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Sketching is one of the purist forms of artistic expression. A sketch is a swiftly executed freehand drawing that captures an idea, a gesture or a moment in time. It is not intended to be a finished work.
Sketching birds from life is a difficult task.
I know this from personal experience. As a young child, I grew up trying to capture the birds that flocked to our yard. Frustrated, I finally decided to capture them on paper with a pencil. I have been drawing and painting birds ever since!
That is why I am so impressed with the amazing Peregrine Falcon bird sketches of artist, John Perry Baumlin. Once endangered and nearly extinct in the wild, the Peregrine Falcon is the fastest animal on the planet…this fact makes John’s brilliant sketches even more amazing!!! Enjoy. ~Lori
Sketching Birds From Life by guest artist/author: John Perry Baumlin
I consider sketching from living subjects to be a necessary–and very enjoyable–part of the process of gaining knowledge of a particular subject. It can also be very frustrating as there is almost always a factor of motion involved, so very rarely is one able to make a “completed” drawing from life.
There is no right way to approach drawing live birds. You can sketch for gesture, only getting down a quick contour or shape, in which case you want to work as quickly as possible, or you can sketch for details: a foot, an arrangement of feathers that interests you, etc.
I am very lucky to be living near a breeding pair of Peregrine Falcons. Because they are completely indifferent to the presence of humans, it is possible to observe them from fairly close quarters and see very relaxed, natural behavior. They spend most of their day perched, so I have lots of opportunity to draw them using my spotting scope to get a very intimate look.
I usually start by drawing the body, as that will stay pretty much in the same position as long as the bird is there. Then I start making quick sketches of the head all around it on the same page. Because the is almost always moving, I am usually only able to get the beginning of a head gesture in one spot on the paper. Then I’ll start another one nearby, and continue this until I have several head gestures to go with the body I’ve sketched. Often I’ll take the best of these and incorporate it into the body sketch.
With birds that are moving a bit more (preening, etc), I will look at the bird through the scope and shut my eyes at the exact moment I see a gesture I like. This freezes the motion in my brain for a few seconds, enough for me to put down the essentials of the gesture. I then may be able to fill in more of the details by waiting until the bird is in the same position.
Birds in flight can be sketched the same way, but one must be content with getting only basic gestures down on paper with very few details to fill it out. But even one of these quickly done studies can incorporate many hours of thoughtful observation and thus be very valuable reference in itself.
There is value in drawing even very familiar subjects, but the challenge then becomes one of not falling back on drawing what you already know, but really searching the subject for something new…and there will always be something more to learn!
~John Perry Baumlin
Sketching sharpens an artist’s ability to focus on the most important elements of a subject and is a prescribed part of artistic development for students. In fact, John has inspired me to pick up my pencil again! I hope he inspired you too. Please leave a comment and let John and me know what you think.
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