Feathered Friends: Methods for Drawing Birds | Krissy Ewins | Skillshare

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Feathered Friends: Methods for Drawing Birds

teacher avatar Krissy Ewins, Illustrator & Etsy Seller

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Taught by industry leaders & working professionals
Topics include illustration, design, photography, and more

Watch this class and thousands more

Get unlimited access to every class
Taught by industry leaders & working professionals
Topics include illustration, design, photography, and more

Lessons in This Class

11 Lessons (45m)
    • 1. Introduction

    • 2. Class Project

    • 3. Tips for Drawing Studies

    • 4. Drawing Feet

    • 5. Studying a Crow

    • 6. Drawing a Crow

    • 7. Studying an Owl

    • 8. Drawing an Owl

    • 9. Studying a Sparrow

    • 10. Drawing a Sparrow

    • 11. Closing Thoughts

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About This Class


Birds can be a really beautiful and fun subject to draw. They can also make a really lovely addition to your existing drawings! So in this class we'll be learning tricks and techniques to break them down so we can draw them more easily!

This class will teach this through showing how to study and draw a crow, a barn owl and a sparrow. You'll be able to then use these techniques to go out on your own and teach yourself how to draw any other bird you'd like!

This class is suitable for intermediate artists but if you're a beginner with any extra questions please feel free to ask them in the Discussions section and I'll do my best to answer them.

I'll be using Procreate to teach this class but the same techniques can be used in any other drawing software and even with traditional paper and pencil. 

I'm excited to see you in class!


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Music: bensound.com 

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Krissy Ewins

Illustrator & Etsy Seller


Hi there! Thanks for checking out my classes :) 

If you’d like to see more of my work and be notified for future classes you can find me in these places:

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1. Introduction: Hi everyone. In this class, I'm going to be teaching you the methods I use to study and draw birds. I'll be covering how to draw three specific birds. A crow, a barn owl, and a sparrow. You'll be able at the end to go on and use the methods you learn to teach yourself how to draw any of the bird too. We'll be learning some tricks to make sure your illustrations look balanced and well proportioned. I'll also be sharing a few tips about using Procreate and the brushes I like to use. I'm Chrissy and I'm an illustrator from Northern Ireland. A lot of my work focuses on birds, so I hope to pass on some of the tricks I've learned over the years that I wish I'd known starting out. This class will be most suited for intermediate artists with prior drawing experience. Although if you're a beginner and have any extra questions about the class, please go ahead and ask, and I'll do my best to help you out. By the end of this class, you'll have a finished drawing of your favorite bird. All you need is your favorite digital drawing app or a pencil and some paper. Let's get started. 2. Class Project: You can follow along with the lessons to do your class project or do at the end after you've watched them all. I'm going to be covering how to draw a few different birds in this class. Even though they can look a lot different to each other, there's a lot of overlap in the methods you can use to draw them all. So I hope you'll leave this class with the competence to draw whatever bird you want. So for our class project, I'll be asking you to pick your favorite out of the three birds covered. You don't have to share them if you don't want to, but do a few studies of it to get a feel for its proportions and what it looks like. We'll go over the methods for doing this in the next few lessons. Then you'll be creating a final polish drawing. You're welcome to copy one of the poses I do in the lessons or come up with your own unique one. When it's finished, share it the class gallery so everyone can see your lovely creation and give you some feedback. I'll be talking about some tips and tricks for drawing digitally and procreate, but you're very welcome to draw this traditionally with pencil and paper if you prefer. I'll also have a link in the class description to my Pinterest boards, follow the references I used for the drawings, so you can use the same ones if you like. Now let's dive into the lessons. 3. Tips for Drawing Studies: I think a good place for me to start with these lessons is by sharing some useful techniques you might not know for drawing studies. When you pretty unfamiliar withdrawing a subject, doing some studies before starting your full illustration saves you so much time and frustration. This doesn't even apply to birds but to anything you're drawing in general. It's a great habit to get into, so hopefully you can use these techniques in lots of other areas of your art. I personally use the same methods for drawing humans and other animals too. The first trick I like to use is a square grid, this helps you judge the sizes and angles of your subject more easily. It means you can make sure to place features like eyes on the same line as your reference photo, and if a body part is two squares wide in your photograph you'll know to make it that wide in your study too. To use one of these in Procreate, go to the Actions menu, toggle on the Drawing Guide, then go to Edit Drawing Guide. From here select "2D Grid", and then you can play around with these sliders to change the size and opacity of the grid to whatever you want. For a study where you're just trying to learn the sizes and proportions of a bird, you're not always going to want to draw every single feather because that would take way too much time. A trick I like to use to hint at them is to make use of C curves and hatches, I tend to use C curves to quickly draw in the bottom edges of feathers. I most frequently use this on the wings or on areas that are bending and preventing the feathers from laying flat. Some birds can have very soft fluffy feathers so I use hatches to show those. An example where I would use these is where the feathers blend into the feet because the feathers finite a lot here. The next trick I use a lot is measure the rest of the body features against the sizes of either the head or the eyes. When I'm drawing the face I might for example measure how many eyes wide the beak is, and when I'm drawing the body I might measure how many heads long the wings are. While I tend to use a square grid method that I mentioned earlier for studies, I use this method to be able to draw birds in different poses for my imagination. It helps to keep them looking a little more accurate and realistic. Don't worry if it sounds difficult to keep track of all these proportions though, the more you a draw a bird the more you subconsciously remember it all. It's totally fine to keep some notes beside you while you're drawing if you're unsure. I draw a lot of birds, but even I still like to do this to feel a bit more confident and sure of what I'm doing. The last trick is one I've started using quite recently, but I find it really helpful so far. Sometimes when you're drawing a bird standing on a flat surface or perching on a branch, it can maybe look a bit wonky and unbalanced. This is because its center of gravity isn't being supported by its legs. I remember taking some live drawing classes a few years ago and my teacher kept telling me that the figures I was drawing looked unbalanced, and I just didn't understand how to fix it. He was always away to the next student before I could get a good answer out of him. Anyway, in humans I know you use the belly bottom as an easy marker for where the center of gravity is. This is a bit weird but for birds I tried to pitch where the belly bottoms would be if they actually had them. Then I think of a horizontal line between the feet, if the belly bottom doesn't vertically line up with areas supported by the feet then might look like your bird is about to fall over. Sometimes this is okay, like if you're drawing about opening its wings about to take flight. But if you're drawing a still resting bird this is a good trick to keep in mind. All right. Now that we've got that done, in the next lesson we're going to talk a little bit about drawing bird feet. 4. Drawing Feet: I feel like feet can easily be overlooked, but there are big enough topic to dedicate a lesson to if you want to be realistic in your bird art. I'm going to cover what I know about them in this lesson and a quick method I use to draw them. Unlike us, birds don't have five forward facing toes. The majority of common birds have three toes at the front and one toe at the back. Although some birds like parrots have two toes at the front and two of the back. Then there's even some weird birds like ostriches that only have two toes altogether. It all depends on what environment they live in and what they use them for. It's definitely good to do your research before you start your drawing to make sure you're using the right tool combination. When I'm drawing a foot, I like to use circles to mark the ends of the toes. Then I add the claws on top of these circles. If it makes it easier for you, you could also draw in some sticks before placing the circles to help you visualize what you want to draw. I tried to keep in mind which toes are the longest ones, and I place the circles accordingly. After this, I draw lines connecting the toes to the rest of the foot. When doing this, it's good to make note of if the toes are thick, thin, or bumpy in your reference photos. If the bird has webbed feet like a duck, you can add a few lines in for that line too. Something useful like the circles is that it makes it super easy to draw the foot in perspective. The average bird also has scales on top of their foot. I like to draw these in by using an overlapping shape like this one. I normally put them on top of the toes and up the front side of the leg. In the next few lessons, I'm going to show you how to put together all these techniques to study and draw some different parts. 5. Studying a Crow: In the previous lessons, I talked about studying your bird before drawing it. I'm now going to put it all together and show you how to approach this when drawing a crow. We're going to work out the proportions of this guy's head by measuring his features against his eye. Let's start by measuring things vertically. To the top of the head from the eye, it seems to be 1.5 eyes. From the eye to where the head meets the rest of the body, it seems to be the length of two eyes. I'll also just mark where the half eye length goes with a dash line like this. Let's have a look now at how this lines up with the beak. The bottom of the beak seems to be one eye's length from the eye. The fabric tuft on the top half of the beak seems to line up with the base of the eye. Let's do this again now, but horizontally. To the back of the head is roughly three eyes. The end of the beak is 4.5 eyes. The start of the mouth opening seems to be roughly just half an eye. Finally, his cheek fluff appears to be just about 2.5 eyes. Now we hopefully have a good grasp of the sizes of his facial features. Let's move on to his full body proportions. Most birds have this curved patch of cheek fluff coming out of the back of the eye. I like to measure the bottom of the head by where it ends. His torso seems to be three heads long, and from there to the end of his tail is roughly two heads. It looks like his legs and feet are also roughly one head in length. He's totaled a bit of an angle here, but it looks like the top of his wings start after by half a head. We should feel quite ready now to go ahead and draw some studies of these two references. I'm going to keep the measurements I've made visible and I'm going to turn on a square grid to help me along too. Before I jump into the details, I like to roughly block out the main shapes. I find that I need to start with an oval to show where the head is. It's really tempting sometimes to start with a circle, but I find ovals work better for the majority of birds. I also like to use this brush for this stage. Since the eye is important for us to measure his proportions, it's good to add that in next. From here, I add in the cheek fluff and then I mark out the outline of the beak. Now that you have the main shapes done, you can start to fine tune your sketch and add in the extra smaller details while erasing any lines you don't need anymore. Don't worry if you've made any mistakes at this stage because this exercise is mainly just to get a feel for how the bird looks. It doesn't have to be pretty right now. In fact, make it as messy as you like because no one ever has to see these sketches if you don't want them to. It's all just about learning and practicing at this stage. Work in a way that makes you feel comfortable. When you feel like you've got a good grasp on how to draw his heads, you can move on to draw the whole body. Again, I'm just going to flash out the main shapes as a guide. I like to add an extra line following the shape of the middle of the stomach. If you remember the belly button trick I mentioned in the earlier lessons, this helps me with imagining where that would go, and therefore, helps me with drawing a balanced figure. Now that I've got my outline, I'm going to decrease its porosity and start filling in the details and making any fine corrections as I go. Don't worry too much by drawing in all the individual fibers, hinting up them is totally fine. Shading can be totally optional too, but I'm just adding it to add more interest in the drawing. My favorite brush to use for this is the gouache brush. There you go. We've just finished these two studies. Don't feel limited to just doing two. If you want to do some more before moving on to the next lesson, I wholeheartedly recommend it. The more you do, the easier the next lesson will be. Speaking of which, in the next one, we're going to be drawing a crow from imagination by using what we've just learned from our study in. 6. Drawing a Crow: In this lesson, we're now going to draw our own crow. Before you start, it's really helpful to create a super quick thumbnail showing the pose you want without worrying about getting all the sizes of everything right. Then you can move on to drawing out some guidelines with the correct proportions. I tried to recreate the same shapes that are used to start my studies. Also don't worry about being super neat at this stage. I'm normally very messy with my drawing at this point, but just to make it easier for everyone watching this, I'm trying to be as neat and clear as possible. So you know what shapes to use in your own drawing. I'll have these guidelines included in the class files so you can download them to reference for your class project if you like. When you're happy with your guides, create a new layer and decrease the opacity of the old one. You can now start creating the actual drawing and fill in all the fun details. Make sure to keep your photo references nearby to make sure you don't get stuck on how to draw a body part. For the wings, I find it helpful to divide up the fabric groups, in your guidelines with horizontal curves. I have a whole other class that's just focused on drawing wings. If you'd like to learn more about how they work, please feel free to check out that one too. If you want to go for a more dynamic open-winged pose, you might find it very helpful. Make sure to use hashes and C curves to hint at the fluffier feathers. Sometimes less is more so they can be nice to keep things clear and simple. Before shading anything. It's always a good idea to decide on a point that you want your light to becoming from. In this case, I'm going to have light coming from the top left. I'm going to move on to doing some basic shading now. As of the studies, I like using Procreate squash brush for this. As it creates a nice textures and reacts really well to different pressure levels. As crows are very dark birds, I'm going to cover all of them in a wash of gray. When shading everything, you might find it most efficient to start with a large brush to add in big blocks of shadow, and then work your way down gradually to a smaller brush to add the detail chattels. Towards the end, it can look nice to go back in with an eraser to add in some tiny highlights. It's up to you though. Do whatever you feel is most fun. Sometimes if I want to add more depth at the end, I'd like to go in with a large soft brush tool to create some soft shadow gradients. I think I'm going to call this guy finished. I hope you enjoyed this lesson. I'm going to be covering a different bird for the next one. We'll be able to explore the similarities and differences between the birds. So you know what to keep an eye out for when drawing different ones. 7. Studying an Owl: In this lesson, we're going to learn some methods for how to study a barn owl. Just like with the crow, we're going to start by looking at the head and measuring its features against its eye. In this case, I'm going to treat the circle around the face as the borderline of the head. Starting horizontally, there's a space the length of two eyes between his eyes. That's a bit funny to say, so hopefully it makes sense. Then from the outside of the eye to the edge of the disk is roughly one eye. Vertically now, the fluff covering the beak ends after about one eye. Then the beak itself ends after another eye. Then the top of the head from the eye is by one and a half. The bottom of the head also seems to be half an eye from the beak. That's the head proportions covered, let's move on now to the rest of the body. I'm going to keep this one quite simple, but we're going to use the circle around his face as the head measurement again. This guy looks to be roughly three heads tall in total, with his body on its own being one and a half. Now that we've got those measurements, we're going to keep them visible, just like with the crow, and go ahead and do some studies. It's always good to break things down into their most basic shapes, so I'm going to start with a circle for this barn owl to mark out its face. Using a dividing line down in the middle is a useful trick to make sure the face is looking properly symmetrical. When we've got the eyes marked out, we can curve into the circle to make the shape match the photo reference. I like to think of it like an apple slice. Next we can mark in the beak shape and the fluff around it. Always making sure if you can that the proportions match up to the reference. Now that the main shapes are in, we can start to add in the details like the eye lines and any extra fluff and feathers. Since the face disk isn't a perfectly sorted line, I go in and add some seekers for feathers and erase the sides to soften them up a bit. This is an optional step, but now that the sketch is done, we can go ahead and add in some rough shading. Time to study the whole body. We're going to start with head again, so we can use it as a guide and block in the shapes of facial features. Next, we can add in the rough shape of the body along with the wings. I'm going to add in some outlines for the feathers too, just indicate where the different groups are, and the directions that the feathers look like they're carving in. In the earlier lesson about joined feet, I mentioned how marking the toes of circles can make weird perspectives a lot easier to draw. This is a great example of that as the toes are very foreshortened here. After throwing some blobs of shading down, he's finished. Make sure not to worry about perfection when doing these studies. Always remember they're just here for learning, so they can be as quick and messy as you need. In the next lesson, we'll have a go at drawing our own barn owl for ourselves. 8. Drawing an Owl: In this lesson, we're going to draw a barn owl from imagination. Since you're now familiar what the barn owl looks like from your studies, go ahead and create a loose thumbnail of the posey want to draw. It always helps to have a rough time for you jump in and lets you quickly test out a few different compositions for your illustration until we find one you like the most. So starting with the circle, I'm going to break down the shapes that roughly make up the owl and draw everything with the right proportions. If you'd like a little help with this for your own drawing, I'll have these guidelines included in the files for the class. Feel free to copy the shapes of these to break it down or create your own unique ones. Now that those one's are finished, we can move on to the fun part. Know the opacity of the guidelines and create a new layer on top for your sketch. I'm not doing it in this example because I wanted my lines to be as visible as possible for the class. But a great tip just for your own digital drawings is to change the color of your background layer from white to gray. It reduces eye strain a lot, which makes drawing a lot more comfortable. Barn owl seemed quite fluffy looking bodies. So I'm trying to make sure to hint at that with some new lines. A lot of birds have loads of little feathers on the top of the wings but big distinct feathers on the bottom half. I always like to make the bottom half more detailed than the top half of my drawings. Let's shade them now. This time, let's put the light source on the right side of the owl. Unlike the crow, this owl is generally very pale in color, so we can just go straight into the shading. Starting with a larger goulash brush and working our way down to a smaller size. If you think it will work in your own join, don't feel like you have to stick strictly to shading the [inaudible] included in your line art. It can now do more realistic feel if he entered a few extra soft feathers with your shading. I see eyes were quite dark and one of the main features people look at I've made them one of the darkest features in my shading. I've also used the eraser to out a few highlights to them. In my reference photos, a lot of barn owls seem to how speckles on there chest. So I decided add those into my illustration to make things a bit more interesting. I think the column is finished now. I hope it was helpful getting to see this example. If you have any questions at any point, please ask and I'll do, what I can to help. In the next lessons, we are going to be drawing our final bird, house sparrow. 9. Studying a Sparrow: In this final set of lessons, we're going to work on drawing the high sparrow. As before, let's start by having a look at the head proportions. So vertically, the top of the head from the eye is one eye's length. Below the eye, the bottom edge of the beak is one eye away. Then the little black pebble feathers is roughly three eyes long. Like the crow, a sparrow also seems to have fluff on its cheeks. This ends after about one and a half eyes. Now, let's look at things horizontally. The end of the mouth seems to line up before the eye ends. Then in total, the beak looks to be three eyes long. To the back of the head from the eye is two and a half eyes. The bottom half of the beak has a small square patch of feathers which ends after half an eye. Let's look at the full body now. The sparrow is similar to the crow with the cheek fluff, so I'm going to mark that as the end of the head. It's body is about two heads long and the tail is one head after that. If we look at the feet, they take up half a head after the body ends. Let's also take a measurement of the tail itself. In this perspective, it measures up as two heads long. Okay, studying time. Remember to turn on you square grid to help you. We can draw an oval for the head, and then we'll place where the eye goes. We can work on adding the beak next. Take note of things like how it starts directly under the eye and how the lower beak starts being visible after by half an eye. After adding in the cheek fluff, we can start to add in the details. I was very loose in my first parts of the study, so I decided to lower the apostate, add a second refined version on top. Something nice about drawing birds is that you don't have to be super precise with drawing them because the feathers move and shift a lot to cover the shape of the body. It's very forgiving compared to drawing something like humans. Then I added shading with the gouache brush and added the different dark markings he has around his beak. Now, we can go ahead and do the same thing for a full body study. Again, I keep it very loose this time for my first pass at the sketch, and I go on to decrease its opacity to make a more refined version on top. When it comes to the shading, he has quite a complex pattern of dark spots on his wings. I do normally not go too deeply into these at the drawing stage as I'd add them at the coloring stage. Let's just add a few scruples to goes to hint up them here. That's how our study is done. These are probably my favorite ones out of all the ones I've covered in these lessons. When recording for these, I did them all together in a row, so it really shows how it's worth in several of them to get yourself warmed up. The next lesson, we'll create a final drawing of our sparrow. 10. Drawing a Sparrow: Time to draw our last bird for this class. As with the amplitude, take some time to make a thumbnail with a post that you like. The previous birds we've drawn have had quite normal poses, so let's go for something a bit more dynamic for this one. To make a pose more interesting, I like to imagine an invisible curve that everything is following and pointing towards. The line drawn in back here, works as a guide to where I want that invisible line to be. As with the other birds I also have these guidelines in class files for you to reference if you want. Time to know the opacity of the guidelines and add the details. I'm not sure why but I always find myself starting with the face and working down around it. I think as it's the first thing people look out in the drawing, I always want to make sure it looks right before I think about starting the rest of the illustration. I wanted to have it so that it looked like he was partially opening his wings. I'm hinting it where they join the body with some C-curve feathers. Shading time, with the light coming from the top right. As before, we'd start with a large quash brush for the main shadows and work our way down in size. With this brush, I like to add the shadows before the markings to make sure I've got them right. For the back markings, we can just add some cute sparkles. At the end, I wanted to add a few tweaks to the overall shading so I used a large soft brush to erase areas where light was heading and then added some deeper shadows too. I also wasn't quite happy with the size that eye, so I went in and shrunk it just a little; just to make things as tiny but more realistic. Here's final piece. I hope you've enjoyed this class and had fun. Now that we're at the end, pick out your favorite of these three birds and draw for your class project. When you're finished, share it in the class gallery for some feedback. I'm excited to see your creations. 11. Closing Thoughts: So I'm going to recap some of the main points we've covered in this class. We learned to use helpers like a square grid to assist with studying. We covered the method of using the eye or the head to measure and compare the sizes of different body parts. We also learned the belly button method of making sure your bird looks balanced. As well as this, we also went over some tricks for drawing the feet, such as using circles to mark out your toes. For shading, we learned about how we should always have a light source in mind. That concludes this class. I had a lot of fun making it, so I hope you enjoy taking it. At the time of publishing this, I also have a wonderful class about drawing wings. So if you enjoy this one, you hopefully enjoy that one as well. If you'd like to be notified for future classes, you can follow me here on Skillshare, or find me on social media. Bye everyone. I'll see you in the next one.