Tag Archives: art books

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?


A Mine of Beauty, Landscapes by William Trost Richards

Last week I mentioned that I’d received two new books on my doorstep. This post is a review of the second book.

Thanks to James Gurney, my library has a new addition: a delightful book of watercolor miniatures by Nineteenth Century American painter William Trost Richards called A Mine of Beauty. Published by the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Art for an exhibition of the paintings, this little book is itself a mine of beauty. Or, as my friend Steven put it, “Holy cow!”

An Essay at Twilight by William Trost Richards at PAFA
An Essay at Twilight, watercolor on paper, 3 5/16 x 5 inches. Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Promist Gift of Dorrance H. Hamilton in memory of Samual M. V. Hamilton

Richards (1833–1905) was a Philadelphia painter who painted both in oil and watercolor. The approximately 100 paintings in A Mine of Beauty are printed full sized, from about 2 ½ inches by 3 ½ inches to 3 by 6. Richards painted them for his patron, industrialist George Whitney. Remarkably, the collection remained intact and now belongs to the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts.

The paintings in A Mine of Beauty are remarkable: beautifully rendered landscapes and seascapes from southern New England, mostly around Newport and Conanicut Island in Rhode Island, and from Britain. They are exquisitely detailed little things, images of shorelines, boats, villages, sheep grazing in fields, river scenes. The man must have had a size 000 brush and a magnifying glass to make some of these tiny people and animals and castles. I recently had a brief discussion with another blogger about size. Well, these miniature watercolors show just how big a world a tiny canvas can convey. And they’re watercolors!

If you believe, as I do, that a painter should study the masters to improve her own work, then, as much as Sorolla or Sargent, this is a must see for landscape painters.

The book is fabulous. The exhibition runs from September 29 to December 30, 2012. I wish I were going to Philadelphia this fall so I could see it!

Postscript: To be fair, there’s another new book on Richards, called William Trost Richards True to Nature: Drawings, Watercolors and Oil Sketches by Carol M. Osborne. As the title indicates, this larger book showcases Richards’ oils and drawings. I recommend them both to anyone interested in Richards’ work.

New Book on Joaquin Sorolla: Get It While You Can

Two new art books arrived on my doorstep yesterday. I’ll save the smaller book for a later post. This week I want to talk about the larger book: Sorolla: The Masterworks, by Blanca Pons-Sorolla. (She is the artist’s great-granddaughter and the author of several books by him.)


Sorolla's Return From Fishing, 1894, via wikipaintings.org
Return from Fishing, by Joaquin Sorolla y Bastida, 1894. I love these paintings of the boats on the shore: the sun, the wind in the sails, the water flowing at one’s feet. Sorolla said his subject was the sun, and he definitely gets it here.


While many people think of the Big Three of 19th Century painters as Monet, Renoir, and Manet, I know many contemporary artists who look rather to Sargent, Sorolla, and Swedish painter Anders Zorn. If you’ve ever tried to find a book on Joaquin Sorolla y Bastida and been frustrated because they were out of print and selling for over $100 used—order this one right now. I’ve no idea how large the print run of this book is, but if it’s like the other Sorolla books, it will only be printed once, and will be unavailable by Christmas (I’m writing this in early October 2012).

This really is a luscious book. It has large color reproductions of over 100 paintings in a high-quality printing, supplemented by black-and-white photos of Sorolla at work (including on some of the pieces in the book). Typical of Rizzoli, the printing is very good: even in these reproductions you can sometimes feel the sun and the surf that Sorolla captured so amazingly in his paintings of children at the beach, fisherman bringing in the boats, or a horse after a bath in the ocean. The paintings are shown in chronological order, so you can trace the changes in Sorolla’s style from fairly tight to much looser.

His portraits are sometimes compared to those of John Singer Sargent’s—the men evidently knew one another—and it’s nice to be able to compare the two (in high-quality reproductions, at least!). Books on Sargent are readily available, and new ones appear with regularity. Books on Sorolla, though, are ephemeral: here for a brief season and then gone. (Books on Zorn are non-existent, but Amazon does have an e-book for their Kindle Fire that’s not bad.)

If you’ve seen Pons-Sorolla’s big book, Joaquin Sorolla, published by the San Diego Museum of Art and now selling used for over $200, that book has more paintings in it (and many of them the same paintings as the new book), but the reproductions here are better: more subtle and probably truer to the paintings. The photographs of the painter at work, which show how he posed those children on the beach, and the giant canvases he worked on outdoors, are great. If you don’t already know Sorolla—this one is definitely worth seeking out.