while I see them over the canyon, I think they are some kind of hawk mostly but have seen a Golden Eagle once or twice! Those are magnificent. . .

12-22-2011, 05:40 PM
So cool you got to see them. Hope they have another successful season. You do wonderful work.

12-22-2011, 07:12 PM
Great to see you starting this thread up again. I love to see your work and read about the birds. THanks for sharing.

12-23-2011, 02:03 PM
A pleasant jaunt through an artist's view of the avian world.