Cooperative Subjects

If you’ve ever tried sketching birds, you know that they are terrible models. Few will stay put for more than a few seconds. As soon as pencil meets paper they’ve struck a new pose. Except for gulls! Head to the coast – or to many vacant parking lots – and gulls will loudly greet you and serve as cooperative subjects. Among my favorites is the raucous laughing gull with its smooth black head. Next to ordinary herring gulls, laughing gulls seem far more distinguished. But all gulls make good models. Next time you’re at the beach, bring a sketchbook along and give gulls a try.

Warming up- Gesture sketches or contour sketches are often done in 10, 20, and 30 second intervals. That’s about all you’ll get for a single gull sketch. But birds often return to similar poses, so you can pick up where you left off.

Warming up- Gesture sketches or contour sketches are often done in 10, 20, and 30 second intervals. That’s about all you’ll get for a single gull sketch. But birds often return to similar poses, so you can pick up where you left off.

White on White- White birds on white paper can be a challenge. I’ve added a bit of sky and skim of shadow to give shape to these gulls.

White on White- White birds on white paper can be a challenge. I’ve added a bit of sky and skim of shadow to give shape to these gulls.

White on toned paper- I did this more careful drawing with pencil, colored pencils on Strathmore 80lb toned tan paper glued into my sketchbook. Toned paper is really great for white subjects like gulls.

White on Toned Paper- Quick sketches inform longer drawings like this one. Done with pencil and colored pencils on Strathmore 80lb toned tan paper glued into my sketchbook. Toned paper is really great for white subjects like gulls.

Click any of the above sketches to view them larger.

17 Comments on “Cooperative Subjects

    • Excellent! Just watch the birds and keep your pencil moving. Don’t erase. Don’t think too much. Just try making a bunch of small sketches. Enjoy!

  1. I just love your work. Thank you for sharing, Jean. I painted a bird in flight for Day 1 of World Watercolor Month today…….never thought I would be able to do that when I started. Now, I see work like yours and think the same thing. So there’s hope! Have a wonderful holiday weekend.

    • Thanks! Your painting has “freedom” all over it. I like the blue of the sky! Birds are tricky because there’s a lot of get right (and a lot that can look wrong). That’s why I like to do a combination of sketching from life, sketching specimens and dead birds, and working from photos. It all adds up. Keep at it!

  2. Gulls are certainly more stationary than warblers but even they move too much for me sometimes. LOL! Love your sketches and cool pose of the Laughing Gull!

    • Thanks Teresa! I think you just have to jump in and not worry too much about what the end result drawing will be. Eventually your hand and eyes coordinate and you get a few decent sketches!

      • No guts, no glory, right? LOL! You’re right though; practice will make better, if not perfect. 😉

  3. about to go to Bald Head Island – will think about your wise quick sketching comments!

  4. What wonderful subjects you have, I love all of the sketches and am particularly in love with the sketch on toned paper…stunning. Thank you for sharing, now if I could just convince the neighborhood birds to hold still like your gulls…lol.

    • Good luck with that! But you might also try video so you still get the movement but you can stop the frame to zero in on details. I really liked using the toned paper– highly recommend trying it!

  5. You have beautiful natural poses which can only be got from sketching quickly I think. You have really captured the personality of the birds!

    • Thanks Chris! I get a little nervous before jumping in to sketches like this (maybe its the perfectionist in me not wanting to mess up), but once I get going I enjoy it. Working fast does make for lively sketches.

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