The Laws Guide to Drawing Birds – Book Review

When I moved to Vietnam, I brought two books with me: Peterson’s Field Guide to the Birds of North America, and The Laws Guide to Drawing Birds. Brushing past the fact that this selection makes me even more of a “bird nerd,” I had good reason for bring these books specifically. I want to talk about Laws’ guide today. 

I picked up this book almost as in impulse buy at the Audubon center in Portland, OR. I had already been drawing birds for quite a while, and wasn’t sure how much help a “how-to” book could be, but I liked the sections on anatomy so the book came home with me. As I delved into the book later, I realized that this book is a must have for anyone who’s interested in drawing birds. 

For me, this book became the difference between drawing from photo references, and drawing from imagination. The guide has 6 sections: bird drawing basics, mastering bird anatomy, details and tips for common birds, birds in flight, field sketching, and materials and techniques. The sections on basics, anatomy, and tips helped me become more familiar with how birds are constructed and taught me to see birds in my mind in a more 3 dimensional way. I still use photo references frequently, but seldom draw straight from them. I use the references for size, texture, shape, but I’m able to modify the positions and expressions in them to suite that I’m imagining. 

For example, in this sample page, John Muir Laws discusses how the feathers are arranged on a bird’s chest. While this is detailed information, it helps when a reference photo doesn’t show the chest feathers, or when I’m working without a reference.

I refer back to the book often for details such as this. However, if you’re just getting started drawing birds, don’t think this book is too detailed for you. John Muir Laws presents his “how-to” information in a very clear, logical way, and in a way that’s simple enough for anyone. 

Regardless of your experience or what you want to do with your drawings, I think this book is a must read, and a must have. To borrow an excerpt from Amazon,

“To draw feathers, you must understand how feathers grow, overlap, and insert into the body. To create the body, you must have an understanding of the bird’s skeletal structure. To pose this skeleton, you must be able to perceive the energy, intention, and life of the bird.”

The Laws Guide to Drawing Birds is available on Amazon for less than $18.00. It’s worth every penny.

Links in this post are affiliate links. By purchasing from Amazon through these links, you are supporting me and the work that I’m doing, and for that I am extremely grateful. 

Growing New Ideas

Or, 4 actually useful ways to give your creativity a boost.

Where do new ideas come from? Sometimes it feels like we spend all our time chasing ever elusive “inspiration” in the hopes that with it will come our next breakthrough, our next idea, our next big thing. 

If you have the luxury of inspiration, more power to you. If creating is a pastime, then waiting for inspiration is probably reasonable. But for creating to become more than just a hobby, or for those that are beating it out to try make a living, you have to learn to find creativity without inspiration. 

I’m always interested in articles and blogs claiming ways of boosting creativity, but for the most part, they’re disappointing. They’re full of the same “ideas” to do with disconnecting or getting out in nature. That’s nice enough but when you’re crunching to a deadline, sometimes those ideas aren’t enough. 

Take the pressure to produce away.

I’ve found a few things that help me, plus I’ve found a few ideas that I want to try. Previously, I wrote about how having a routine and a “formula” for creating helps me keep going, but here are some more ideas that might work better for you. 

Find a means of creative expression that’s different from your usual medium.

For the most part, I draw in pen and digitally. When I need to get ideas coming, I spend 15 or 30 minutes either with a different medium such as watercolor, or with a completely different style of expression like journaling. Free writing works really well. Do something that a) comes easily to you or b) isn’t something you’re trying to be good at. The key here is to take the pressure to produce away. A few minutes in this mind frame does wonders for generating ideas.

Keep a notebook with you.

This is not as cumbersome or as passe as it sounds. For most people, their smartphone works perfectly as a “notebook.”  Take a few seconds to write down any ideas that come to mind. Keeping track of these ideas will help you to build on them and to make connections to old ideas. Which leads me to my next point – 

Improve on old ideas.

There really is no such thing as a new idea any more. Everything is an improvement on an old idea. So build on old ideas. Revisit something you haven’t tried in a while, whether it’s a style or a subject. Try and combine an old idea with something new, perhaps a new subject. Even if your old ideas weren’t that good, adding and building on them can lead to something new or spark new thoughts. 

Combine ideas.

This step is probably the one that is helping me the most right now. Take two things that might not normally go together, and try to figure out how they might. Take problem and try to figure out how something seemingly unrelated could be the solution. Even if it doesn’t work out, usually an idea shows up along the way. If you’re stuck on finding two ideas to combine, try incorporate a new method with an old way of doing things. 

Regardless of what method you use to try boost or find creativity, the most important thing is don’t stop creating. Don’t stop looking around, and never close your mind to new ideas.

Further reading:

I haven’t tried this method yet but this article on Scientific American about how rethinking labels can boost creativity is really interesting. 

Recommended Reading – Practice makes better and how to be more creative

I’ve been feeling so creatively drained lately. It’s taken me a while to realize it, but I think partially this is because I create and create and create without stopping to take some inspiration in.

Inspiration comes in different forms for everyone. For me, I like to mix my creative fuel. I like to see great artwork,  but I also love to read something that makes me think, and helps me see the world from a slightly different angle.

Today, I’m sharing some articles I found helpful and interesting from this week.

Practice makes better – by Muffie Waterman

How to Be Productive Without Working Past Noon – by Tony Stubblebine

The side project survival guide: making time to work on everything as a freelancer – by Michelle

How To Strengthen Your Creative MUSCLE In 42 Minutes A Day – by Barry Davret

What drinking water has taught me about achieving impossible goals. – by Tiffany Sun

Creativity is a Myth

Actually the title is a little misleading. The belief that you need creativity to be creative is a myth.

Every single day, I draw. It might be for 15 minute or it might be for 5 hours. But for the last year and half, I’ve rarely missed a day. You might wonder what I do to keep the creative juices flowing, to be able to consistently create art without losing inspiration. The truth is, I seldom begin with inspiration.

I have a process that works for me. On the days that I feel uncreative or uninspired, I fall into a system — I draw a bird from my bird book. I draw in pen, because that’s my medium of choice. Inevitably, these end up being my favorite drawings. The reason for this is peculiar and hard to quantify, but when I rely less on my own creativity, I’m less concerned about trying to find and listen to that little creative voice in my mind that is telling me how to create. My drawings become instinctive, less thought-out, more expressive. It seems like a paradox, but I am the most creative when I don’t feel creative.

It’s not unknown that inspiration is over-rated but I believe creativity is too. Those of us that work in a creative field know that we have to get to work every day even if the muse is watching TV at home. It works because we all develop a system of just getting down to work. Spending time ‘trying something new,’ or ‘getting out in the woods’ is great when you have the time for it, but instead of trying to find creativity, do what you know how to do. If you’re a writer, just start writing. Write about anything. Keep a list of topics and start with the first one when you don’t know what to say. If you’re a novelist, write. If you’re an artist, paint, or draw or sculpt or do whatever it is that you do. You’ve already created the muscle memories and neurological pathways required to create. You’ve used them hundreds or thousands of times. Rely on them. Trust in them. Just get started and the rest will flow.

Now go do what you do.