Great tips on Bird Illustration!

Hello, Blogger Norah here!

Wild Oakland’s Bird Illustration Walk was an educational and aesthetic triumph, thanks to artist/teacher Lisa Sindorf, our courageously creative participants, a glorious fall day, and of course, the birds of Lake Merritt.

**All photo credits to Dianne Fristrom! Thank you for the great pictures!**

Lisa demonstrated helpful strategies to meet the three main challenges of drawing in the field:

1) The Subject (bird) is 3D and the page is 2D

2) The Subject (bird) keeps moving/ flying away

3) The Subject (bird) is far away/behind a bush/ fishing the lake’s murky depths– how do I draw detail?


1) How to draw a 3D subject on the 2D page:

Lisa came well armed with artistic tips, such as using your pencil to measure proportion (here’s a great explanation of this technique and using a lightly drawn grid to map out distances. The pencil measuring technique also has the fringe benefit of making you look like the next James Audubon!

Pencil Measuring!

Another great tip for accurately drawing foreshortening is to imagine a clock around your subject, and draw angles based on what ‘time’ the neck, beak, wing, etc is pointing to. So you may say ‘look, this beak is pointed towards 4 o’clock.’  A more eloquent explanation of the technique is at

Finally, to make you drawings POP from the page, be sure to look for shadows and planes to give your subject structure!

Lisa demonstrating planes

2) The bird keeps flying away!

Lisa had a wonderfully intuitive tip for this problem– draw multiple pictures at once! When your subject bird strikes a definitive pose, start a sketch on part of the page. When it dips its beak to the lake, begin another sketch. This way you can sketch many poses simultaneously, no erasing required!

Lisa got the tip about doing multiple bird drawings at once from the amazing wildlife artist John Muir Laws. Here’s a video of him from his own blog, explaining how he does it:

Lisa's sketchbook shows multiple poses of some different birds

3) How to draw detail in wild?   Lisa had several helpful tips for capturing detail on your flying far away bird subject: Become familiar with key field marks– parts of your subjects’ anatomy like the cheek and mantle (the triangle on a bird’s back just between the wings) are landmarks you can use to draw your favourite species quickly and accurately. A bird guide, like Sibley’s, is an invaluable tool for learning the defining marks and shape of your subject.

Ultimately, the main goal of drawing wildlife is not to create perfection, but rather to sharpen our own skills of observation and deepen our appreciation and wonder of the natural world.

As Winston Churchill wrote of his field painting experience: “A heightened sense of the observation of nature is one of the chief delights that have come to me through trying to paint.”

And, more poetically, Rumi wrote on the joy of seeing further through observation: “Every tree and plant in the meadow seemed to be dancing, those which average eyes would see as fixed and still.”

And finally (I could write observation quotations all night–these are so good! ) “Seeing is the consequence of optics; observing is the consequence of imaginative contemplation.” — Ian Semple.

Thanks for a great walk! Thank you Lisa Sindorf for leading the class and Dianne Fristrom for the pictures! See you on November 10th for more Bird Natural History and Identification!

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