Draw a Bird in December?

I couldn’t let December fly by without resurrecting Draw a Bird Day once again. I want to thank Kathy at Backyard Bird Nerd for a photo that just kept calling my name, and Ann at AnnChristina.com for a wonderful, emotive painting that just made me want to really try and capture a beautiful little wren!

1208 Wren

Wrens are such exuberant, lively singers, and they are so chippy and happy too. I fell in love with Ann’s recent wren painting, and wanted to try my own rendition with the same photo.   Ann gave me a great tip when I asked about her painting.   She sometimes uses colored pencil for the underdrawing, or to add depth to her work.   I really loved that idea, so I decided to try using watercolor pencil for the initial sketch.  Once I sketched in the wren, including the markings, and liquified the pigment, I let it dry before going back in with my Cotman travel watercolor palette.   Considering it was done with student-grade paint in my little mixed media art journal on my lap in front of the TV (vs. using good Arches paper meant especially for watercolor and sitting at a proper table with my full M. Graham palette), I was pretty happy with it. I have drawn many of Kathy’s lovely wren photos since, and I’ve even made some progress rendering bird feet since this painting was finished (which was kind of like my impossible dream, lol)!    I’m making the journey, people. 😀

I also wanted to share a few paragraphs from a book about drawing birds that I’ve mentioned before, “The Laws Guide to Drawing Birds” by John Muir Laws.   I have tremendous respect for this man, both as an artist and a teacher.   If you love birds as I do, and you’ve ever wanted to draw or paint them, let me assure you that you CAN do it.   It does take practice.   Just as you wouldn’t expect to sit down at the piano for the first time and play a symphony, you can’t expect to sit down and draw perfectly the first time either.   Drawing is such an amazing practice, much like meditation.    You will get back what you put into it, and I can tell you I’ve found rewards beyond anything I could have imagined when I started just over a year ago.

All my life I told myself I can’t draw because I don’t have “the gift”.   Well, often we believe what we tell ourselves, and in this case, I wasted over 45 years believing that!   I don’t want you to fall into the same trap.    Mr. Laws says it much better than I could here on page two of his wonderful book (please click the photo to enlarge):

I found this book at my local library, but if you have any interest in birds/making bird art, this may be one to purchase (or add to your Christmas list).    You may also want to check out the author’s blog and YouTube videos.    I promise you will be informed and entertained!    He is due to release a new book next month called “The Laws Guide to Nature Drawing and Journaling”.   Based on my experience with this author, it’s sure to exceed my expectations.

I hope everyone is enjoying the holiday season.   Hub and I set up his homemade nativity scene in the front yard over the weekend, and I’m looking forward to doing a post on it soon.   Until then, peace and joy to all!

Xciting Xamples!

Sometime last month, I painted my first horse in watercolor pencil, and decided I wanted to explore them further. Since then, I’ve found a few books that failed to inspire or help. Until now….I have two books to recommend to anyone interested in drawing animals, and horses in particular. I first learned about author J. C. Amberlyn from this wonderful post from Joan at Dusty Acres Studio, which inspired the heck outta me and made me wanna go grab a book by Amberlyn immediately.

Our library system owned this one:  “The Artist’s Guide to Drawing Animals” and I was able to recently acquire it.  I’ve not read the book, only skimmed it, but since I really want to learn to draw (and paint) wildlife accurately, this book looks to fill the bill perfectly.   She breaks animals down into basic shapes, she explains skeletal structures, focuses on the eye, the nose, mouth, etc., of each, and I find her artwork inspirational and her teaching accessible to this beginner.

I may wind up buying this book, as she covers so many animals I’d like to become more familiar with, and it would make an excellent reference book in years to come.

OK, so back to today’s artwork.  I ordered a box of willow charcoal some time ago after my daughter encouraged me to try charcoal, due to its forgiving nature.  Boy, was she right.  I really did enjoy using it, and although I think I was a bit heavy handed my first go-round, and had to put in some time with the kneaded eraser to lift back some light areas, I’m definitely willing to keep on with it.  Anyway, this was my first try at one of her sketches inside the book (p. 74):

0524 2

Even I could see as soon as I finished that the head was much too short.  So I tried again:

0524 1

A little better, but still a ways to go.  I think the head still needs to come down even longer.  Did I sketch in the three circles first, block out the head, as Amberlyn recommends?  Um, nope, just went right in with the charcoal as I’m prone to do (act first, think later), but….at least now I have a book that I feel can really help me to progress.

0524 3

I also want to mention the other book I found, called “Drawing Horses:  Basic Drawing and Painting Techniques” by David Sanmiguel.  This book was published earlier this month, and looks to be another great reference.  It’s devoted to capturing the horse in almost any medium:  graphite, charcoal, pastel, ink, watercolor, and more.   As I said, both books look like winners, but if you’re interested in drawing animals of all kinds, you don’t want to miss Amberlyn’s book.

I hope everyone is enjoying the weekend so far.  We’ve been blessed with near perfect weather, and hoping it continues!  Peace and hugs to all.  And happy creating.   Don’t forget to do something special for yourself today.  🙂

A book review: “Learn Watercolour Quickly” by Hazel Soan


I picked this book up at the library based on some reviews at Amazon.   It’s priced at $15 for 112 pages, including the index.    It’s a very basic, bare bones primer about the watercolor medium.    In my opinion, there is no such thing as learning watercolor quickly.    It’s like most things: practice is the best teacher, and you never stop learning.    But you don’t read a short, small book and *bam* it just all falls into place.

So if you’ve never picked up a watercolor brush, and you’re trying to decide if it’s worth investing in a starter set of paints, a brush and some paper, this might be a book for you to check out.    If you know the basics about watercolor, you probably won’t learn anything new.    It might work as a quick refresher if you’ve been away for a few years, though.    I don’t think I’d buy this, even if I knew nothing.   I’d borrow it, maybe take a note or two, and invest in a reference book I might refer to again down the road.

My two cents.   I hope you found it useful.

A Birdy Book Review: “How to Draw and Paint Birds” by Maury Aaseng

Aaseng birds book3.5/5 stars.  At only 32 pages, this was a fast read, but a worthwhile one.  I read the whole thing last night, and I’m glad I did.  I did pick up a few tips I can use when drawing the species he includes, and a few techniques that will help me along with other birds as well.

For the most part, though, this is a study of six birds:  the Barred Owl, Great Blue Heron, Ruby-throated Hummingbird, Gray Parrot, Pileated Woodpecker, and the Black-capped Chickadee.  The author gives very detailed, step-by-step instructions of how to draw each bird in graphite, including which pencils he uses for each step.  It makes for pretty boring reading, actually, but if you’re using this book to complete a drawing of a chickadee, for example, then you might find it helpful as a start.

For me, the most useful part of this book is the section on drawing specific bird features, such as the beak, foot, flight feathers, etc.:  information you can take to any bird species.  I’m not really looking for a paint-by-number approach to a specific bird, as detailed here, but rather a general approach that will give me the confidence to tackle any bird I might come across.

I am finding this book much more useful in that endeavor:

Laws Guide to BirdsI’ve not read it from cover-to-cover, so I won’t post a review just yet, but browsing the first few pages, I found tons of information that will help you understand bird anatomy, to rough-in basic shapes, explains the importance of understanding the angle of the head, spine and tail, etc.  This is good stuff, and I believe it’ll help you produce a more accurate drawing.  I highly recommend it.   This book actually helped me to create some nice cardinal Christmas cards this year, because without a good underdrawing, you can’t expect a great (or even good) painting.  I followed this book’s step-by-step suggestions for drawing the cardinal, and now I’m able to feel more confident drawing almost any bird.

I hope I’ve inspired some of you to try drawing and painting birds.  If anyone can suggest any good books that helped them, I’d be thrilled to hear about them, also.