My goal for this piece was to draw a black bird, using as little black pencil as possible. I wanted to find all the gloss and shimmer in the feathers and draw those brighter colours and leave the black just for the very deepest shadows.
- Fabriano Academia 200gsm paper 29x41cm
- Faber-castell polychromos pencils: Black, Indigo, Prussian blue, Smalt (sky) blue, red-violet, burnt carmine, walnut, cool grey VI, cool grey II and my trusty white Prismacolor.
- Odourless mineral spirits and a small, soft synthetic brush
- tiny touch of white gel pen (optional)
My reference photo was from Steve Lyddon at PaintMyPhoto.com . http://pmp-art.com/steve-lyddon/gallery/104842/crow you do need to be a member to view the photograph as you are required to agree to some terms and conditions of use, however I highly recommend the site.
I never start my drawing directly on my paper, especially where I intend to leave the background naked white. Every little eraser mark and smudge damages the surface of the paper. So I draw out my pieces into a cheap sketchbook first, then when I am happy I will use graphite transfer paper to get the outlines onto my watercolour paper without any mess or mistakes.
I always start with the eye. It is the one place in a drawing that I absolutely do not want to make a mistake. If I mess this up I will ditch the whole piece and start again!
I picked up my black pencil first and drew in the areas I knew would be the darkest, which in this piece is the lining around the eyes, the join between feathers and beak and the iris of the eye.I then drew in the “sparkle”of the eye with my white to protect the paper from my darker colours.
I chose the walnut pencil as the eye colour as I knew the rest of the piece was going to be in mainly cool colours and a wanted there to be a hint of warmth in the eye. I blended the area between the walnut and blue with my prussian blue to reflect the birds overall colour. As this is a very small area (about 1.5cm²), I do this with a sharp pencil and a steady hand
The Head and Neck
Next I move on to the fine feathers on the head and upper neck. With a very light hand, and with strokes that follow the form and size of the feathers, I start with the sky blue pencil and lightly layout the area of highlight on the top of the head. I then do the same thing with my darkest shade of blue (indigo) to establish the areas in shadow. Once I have plotted the structures of the head with the darks and lights, I use my prussian blue pencil as a mid tone to bring the areas together. bringing the prussian blue down into the indigo to blend.
At this point I use my odourless mineral spirits (OMS) to blend the tones onto the paper. I want to use a fair amount of the spirits at this stage, as i am looking to stain the colours deeper into the paper, and i have not yet established any details that could be lost with too much blending. As I blend, I am conscious to keep blending in the direction of the feathers. This first layer establishes the foundation of the whole piece, so it is worth taking the time to get it right. You can see the difference the OMS makes between pictures 1 and 2 on the image below.
**WARNING!** I found that the prussian blue pencil was very easily soluble in the OMS! A little bit of pencil went a long way and it was very easy to spread the pigment too far into areas i did not want, and my dish containing the OMS was very quickly tinted blue by the pigment.
When the OMS is completely dried. I place another layer of colour using the same technique as the first. Light strokes on the direction and size of the feathers to build up the depth of the colour. When I am satisfied, I repeat again with the OMS. However this time I blot most of the OMS out of my brush on a piece of paper before touching it to my paper. A saturated brush at this point will start to lift colour off my piece and start to push it into undesired places.
I keep repeating this process of pencil and OMS. When I am happy with the colour saturation, i move onto the last layers , where I start to add my red-violet pencil in areas where I want to show a glossy colour shift to feathers. I also start to introduce some flecks of my sky blue down into the darker areas to suggest more individuality to the feathers.
The area under the beak is completed in the same manner, but in this area i also use my black pencil to create areas of the deepest shadows.
With the neck area complete I move onto the tiny triangular feathers above the wings. The reference photo showed a very defined pattern and central ridge on these feathers. I Followed the reference very closely on the placement and direction of these feathers, as the direction changes as they follow the form of the bird. I used my Sky blue pencil to draw the central lines in first. I press quite hard and go over the line with my white prismacolor. This established the pattern of the feathers and also protected that line of paper from my darker colours. I was then able to build up the colour in those feathers with alternating layers of pencil and OMS. In some shadow areas I add some of the red-violet and burnt carmine to bring in some more shimmer colour. On my final pass on each feather, I draw in a line of shadow along the ridge a and go over the ridge once again with my white to make it pop!
Wing and Tail Feathers
The wing and tail feathers of this bird are very well-defined. There are very strong highlights and shadows on the reference pic which made his one of the easier, but most time consuming areas to complete. I study my reference picture very closely to understand which areas are in shadow and which are reflecting the light. I use my sky blue pencil in the same manner as above to draw in and protect the exposed feather ridges. I also use my sky blue to plan out the highlighted areas on the left side of the birds and the small highlight on the right above the leg. The lighting on the left hand side of the bird is very bright, so in this area I also put a layer of white and a hint burnt carmine before I set to work with my darker colours.
I go through the wings feathers in sections. Using the same technique of alternating pencil and OMS to build up depth. I am mindful to keep my pencil strokes following the general pattern of the individual strands in the feathers. In the final layers I am using my indigo pencil to strengthen the chevron like pattern in the wing feathers and to create a shadow along the ridge of the feather.
When I am satisfied with the wing feathers, I use my black pencil to draw in the shadows underneath the feathers. These shadows are strongest in the centre of the bird, where the two wings meet, and where the wing feathers overlap the tail feathers. I do this last, as I do not wish to accidentally spread the black beyond the very darkest shadows with the OMS.
Leg and foot.
I used my prussian blue pencil to draw in the highlights on the right side of the leg, I then used my indigo and my black pencil to draw in the leg feathers. This was done using short downwards strokes and blended with the OMS.
I use my white to draw in the highlights on the foot and claws, I then lightly used the black pencil to draw in the shadows. Once I had these landmarked, I used cool grey II and cool grey VI in a somewhat random manner to create the gnarled effect to the skin. instead of using the OMS in this area, I used my White prismacolor as a blender. I strengthened the shadow that I liked with the black pencil, and finished it off sky blue as a highlight on the top of the toes and back claw.
To complete the piece I use a very light layer cool grey II and VI, sky blue and red-violet to create the shadow under the bird. I decided I wanted a little more brightness to the little white feathers beneath the eye, so I hit them with a few strokes of my white gel pen as a finishing touch.