A Welcome Sight

Whether it’s their sweet song, colorful breast, or way of bobbing across the lawn, seeing robins in springtime is a welcome sight. They spend the winter in small flocks feeding on berries and sheltering in nearby woods, where they blend in well with russet-colored oaks leaves and gray bark. But as the grass begins to green, robins are frequenting my yard more often, probing the soft ground for worms and other insects. They are common birds, yes, but no less deserving of attention, gratitude, and a sketch.

Tips and Techniques– I enjoy doing sketchbook pages like this, where I pick a bird and study it in different postures. I always learn a lot, both in the pencil sketch stage and when painting. My goal is to get the essential shapes and features down, preferably without too much fuss, so that the sketch stays fresh. Repeating the same species forces me to look more carefully. Here’s what I think about: What makes a robin look like a robin (and not another bird of similar size)? How can I get at least a basic amount of information on the page while the bird is moving? How can I use a photo reference without simply copying a photo? How can I let the paint do more of the work—mixing and blending on the paper to add interest?

23 Comments on “A Welcome Sight

  1. How wonderful! Beautifully done.
    Just yesterday evening I was in the yard and saw robins hopping about and thought exactly that “what makes a robin look like a robin?” And how do artists like Jean do such great bird sketches/paintings? So, it’s timely to get your post this morning!
    These robins are lively and fresh, just like Spring!

    • A few robins are hopping around today here as well, but we were also visited by a bear. Though not here to see it, it took down two bird feeders and a bird bath, knocked over a wood pile, and toppled our metal trash can filled with bird seed. It’s a quieter day today without the feeders up!

  2. Good morning Jean! Spring is sprung, the grass is riz, I wonder where the birdies is? Here in Southwest Ontario, Canada….our first Robin sighting occurred this past week. Your beautiful piece was timely to this celebration of Spring! I really enjoy your art and it serves another purpose besides joy to me. My husband has dementia and your subject matter always calms and soothes his spirit. He flew with the Air Force for 20+ years and photographed flora and fauna wherever their missions took them around the world. I often translated his photos into watercolours. Ohhh how I wish we had digital back then ! Be safe and well. Here’s to artful creativity Jean….. cheerio, Chris

    Sent from my iPad


    • Hi Chris- Thank you so much for writing. You made my morning! I’m so glad to hear that I am bringing some joy to you and calm to your husband. What a difficult cross dementia is. I hope you are still able to paint. Sending spring your way! — Jean

  3. These robins speak to me! Why do I usually see a robin and then ignore them – they are worthy to try to paint and are in abundance here in the Pacific Northwest as they were in New England – I may actually be able to draw one though I still find birds difficult to capture. Thank you for this Jean – and enjoy the spring!

    • Birds are so difficult to capture Patti! At least robins pause every so often. That’s when those 30 second drawing exercises come in handy. If you can get the basic shape and posture down quickly, you can refine it and fill in the details later.

  4. Great captures! I put out a birdseed mix that includes mealworms. When “our” pair of robins hear me at the feeder, they seem to materialize from nowhere and sit on the fence posts about 10’ away watching me. As soon as I scatter a handful on the ground and take a few steps back, they drop in and pick out the worms. A pair nested in our flowering cherry for several years, but it became diseased and we had to cut it down last fall. We replaced it, but the robins looked elsewhere for their home this year. I miss seeing them nest and bring their family into the world, but I’m glad they still come for the grub.

    I notice your gender symbols on the spread. What features do you look for in robins to tell them apart when they’re on the move?

    • Hi Susan- I’ve never used mealworms, but maybe it would be useful for getting robins to stay in one area long enough for a sketch. The head of the males are more distinctly black. The head of the female tends to be grayer or even brownish.

      • I discovered by accident that the robins like meal worms. I put some out a few years ago, trying to attract bluebirds. The bluebirds weren’t interested, but I noticed the robins eating whatever blew to the ground. They seem to appreciate a little extra sustenance during nesting season. They even bring their babies to the feeder for the worms when they start leaving the nest. Yes, it does entice them to stay put a little longer. 🙂

  5. I love the Robins we see a bunch of them in the clearings between the trees and around the gardens. They are such happy little birds! They come back about the same time as the Acorn Woodpeckers-they’re back and they have a communal nest in the top of a huge old redwood tree and they come down to visit the sunflower seeds and soon they bring the babies and teach them how to take the seeds home! Loved your class!

    • Nice to hear from you Georgia and glad you enjoyed the class. We don’t have Acorn Woodpeckers– they are quite striking. Enjoy watching the family fun in the weeks ahead. –Jean

  6. They are a welcome sight aren’t they? And they show up right when the air starts to smell like spring. Especially when we need it most. Thank you for this.

    • Yes. Absolutely. And we DO need it: the longer daylight, the warmer temperatures, the birdsong, and the promise of the new season. Hope you are seeing spring unfold where you are too.

  7. Hello from Madison, WI where robins are chirping merrily. And yes, I’ve been sketching them too. You can see one on my blog this morning ginny stilesblogspot.com along with other signs of spring. Here the daffodils are going crazy too.

  8. Pingback: April 2021 Wrap Up – Chasing the Four Winds

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