Ducks and other waterfowl are extremely cooperative subjects. Yes they move, but they love napping if plain sight and will stick around for you to draw. Learn the details of duck anatomy that are relevant for field sketchers and bird artists. Discover tricks to get down the shape quickly and easily, even on a bird that is moving. Learn the basic feather groups and how to imply feather detail. Discover how to draw duck heads that look like duck heads. Learn how to suggest feathers without drawing every one. Learn new secrets of duck posture. Plus a reflection review as it applies to waterfowl.
Trout are beautiful and hearty fish. I grew up sharing Sierra lakes with these amazing creatures. In this step-by-step demonstration, we walk through the process of illustrating one of these fish. With watercolor, it works best to start with the lightest values and build up into the darkest layer by layer. Here I use the glazing technique in which subsequent layers of paint are applied on top of existing layers once the paper is dry. In the course of this demonstration I make a few mistakes. Watch how I correct them as the painting develops.
Click on the first image to start a step-by-step annotated slide-show of how to draw a trout.
Begin with the posture or central axis of the fish.
Look at the depth vs. length proportions and add a vertical line to approximate the depth of the body.
Add an open ended box (no tail end) to rough in the body proportions. Check these body proportions in this simple shape before continuing.
Continuing with the proportions, add a vertical line to show the head length.
Add a second vertical line to box in the body mass.
Add a third vertical line to show the length of the tail. Check your proportions again before continuing.
Now rough in the body shape (there are not very many rectangular fish swimming around).
Visualize the negative shapes of the forehead and chin angles and above and below the tail.
Block in these negative shapes (you do not have to color the shapes).
Add dots where the fins start and a line along the back edge of the fin to show the proportions and length of each fin.
To help you place these dots and lines accurately, look at the length of the body segments between each fin. How far from the front or back does each fin begin and end?
Also visualize how the fins overlap on the top and bottom edges. Where is the dorsal fin relative to the ventral fin?
Using the dots and lines, draw in the rough shapes of the fins. Using negative shapes is again a useful trick here.
Add lines along the front and back of the eye and note where the eye is located relative to the posture line (the first line).
I make all my primary lines with an erasable col-erase non photo blue pencil. These lines are so light that I can draw over them with a graphite pencil and viewers will not be distracted by the blue lines. In this demonstration I have exaggerated the strength of these first lines for readability. The real lines don’t even show clearly on my scanned images.
Start painting the fish with the shadow, here I use Daniel Smith Shadow Violet.
Lay in the primary body colors with light washes of paint. While the green-brown back is still wet, add stronger color creating a soft edge to the dark zone along the back. I was so excited to add the pink on the side that I made it to wide and bright behind the fish’s head. You will see that I correct this problem later but if you are following along with the demonstration, avoid this mistake from the start.
Add color to the fins, using more diluted paint on the ventral surface. I also made the mistake of putting dark values on the head to early. I am now going to need to work around these darks to insert lighter values on the gill plate. It would have been easier if I applied the lighter paint first.
Working around the dark spots, add lighter washes on the face.
Continue to develop the face with light washes.
To make sure that the whole painting has a good value range, I add a dark “anchor” this is a bit of the darkest value. This spot will force me to match my value range to this dark. Begin to develop the fins with fine rays and tonal patterns.
The cheek is still not dark enough so pop the color with bright magenta (Daniel Smith Quinacridone Pink).
Once the dark point (eye) is on the paper, the relative values will be more apparent. The back needs to get darker so add another green-brown wash to build the color.
Use gouache to add light fin rays in the dorsal fin.
Now to fix another mistake. The pink band was too broad and bright behind the head. I fixed this mistake by wetting the paper, letting it soak a moment, then blotting some of the excess paint away with a paper towel. This works better on heavier watercolor paper and some pigments lift out more easily than others.
Add light blue “parr marks” with diluted paint. Do not apply this paint in a watery puddle rather a thinned wash. Puddles form little lines around their edges as they dry.
Now begin adding the spots on dry paper. Do them a little group at a time, carefully placing each spot and continuously checking back to your fish to make sure the size, shape, and spacing of the dots are accurate.
Continue adding spots over the whole body but do not rush it. You are almost done and there is no need to hurry at this point. These dark spots will attract a lot of the viewer’s attention so place them with care.
Add spots to the fins. Note that the spots form lines instead of being randomly placed.
Make fine patterns of X’s across the body with a white jel pen. If the pen lines are too bold, blot them by tapping them with your finger while they are still wet. You can also add a few little highlights on the face and fins.
Crisp up the line around the edge and add white spots at the tips of the tail with gouache or a white paint marker. If you are drawing a fish as it appears underwater, stop here. For a wet fish OUT of the water, see the next step.
A slippery, wet fish that is out of the water will reflect the sunlight in crisp highlights. Add a few along the back, lateral line, and sides. Here I used a fine tip Presto Jumbo Correction Pen.
It is soooooo hard to know when to stop. I was having so much fun adding white highlights that I went overboard on it. Restraint is still something I am working on. I think this fish was better in the previous step.
Drawing shorebirds will train your eye to capture the subtlety and nuance of shape and the contrast of size. At high tide, shorebirds will flock together making comparison and sketching much easier. Learn the details of wader anatomy that are relevant for field sketchers and bird artists. Discover tricks to get down the shape quickly and easily, even on a bird that is moving. Learn the basic feather groups and how to imply feather detail. Discover the variation in bill shapes and how to draw them. Master tricks for drawing the long kinked necks of herons and egrets and learn to draw legs and balance your birds.
Blocking in the posture, proportions, and negative space body angles are the first steps in drawing a fish. You may see a parallel here to drawing birds, mammals, and everything else- it is the same system, just a different subject. Before you add any detail, block in these elements. If you add color with watercolor as in this demonstration, start with lighter values and work your way into the darks.
Click on the first image to start a step-by-step slide show.
Start with the posture line through the central axis of the fish.
Add a vertical line to help you compare the proportions of the fish. How long is it compared to how deep is the body?
Block in the mass of the body. This fish is fairly round in profile, others are longer.
Draw lines to mark how much of the body is head and tail. These proportions will be different on each species.
Visualize the negative shapes above and below the face and tail.
Carve in these negative shape angles. Note here that the forehead angle is longer than the area below the mouth so that the mouth is below the center line. Expect different mouth positions on different species.
Now we will place dots to indicate the beginning and end positions of each of the fins. There are two things to note as you place these dots. The first is the distance along the outer edge of the fish shape or how far back each point sits.
The second detail to notice to help you place the fins is to compare where each fin intersects the body while comparing the top and the bottom fin positions. Does the ventral fin start in front of or behind the dorsal fin?
You do not need to draw in the pervious visualization lines to place the dots but carefully analyze the fin positions before continuing. If you need to move a fin, now is the time to do it. It is easy to move a dot, hard to move a fin.
Now place the fins based on the locations of your guide dots.
Block in the back edge of the gill plate and the proportions of the eye. Note that this eye is below the centerline.
Locate the pectoral fin behind the gill plate.
Draw over your light guidelines with deliberate smooth lines.
Refine your linework, erasing and replacing lines with more accurate and nuanced lines.
Start by painting the shadows with Daniel Smith Shadow Violet mixed with a little gray mud from your palette.
Add a pale blush of magenta to suggest iridescence.
Paint the light yellow ring with Hansa Yellow Light.
Let the first coat of paint dry and add details with a deeper orange-yellow.
Enhance the feeling of iridescence with a blush of Phthalo Yellow-Green.
With a jittery brush stroke, add a black line along the lateral line.
Continue to add black across the body. Keep the thickness and spacing of the lines consistent with what you see on the fish.
Add the other black accents on the back, face, and tail.
With a diluted mixture of the black paint, continue the black lines through the pectoral fin. The lighter values makes the fin look transparent.
Being careful not to smudge the dark lines, add more gray accents and details in the white part of the fish. It would have been easier to have done this before adding the black but sometimes you only figure these things out as the drawing moves along. The order here is because of a mistake, not an intentional sequence of steps.
Add a yellow accent by the pectoral fin.
Use a white gel pen to add subtle highlights and to extend the white lines into the black along the back. Switch back and forth between this and the previous slide a few times to see the impact of the gel pen.
Use colored pencils to make an X grid across the back of the fish, suggesting scales. Don’t go overboard on this, a subtle suggestion is better than pushing the pencil too far. Here I also crisp up the edges with a sharp pencil.
So you want to keep a nature journal or bump your current practice to a higher orbit. This workshop will help you see the possibilities of what a journal can be and how to move from new years resolutions to a life changing habit.
- Learn the practices that makes journaling a lifelong habit (and what does not work).
- Discover how to set up your journaling kit.
- Journal kit show and tell
- explore field tested logistics of sketching in the field.
- Learn the foundational framework to help you draw any subject.
Uunderstanding fish structure and the functions of fish anatomy will help you see details of the animals you are trying to draw and train your eye to look for critical features. Study these drawings and then look for these features on live fish, specimens, or photos. You can view an amazing searchable database of fish photographs including scientific specimens and photos taken in nature at Fishpix. The more you understand what you see, the easier it will be for you to get what you observe down on paper.
Click on the first image to start a step-by-step slideshow.
Body Type: Many fish have elongated bodies including the familiar trout and salmon. Note the line along the side of the body. This is the lateral line and it is an important part of the fish’s sensory system. Is some fish the lateral line is straight, in other species it is curved.
Body Type: Other fish have sorter bodes. In cross section, the body shape can either be flattened like a pancake, or round.
Mouth: Fish that feed from the surface often have upward facing mouths.
Mouth: Fish that feed at the bottom often have downward facing mouths.
Mouth: Some specialized fish have mouths on the end of long extensions.
Tail: Tails come in all sorts of shapes. A round tail is good for bursts of speed but the back edge of the tail creates drag and would burn a lot of energy in long distance (open water) swimming. Expect this tail type in fish who might hide among rocks and dart from one retreat to another.
Tail: This tail type also creates drag. Train yourself to note and record the rear tail margin.
Tail: Note how the tail margin becomes increasingly notched over the next few examples.
Tail: Slightly notched.
Tail: Deeply notched. This tail would avoid drag and would be ideal for long distance swimming in open water.
Tail: Tuna have a lunate (moon shaped) tail. Note the addition of a stabilizing keel in the middle of the tall and small “finlets” at the tail base.
Tail: Sharks have a similar tail shape but it is asymmetrical with a larger, often notched, upper lobe.
Pectoral Fins: The disadvantage of the asymmetrical tail is that the upper lobe provides more power, and would drive the fish down. To counteract this forward motion, the sharks front (pectoral) fins are low in the body and stick out to the sides, changing the downward force into forward movement.
Pectoral Fins: On fish with a symmetrical tail, the pectoral fin is higher on the side of the body and often is held flat against the side of the body. Pectoral fins are homologous with forelimbs and are paired (one on each side of the body).
Dorsal Fin: Fish have a single fin down the middle of the back. This often has two sections. The front section is stiff and spiny. The rear section has softer rays.
Dorsal Fin: You can see modifications of the two sections in a tuna.
Dorsal Fin: On some species, the dorsal fin separates into two or three distinct sections. These are called (from front to back, dorsal fin one, two, and three).
Dorsal Fin: On a shark you do not see fin rays. The cartilage structures that support the fin are covered by tissue.
Dorsal Fin: The sections of the dorsal fin may also be undifferentiated, not showing a clear spiny front section.
Adipose fin: A small fleshy, rayless fin on trout, salmon, catfish and characins.
Ventral or Pelvic Fins: Paired fins on the underside usually behind the pectoral fins. homologous with hind limbs.
Ventral or Pelvic Fins: In some fish (e.g. cod) the pelvic fins are forward of the pectoral fins.
Anal Fin: Behind the anus fish have a single fin on the center line. This fin may have a forward spiny rayed section and a more flexible, soft rayed section behind. Like the dorsal fin, this fin may be divided into a first and a second anal fin in some fish (e.g. cod).
Anal Fin: The anal fin may show specialized shapes.
Anal Fin: The anal fin may also have homogenous rays.
Tails and Fins: Some fish have tails and fins that merge into a continuous band. Note where these bands start and end.
Test time: It’s time to play, name that fin. Can you name all the fins on this fish? What fin is not shown in this picture?
Rain is falling? It’s mushroom time! Fungi are a delight to sketch and paint. Learn a simple approach to sketching mushrooms and some of the most common errors that can creep into your fungus sketching. In this workshop, we explore techniques with graphite pencil, watercolor and colored pencils.
The Best Mushroom Tricks Ever…
There are two tricks that will make you mushroom gills look great. The first is to pay attention to the orientation of the gills. All the gills should point to the center of the mushroom. This is not as easy as it sounds. As you start to draw in the gills there is a strong tendency to point the gills to the outer corners of the stalk. Avoid this temptation. Click on the first image below to start an annotated slide show.
Wrong: This is what you are looking out for… Notice that the gills on the side point to the corners of the stalk. It is deceptive because it looks almost right.
Right: All the gills point to the dot at the center of the cap. Look carefully at the angle of the gills on the back side of the mushroom. If you were to continue these lines into the stalk, they would converge at the dot.
The second trick is to darken the shadows between the gills in the middle (the part where the gills face toward or away from you), and only suggest the gills on the sides (where the gills run perpendicular to your line of sight). This is because you can look down between the gills in the middle and only along the tops of the gills (no shadows) on the sides.
Note: in the early part of this video, the view of the screen is washed out- but don’t give up, it gets better…
Here is a second presentation of the same lecture- some details explained in a different way. The workshop is in three parts.
Learn how to draw fish including critical morphology for the artist, arranging scales, important proportions or measurements, and capturing the iridescent shimmer of light. In this workshop we will focus on the lateral (side) view to create a classic scientific illustration.
Understanding anatomy will dramatically improve your fish illustrations. In this workshop I distill the essential anatomy of fish highlighting variations you will see between species. I also demonstrate two step-by-step illustrations to show how I block in the proportions and apply watercolor.
In the video I say that ventral fin is another name for the anal fin. This is in error. Ventral fin is another name for the pelvic fins.
Note: This post was not spelchecked so you can see what my raw writeing is like.
If you are a dyslexic kid out ther reading this, know you are not alone. There are a lot of us out here, of all ages and we share your experince and understand what it is like. You are not dumb or lazy. It is just that certain things are machanically more dificult for us to do. When you get older they let you use spell checkers, calculators and all sorts of other ways to get around thoes problem areas. You are now working trew some of the most difficult years where, for some reason we make you work evrything out by hand and great value is put on spelling. I know you did not ask for this, it is really hard, and it is not fair. Do not eqwait your intelagince with your ability to spell or memorize your multipicashon tables. It will get better, and not only that, the strugl itself is training your mind to do something amazing.
You can not give up. You need to try your best – not so that you can do everything like a non-dyslexic, but to identify both where the dyslexia is messing with you, and your capasity for creativity and brilliance. The more you can figure out specificly where you strugle, the easier it is to figure out what kind of acomadashions you will need to overcome it. This road is harder for us than for non-disleecsic people. The extra strugle we face everyday trains us look for and find alternite ways to solve problems. These back door aproaches are often not valued in school but, they will be a gift the rest of your life. You will see the options and possibilities that are invisible to most people. Your goal is to survive this time, to stay curieous, and learn to respect and value your way of thinking,
As a naturalist, this lateral thinking helps me to explor and wonder. I delight in discovering new things or asking new questions. My dyslexic brain is a gift with which I will never be bored. Hang in there. If I can be of support to you, I invite you to contact me.
A presintashon before the 2013 Confernce on Dyslexia and Talent.
Gull identification has always given me trouble. Not only are the species similar but the plumage changes dramatically over the first few years of life. Some species, such as the large Western Gull take four years to develop. In its first year, the gull has mottled brown feathers (think of play clothes). As the bird gets older, subsequent molts show more and more of the gray and white of the adult plumage. Other species take three years to grow to maturity, and the Bonaparte’s Gull only two years. This gives you a diversity of plumages that often get me scratching my head. That is why I made this handy identification guide. All the plumages of the common west coast gulls are shown side by side with detailed notes calling out subtle differences. Print this guide in color and stick it in the back of your journal and you will become a gull ID Jedi. Download the Gull Guide (PDF).
One word of gull caution. The subtle distinctions between species sometimes do not even matter to the gulls themselves. Some species successfully mate with each other producing hybrids and then re cross with other hybrids or pure species gulls. A Western Gull that mates with a Glaucous-winged Gull would have characteristics of both species and a back color somewhere between the two extremes. If this 50/50 bird were to mate with another Glaucous-winged Gull, its mantle (back color) would be somewhere between the 50/50 and the pale Glaucous-winged. Thus you can, with subsequent crosses, get a continuous range of mantle colors. When you are in doubt, you may have found a hybrid. This is another reason to have a little humility in the face of gull identification.