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.
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