The better I can draw, the better I can paint.
This has been true since day one, and it continues to be one of the most important lessons in my attempt to improve at painting.
So, when I looked back at my recent bird paintings with relative disappointment, I decided to commit myself to learning how to better draw birds.
I have only been drawing birds for a few hours a day for two weeks. So I’m not any kind of expert. But, I can say with confidence that even the most cursory introduction to learning how to draw a subject is absolutely invaluable.
The first video I watched was this one, which proved to be incredibly helpful. I’m the video, he breaks down the major structures of the birds, and explains how to capture the bird gesture quickly. I love his tip about starting by drawing the negative space around the bird. And, I found the exercise of “petting” the bird as I draw it remarkably effective for me.
After watching the video all the way through, I played it again, this time pausing to draw along. And, when I finished, I went outside and did the homework he recommended. (I didn’t look up birds on birdpixel.com, instead, I tried to sketch live birds at the feeders in my back yard.)
In the video, he encourages the students to try to draw birds quickly – not well. He encourages this because by drawing quickly we get a better feel for the energy and gesture of the bird. We can always go back and fix errors in proportion and angles with careful marks after. I took his advice and drew these birds quickly. None of these are good drawings – and that’s exactly why I’m sharing them here. The point of this exercise is NOT to make good sketches. The point is to force yourself to observe the subject intentionally, by sketching as you look. I didn’t really even look at the paper as I sketched, because I just wanted practice “looking” at the birds.
After this, I watched another of his where he explained how to draw bird heads in more detail. I tried sketching the structures he described.
So, I bought his book, and started sketching through it a bit.
Here are some of the drawings I made as I read through the first few pages of the book.
I still have a long way to go, but I have improved dramatically, and my painting has improved as well. Yet more proof: in order to paint well, I need to draw well.
One more thing: I ended up buying one of the pencils John Muir Laws recommended, and I think I like it. I will practice with it more, but at this point I’m happy with it.
Before painting, I sketched it out in the blue pencil I was just talking about.
Then, I refined the drawing with a 4B
Then, I painted a flat wash for the sky. Before that dried, I lifted potions to make clouds. ‘
I then painted the bird, my focus Here was to paint the light and medium values, hoping to come back for the darker values later.
I then finished with some details, and a quick walk through the branch. My focus throughout was to try to paint as if I were sketching. I’m not sure it worked as well as I would have liked, but I am quite proud of this painting. I might try to loosen up my lines a bit in the future, but I was very happy with how this came out as is.
I will try one of the other birds again tomorrow.