Thursday, January 4, 2018

Not-So-Still Lives

1/1/18 junco
Recently an artist showed me a lovely photo she had taken of birds at her feeder. I immediately asked if she had been sketching the birds, and she said she was planning to sketch from her photos as “practice” for sketching them from life.

After spending 25 weeks studying colored pencil and graphite drawing from landscape photos last year, I’d be the first to tell you that there’s much to be gained from learning that way. Classwork, concentrated hours of weekly homework and regular instructor feedback expanded my understanding of values and form in ways that I don’t think I could have duplicated through other methods in the same length of time.

12/10/17 pine siskin
And yet I will also be the first to tell you that I don’t think drawing from photos is ever “practice” for drawing from life. A couple of years ago I did some drawings from magazine photos of vibrantly colored birds – a cardinal and some hummingbirds, for example – mainly because I wanted to use lots of color, and it’s hard to find things in the urban landscape in bright hues. I suppose I did learn a little about cardinal and hummingbird forms from those sketches, but if I ever saw such birds in real life close enough to sketch them, I don’t think that “practice” would help me one bit. Because in my experience, the only thing that gives me practice for drawing from life is drawing from life.

I’ve been having so much fun sketching the small birds that have been feeding at our feeder the past month. It’s very challenging – those tiny critters flit and fly off so quickly that sometimes it seems like they literally disappear – but it really is getting a bit easier over time.

12/1/17 nuthatch
It goes something like this: I spot a junco, nuthatch or pine siskin perched on the feeder, on the nearby fence, or in the shrubs, and I decide on a pose I want to capture. I look down at my sketchbook to make the first lines, and when I look back up again at the bird, more often than not, it is no longer there. So I have to rely on my memory from what I saw to finish the sketch (or not). Often if I wait a short time, another bird of the same species will take the same position, so I can reinforce my memory with that image.   

Greg has been taking lots of photos, and we have an informative book that helps us identify local birds, so if I wanted to, I could sketch from photos and illustrations, which might be useful in getting things like markings right. But to learn to capture life, I’m convinced that it’s essential that I practice drawing from life.

12/21/17 junco

12/30/17 junco
12/31/17 junco


  1. The 12/21 Junco sketch reminds me of birds that I’ve seen locally, the same posture!

  2. I would have to have the feeder against my window to actually see the birds. lol You did a great job on these! I really like the ones of the junco.


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