As I mentioned in a previous post, I am wanting to improve my field sketching skills, and my two new books to that end arrived this week.

One is more about how to literally draw birds, whereas I was more after a book on sketching birds in the field, so the one by Andrew Forkner was less use to me. The second, The Laws Guide, is much more what I was after, and although the bulk of the content is about how to draw birds rather than field sketching the diagrams are much more useful, and the methodology around how to go about building a convincing drawing is better. The few pages on birds en plein air are really good, and make some really good points, such as remembering that you’re not trying to draw a picture worthy of a field guide; even a few lines can denote a stance or distinctive marking; unfinished drawings are just as valuable and add to your bank of resources. It’s comprehensive without being too highbrow as well as examining birds and their anatomy in more detail which I find really interesting.

I downloaded a document from the Artists Network by Debby Cotter Kaspari, and that too has some fantastic tips about capturing an image while birds are moving.

I’ve had a go myself. Yesterday while I was waiting for my car to get fixed, I took the dogs for a walk down a quiet road, and Ned – in true Labrador style – found a newly-predated Wood Pigeon, which looked as it if had been dispatched with the precision of a raptor. Sure enough, a few yards up the road in a driveway set back from the road was a Sparrowhawk standing over another Wood Pigeon carcass. I tried Debby Cotter Kaspari’s technique of locking the scene in my brain by essentially freeze-framing it to try retain a mental image. Much later, I had the chance to get pencil and sketchbook out and see if I could draw what I had seen:

I’m really pleased! I then used some of the Laws techniques to draw some birds from photos I have in my stash for future illustrations, and then tried to draw a Robin from memory:

I still haven’t had the chance to properly draw in the field, as I’m normally on a dog walk and what I would like to do is go over to Rye Harbour and sit in the Discovery Centre with the view before me (and a coffee…) and have the chance to practise without the birds always flying off or skedaddling in to the undergrowth as they do when I’ve got Ned with me.

I did try to properly look and see some of the birds on my walk this morning – although I was rather distracted by a young melanistic fallow buck who seemed oblivious; it’s the rut so I think they are more bold and I have seen a lot of deer out wandering in the middle of the day.

So far, so good. I have a new Birds of… commission for Winchelsea Wildlife, and I am going to start on Birds of the South Downs. Meanwhile, I have a few new stockists for my current titles which is really encouraging.

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