A pencil sketch of a captivating little songbird

A pencil sketch of a captivating little songbird

Still whiling away the Covid hours, this time with a little songbird pencil sketch. I’ve pottered around with the camera a bit, but nothing seems to pop out saying “post me”. Plus, it’s something to do with the relentless gloom.

I started on another street scene, but I’m struggling with the basics. The perspective is almost there, but something is off kilter. It’s difficult to pin down. To fight the frustration, I switched gears back to my old feathered friends.  After flipping through a couple books, I settled on a lovely little winter sparrow. It’s also called an American Sparrow.

Start of a songbird pencil sketch

Pencil sketch of a winter sparrow - first draft

Start of a little songbird sketch

I thought about the lessons I learned over the last few years and applied them. First thing I did was layout the entire scene. In the past, I focused too much on one small area and work out from there. I sketched the outline of the bird. Then I traced in the branches and then the leaves. Working on the entire image, rather one small spot, made it easier to flesh the scene out. It was also a lot more fun. Working back and forth, laying in the basics then the shading was more challenging and interesting.

One of the other skills I worked on through the years is filling in the small details that create a full scene. Like the veins in the leaves and the shape of the fruit on the branches. I practiced drawing things like spheres and shading them, over and over. I have pages filled with them. The practice paid off. I finally got the shape and the shadows down. This in turn has created a better pencil sketch. Instead of an isolated little bird, I’ve begun to craft a scene.

The finished winter sparrow

Completed songbird sketch showing a little winter sparrow on a branch

A finished winter sparrow

The leg is a little too big and some of the feathers along the back of the sparrow are angled the wrong way. But the branches and fruit make the picture. I need to work on the leaves more. They are too static. I can feel a leaf binge coming on. I also need to work on a stronger sense of movement in the bird itself. Not sure how yet. That baffles me still. The pencil sketch is good but lacks a sense of realism. The bird isn’t lively enough. That too will come with time.


A struggle to get a realistic pencil sketch

A struggle to get a realistic pencil sketch

My pencil sketch of a butterfly isn’t going well. I’m not sure what I’m doing wrong, but it just isn’t working out. It’s ok. But none of my attempts are realistic so far. To improve, I am keeping a journal of the steps taken to draw a realistic butterfly.

First attempt at a butterfly pencil sketch

I couldn’t seem to get the pencil strokes right.  The pencil sketch has more of a draft feel to it, but the delicate wings are baffling me. I can get the body and the shadows, but how do I capture a realistic feel to the wings?


Scan of first attempt at a butterfly pencil sketch nearly completed

I became frustrated with this and abandoned it.

Can’t remember what paper I used. It’s something I have laying around for doodling on. I thought maybe, I need rougher paper, something that would grab the pencil lead a bit more. Butterfly 1 was set aside.

Butterfly pencil sketch two – another meh

Scan of the second attempt at drawing a butterfly

Hmm, ok, but not realistic

I stopped at the body. The entire sketch wasn’t working. Still very two dimensional. I switched up the style and tried a stippling pattern on some of the wing portions, trying for a less mechanical feel to the bug parts. I spent about an hour working on different strokes and styles, moving between a mechanical pencil and regular pencils of various lead types. I tend to rely on 2b pencils more than I should, but I love the way it feels running across paper. And that’s where I went wrong, again, with this drawing. It’s too uniform in the blacks, and I didn’t leave myself room for lacy sections of the wing.

Looking at the second drawing makes me think just a mechanical pencil should be used. Start with a basic HB and then gradually shift to a softer led?

In search of sketching help

I watch several YouTube artists channels that have helped enormously. In this instance, I need something a bit more butterfly oriented. This one is useful for the basics How to Draw a Butterfly Step-by-Step.  It’s helpful in understanding the outline and patterns but doesn’t get down to sketching a realistic butterfly with pencils. This next site has a bit more shadowing details Easy Drawings and Sketches. I like how they shade parts of the wings to give them depth. Both helped in understanding butterfly bodies.

Third kick at the pencil can

A scan of a partially completed pencil sketch of a butterfly

Third try and it’s still not there

This one is better, but still missing depth. I’ll go back at it tonight and see how the second wing fleshes out. This time I used a gentler hand on the shading and switched up between the mechanical pencil leads and a very sharp 6b for the darkest spots. Keeping the point on a 6b is a trial.

The body has potential but needs more work. The soft feathery bits around the body need more depth and an airy feel to them, but that’s easy to correct as I go along. At this point, I’m not sure what I’m going to do for the head. I’ve spent so much time fussing with the wings. I haven’t even thought about it.

Although the wings are better defined in this sketch, I still went too heavy handed on it. That’s my drawing kryptonite. I never know when to stop with the shading and strong strokes. But the patterns are much better this outing.

There’s still an element to the butterfly’s structure I’m missing. Something about them I’m not understanding. More research is required.

Butterfly biology and summing up

This has been a maddening and satisfying exercise. I’m attempting to push myself creatively and try drawing things that … are scary to draw. No, butterflies aren’t frightening (at least to me). The fear of failing is. It’s easy to start a sketch and give up when it doesn’t work. I’m applying the ideas I’ve acquired from my amateur photography sessions to my drawing – just keep at it. Examine everything, look for tips and hints from people who are better and keep a progress journal.

One thing I did when I started drawing birds was look at ornithology texts. I went through many books and websites that dealt with detailed anatomy of bird eyes, feet, beaks, and differences in feathers. It wasn’t until I understood more about bird anatomy did my drawings improve. At that point, my pencil sketches took on a realistic feel.

Scan of pencil sketches of bird heads and beaks

First step is understanding the diversity

Scan of drawings of eyes from various species of birds

Second step is examining the finer details

I also took several trips to the Royal Ontario Museum and used their ornithology resources. The ROM has “birds on a stick” you can access to see the details up close. Their material is first rate and accessible for novices like me. I spent hours doing nothing but drawing bird feet, beaks, and eyes. Unfortunately, that’s not a luxury I can tap into at this time. I’ll have to make do with internet resources.

My recent searches took me to Cornel University’s little pdf The Biology of Butterflies compiled by Emily Kearny, Cornell University, 2010. It illustrated what I’ve been doing wrong.

An image from Biology of Butterflies showing details of a butterfly's structure

Veins and wing order

Do you see what I’ve been missing? Two vital misunderstandings of butterfly anatomy. First is the wing order. There is a forewing and a hindwing. That clarifies how the shadows on the wing should fall. It’s a subtle aspect, but important.

The bigger triumph of knowledge is in the second image. Those lines I’ve been glossing over are wing veins. They aren’t the pattern, they are veins. Funny how this bit of information has made me want to try a new butterfly pencil sketch. Knowing where all the veins are, are like following a road map to the butterfly’s design. This is exciting.

So, there you go. You get to share my successes and failures. Although, I hesitate to use the word failure in hindsight. Less a failure than a building block to achieving stronger skills.

Frankensteining my way towards a full body – drawing eyes

Frankensteining my way towards a full body – drawing eyes

Learned something valuable the other day. If you’re going to take a close up of your own eye, make sure the flash is off. I get the type of migraines that are triggered by bright lights (especially flashes) and well, let’s just say there was a bit of cursing when the flash went off, rapidly followed by the usual pain.

I said in my last post, Still sulking, I needed to go back and examine eye structure closely. I wasn’t happy with my output, so I lurked around all sorts of medical sights and Bing images for super quality close ups. I dabbled with them and then flipped over to a couple of Youtube channels for some help because I just couldn’t get it right. I couldn’t see what I was doing wrong.

Here’s the original sketch (posted on the previous article):

Scan of original drawing of human eye

After watching videos I figured out I was too heavy handed. I didn’t leave any wiggle room for darkening and shading. The eye lid was too high and should droop down over the eye a bit. I went back to the original drawing and tried correcting it:

Scan of second drawing of human eye

Better, but no, not right. The shape of the eye is off. It droops unnaturally down and the eye is too perfect along the top.  I’m struggling with this aspect of drawing the eye. It’s not easy getting the shape correct. As well, I was puzzled about how to approach the white part of the eye as it merges with the edges.  I started a new sketch, trying to pull together what I’d learned:

Sketch 3 of the human eye. Not much better

In this one, I over compensated for the bottom and the eye looks like it’s bulging. If I owned that eye, I’d be trotting off to a specialist right about now. And once again, I’m too heavy handed with the pencil. I started off far too dark and literally drew myself into a corner. I abandoned this sketch and  decided I’d rather try drawing my own eye and went to take a photo of it. FLASH! and I had to go lie down until the migraine settled. Sunday I took a series (without the flash) of photos of my right eye and printed a couple out. I sat with a ruler and looked it over carefully, then settled down to draw it. Here’s the result:

4th sketch of a human eye - much better this time

Now, I’m happy with the progress of this sketch. Starting with a ruler to get a basic idea about placement and sizing helped immensly. I started out with an F pencil for all the basics, including the preliminary shading. Then moved onto HB, 2B and a 4B. Now I have to work getting the blending a bit smoother. The eyebrown is a bit of a bodge job, I haven’t quite figured out how to do the fine hairs, but the shape is correct. I think the bottom of each hair should be a bit heavier so they look rooted in the brow. The other thing that’s hard, is getting that slight watery look along the bottom rim. I’m going to pick up a white pencil this week and see if using that helps.

So, things to work on:

– basic roundness of the pupil and placement of the iris.

– shape of the eye itself.

– smooth out blending techniques

– work on the eyebrow

Just wait until I try to do a pair of eyes. Maybe I’ll keep Frankensteining and cut and paste eyes instead.

I found this video helpful: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YbgYr_10Rfs Leonardo Pereznieto has a number of tutorials on realistic eyes that are excellent.

I also found https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fQo7P9VkFaA by Makoccino useful. She uses a step by step approach that covers the real basics, things first time drawers get wrong.

Now, aren’t you glad I lost my Wacom tablet?

Still sulking but here’s another pencil sketch anyway

Still sulking but here’s another pencil sketch anyway

Maybe losing my Wacom might have been a good thing (for the short term). I sat down yesterday and looked over some old drawings of cat eyes which were basic and ok but somehow not quite “there” as far as realism. I pulled up all sorts closeup photos cat’s eyes and realised how detailed and complex they really are. Veins and shades of colour, splashes of light reflecting – far more than I’d realised. So I sat and started drawing them… just eyes, nothing else. I’m actually a bit staggered at the sheer complexity of the eye. Guess it’s a case of seeing something but not really paying attention. 

Here’s the one that I really like:

Sketch of a cat's eye done in pencil

The fur around the eye came out better than I’d hoped.  I can see where I should have used a bit more shading around the rim of the iris though, it’s a bit too sharp. But overall, I’m happy with it.

I took a stab at a human eye, but I got a bit too heavy handed:

Start of a sketch of a human eye

I need to sit and rethink my approach to the eye and how to get the shading right. It’s too uniform and dark. I’ll sit and mull over different photos and try again tonight.  

Hope you enjoy the sketches. It’s been a long time since I picked up pencils. Discovered something else I’d lost during the move – my beloved pencil sharpeners. Yes, I have a passion for my little metal sharpeners and can’t find any of them. Can’t find my Winston inks either.  Bugger damn. Then again, it looks like I have an excuse to make a trip to the art store!

If I can’t use my Wacom, I’ll show you pencil drawing instead

If I can’t use my Wacom, I’ll show you pencil drawing instead

I’m still moaning and complaining about losing my Wacom tablet during the move this month. Hopefully, I’ve simply placed it somewhere and I’ll stumble over it eventually. I’ve set up my desk and when I get up in the morning, I can’t wait to settle in to work. A bit irritating and yes, I’m sulking a little.  So, instead of more work on the door arch, I’ll show some older pencil drawings I’ve done.

Pencil drawing of prothonotary warbler drawn 2009

Prothonotary warbler

Drew this back in 2009. Long time ago now. I’ve pulled out my pencils again and started sketching. I keep gravitating towards little songbirds for some reason.  They’re fun to draw. The fine little fellow above is a prothonotary warbler. He came out quite well. I haven’t drawn much lately, got tied up with the digital aspect too much and have neglected hand sketching.

I’m trying to expand into other areas, but my sense of perspective is a bit wobbly. I’m fine drawing on the right side of the paper, in detail, but when I move to the left of the page my sense of space and perspective goes a bit array. No idea why so I’m trying to figure out a way of compensating for the brain glitch. I’m trying to expand into sketching buildings. So far, “oh the embarrassment”! I don’t think I’ll share any of them.