Bird Words

Letterforms and birds are subjects that frequently turn up in my journals. At first, I simply matched bold words with their subjects, but more recently, I’ve tried to get birds to perch on letters. It’s not always easy to do. You’ve got to know a bit about the anatomy of bird feet, and find the right placement to support the bird and balance the page. Here’s a fun one that I did today— the lovely winter wren.


Here are a few sketches and paintings that give a sense of my progression with this over the years.

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Tips and Techniques– Don’t shy away from learning to draw birds’ feet. You know you’re guilty if you are prone to hide this part of a bird’s anatomy behind leaves and branches. A simple Google search for “bird feet anatomy” will turn up lots of good diagrams and drawings for you to study and practice. If you have an opportunity to look at bird skins or mounted birds at a nature center or museum, take the time to sketch  feet. It’s a sure way to improve your bird art.

33 Comments on “Bird Words

  1. Jean, the detail in your winter wren is just wonderful! And I love the way he perches on his name! What sketchbook do you use or do you make your own? I’m having trouble finding a paper that works well for bird watercolor sketches.

    • Hi Dory- I have been using Stillman & Birn “Beta” and “Zeta” sketchbooks for several years and I find that they provide the right combination of quality paper with well-made sturdy covers. You may have to order them online.

      • Thanks for getting back to me! I’ve tried the Beta and didn’t like it. Is the wren by any chance on the Zeta?

      • No, this is Beta. Zeta is smooth and a little trickier with watercolor, but great for ink. Have you tried Strathmore wc sketchbooks? The paper is more textured than I like, but the paper holds up well. Comes soft cover or ring bound.

  2. Delightful as always, Jean. Your pages are so fresh and alive. Thank you for inspiring me. btw I also use Stillman & Birn “Zeta”. Happy New Year.

  3. I love the simplicity of this…and the lettering and the bird’s little feet! Is there anywhere in your blog where you describe how you photograph your work (so clean and white, pages are flat!)? Or would you mind explaining? You’re such an inspiration…thank you!

    • Hi Kat- I used to photograph my work, but was often frustrated with the results— not enough light and pages that didn’t lie flat were the chief problems. So I bought an Epson Perfection v600 scanner. It didn’t break the bank and I’ve been glad to have it. It saves me spending $$ on professional scanning for art prints and illustration work and it’s perfect for the blog.

  4. I love this idea of incorporating letters and words into art and sketchbook pages – inspirational Jean…

  5. I’ve been guilty of hiding the feet as well. I found that my issue was more with the position of the legs and feet. I’m so glad to read this post. That I’m not the only one. 😆. In fact just recently I have been studying this subject too. John Muir Laws gives good instruction on sketching birds. All parts! I find your art and perspective on sketching soooo vey inspirational and always look forward to your posts. These are beautiful.🙌😍

    • I’m embarrassed to ask this. Again. What detail brushes do you use? You did tell me and I made a note but I seem to have lost it.

      • Erica- My small brushes include a 0, 1 (both Winsor & Newton Series 7) and 2 (Escoda travel brush). I also have Escoda Versatil travel brushes in sizes 6, 10 and 12. I’m very happy with them.

  6. Oh, so lovely! I do wish you’d come out with a book for me to have and hold. Just reprints of your journal pages would be fabulous! How much trouble could that be, right? (And yes, my tongue is firmly in my cheek when I say that.)

    • I’m stilling chewing on book business, which isn’t so simple, even though it’s a compelling idea. Hope your painting is going well– my best to the Anacortes sketchers!

  7. Even the lettering has the sprightliness and tidiness of this little wren – we have the very similar Pacific wren here. I love hearing them in early spring.

  8. Pingback: Perching Birds | Drawn In

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