The Laws Guide to Drawing Birds

A friend’s recent question—“why don’t you put birds in your paintings?”―led me to find one of the best books I’ve seen for drawing birds: The Laws Guide to Drawing Birds, by John Muir Laws.

The Laws Guide to Drawing Birds, cover illustration
The Laws Guide to Drawing Birds, by John Muir Laws. ©2012 John Muir Laws. Illustrations used by permission

Artists typically study human anatomy in figure drawing classes, studying skeletons and musculature to inform their work. After all, we are hard-wired to know when an arm is too long. But few classes teach how to draw animals, and few books are as clear as this one.

With simple, clear instructions and wonderful examples, Laws takes you through all the steps you need to learn to draw birds accurately and quickly. AND he warns you about common mistakes, such as making the head too large.

Laws starts with the basics, of course: getting posture and angles, the proportion, head position, and angles. Only then does he go into shading and, finally, color. (The cover illustration is a good example of his process.)

Then the book goes on to bird anatomy, birds in flight, using negative space, field sketching, and materials. And he offers lots of tips. Here’s an example:

?©2012 John Muir Laws.  Used by permission
This image highlights the duck’s shoulder. See how the duck balances its mass in the water?©2012 John Muir Laws. Used by permission

This image, of a duck in water, highlights where the duck’s shoulder is, to help you get the feathers right. I also see it as helping balance that duck in the water, by showing how the mass is distributed.

He shows you how to make a frame to draw birds in flight, how to get heads and bodies in perspective, and how to use negative space to draw those curvy necks on herons.

Laws encourages everyone to sketch nature in the field. “The most important part of field sketching,” he writes, “is not the drawing itself, but the focus that it brings to your observations and the strengthened memories that emerge from drawing what you see.” And he offers more tips on his website and blog.

And, perhaps best of all, he runs the Bay Area Nature Journal Club, “a diverse community of artists and naturalists, of all levels, who meet together to connect to nature through art.” It’s a free program with monthly workshops on sketching nature, wildflowers, and birds. Makes me wish I lived closer to the Bay Area—maybe I’ll join them some time when they do a trip to the East Bay.

Wren in Flight ©2012 John Muir Laws.
Can’t you just hear the whirr of this wren’s wings? ©2012 John Muir Laws. Used by permission

“If you just see a blur of wings, draw the blur.”

I love it!

Why don’t I put birds into my paintings? That’s a topic for another post.

Do you like to sketch nature?

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