Introduction to Drawing Birds at DVSA!

Yesterday, I was back at the Dundas Valley School of Art to teach a one-day workshop. Our medium was pen and ink and our theme was an introduction to drawing birds. I chatted a bit about famous bird artists like John James Audubon, James Fenwick Lansdowne and Robert Bateman and discussed their processes. We also talked about David Sibley and other excellent bird illustrators whose work informs the field guides used to identify birds. Artists past and present have worked from mounted specimens, skins, field sketches and photos. Our only option yesterday was to use photos as our reference. We worked from black and white photos as our drawings were in black and white, as well.

Proportion is important when drawing a bird. I used a simple grid approach and presented this to the students.

This is a Black-capped Chickadee, a common woodland and feeder bird in southern Ontario. I’m going to show you three steps of my demonstration. The first step establishes the main values throughout the drawing with hatching. I do not outline and I develop the darks very patiently. Most of the preliminary pencil drawing has been erased, including the grid, but not all.

I’ve used cross-hatching to emphasize plumage details and to stress ‘light and shadow’ in order to give the bird fullness and form.

I’ve developed the darks and added definition to areas like the undertail and legs. Note the gaps I’ve left around the edge of the bird such as the beak, upper breast, upper back, tail, legs and branch. Did you notice the gaps before I mentioned them? These gaps allow light to flow throughout the drawing and enhance the feeling of vitality. A heavy outline is not only unnecessary; it would flatten out the drawing and detract from the impression of fullness and liveliness.

The students followed my steps in order to understand the process. There were a lot of elements to consider and they did very well with the exercise.

Black-capped Chickadee Critique

Our afternoon drawing was a portrait of a Downy Woodpecker; another local favourite. Here’s my grid analysis and my unfinished demonstration.

I enjoyed the talented and enthusiastic group of students. Several were birders and many were members of the local Hamilton Naturalists’ Club. They worked hard and came away with a sound process for drawing birds at home from their photos. Let’s have a look at their Downy Woodpeckers.

Downy Woodpecker Critique


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6 Responses to “Introduction to Drawing Birds at DVSA!”

  1. Denise Montague Says:

    Hi Barry

    I heard you were having issues with your email. Hope to join your glass at Adrian as soon as my Mom is well enough to leave her by herself. Please confirm receipt of this email

    Cheers Denise

    Sent from my iPhone


    • Barry Coombs Says:

      Hi Denise, You’ve sent a comment here and not an email so I hope you receive this response. I’ve emailed you several times without success. I forwarded both of my email addresses through Susan. Please, make sure they’re in your Contacts.
      Also, you can try emailing me through the Contact Me page on the right hand side of the Home page of this blog. Hopefully, it’ll work.
      Sorry about the frustration. There are spots left in the remaining classes and it’d be great to have you join us.
      Cheers, Barry

  2. Lois Says:

    Interesting and Helpful article. Thanks Barry; and all the drawings were so nice…Lois

  3. Sue McKee Says:

    Hi Barry, I’d love to do this drawing class with you. I wonder if you’d consider doing the same class on Arts on Adrian. Sue McKee

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