Thursday, June 20, 2013

Sketches of a pheasant: my introduction to drawing

Drawing 1: Just getting the pencil on paper (pencil)

Drawing looks easy when you watch the masters. David Allen Sibley, author and illustrator of Sibley Field Guides, dazzles some young kids (and blows my mind) in this Youtube clip. Or check out Pedro Fernandes transform observations and research into a bird poster for Cornell University's Department of Ornithology.

Drawing 2: Contour (pencil)

But drawing birds was quite a challenge for me! Determined to make the most out of a required art course (for my teaching certification), I thought I would learn to draw birds. In addition to our in-class drawings and weekly assessment pieces, each student had to draw a real-life object for homework assignments. The object had to be a physical 3-D item, as in not a drawing or photograph. So where was I going to find a bird?

Drawing 3: Texture (pencil)

Drawing a real bird, especially for a beginner like me, presented one major challenge: how would I get a bird to sit still for the hour-long assignment? Live birds are kept as pets and in zoos, or live free in the wild; none of them would likely sit still for the assignment or be available on my drawing schedule. Many artists draw birds from preserved specimens, but I didn't have access to any collections. Native birds are protected, and it is my understanding that you must have a license for collecting them dead or alive. Moreover, I wasn't loving the idea of killing a bird for my art class, even if it was non-native. I was open to processing an already dead one (I dissected and preserved a bird that died after a window crash in Rwanda), but I couldn't find any freshly dead pigeons, house sparrows, or starlings.

Drawing 4: Value (pencil)

I was really hoping to find a small bird, preferably something relatively simple, like a house sparrow or a dove. I called taxidermists, antique malls, and even pet stores (to find a recently dead pet bird), but all I could find were ring-necked pheasants. Beautiful as they may be, they are fairly large and have complex plumage. But I wanted to draw birds, and so with a stop in River Market Antiques, I brought home a mounted ring-necked pheasant. Michele and I named him Bertrand. 

Drawing 5: Perspective (pencil)

The assignment required that an hour be spent on each drawing; thus, most drawings are not finished. I tried to use each assignment to explore a different technique/method/concept, which is labeled in the captions. 

Drawing 6: Subtractive Method (charcoal)

I don't anticipate drawing Bertrand anymore, but I have started drawing sketches in my field notes. When birding gets slow or I am taking it easy watching common birds, I like to make little sketches of what I am seeing. It forces me to examine how the wings fold, how the bill curves, and other details that often get lost in process of hiking and finding birds. 

Drawing 7: Bringing it all together (watercolor pencils)

Making a 3-D object into a 2-D drawing forces you to represent the object; it isn't the real object, but a portrayal.  The same is true of photographs, and photographing my drawings changed them too. I changed the exposure to show the lines better, but ultimately they still look a little different than as they are in the hand.   As far as birds go, this is an important lesson to remember- illustrations and photographs of birds show you a representation of the bird, but the bird itself holds a lot more detail than any representation can hope to show. 

Bertrand, the ring-necked pheasant on my wall

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