These published reviews give you an insight into the impact of The Laws Guide to Drawing Birds. You can purchase this book from my store.
Read a review in BirdWatcher's Digest, by John E. Riutta, January-Febuary Issue 2013
Long before there were digital cameras in every mobile phone—for that matter, long before there were digital cameras or mobile phones—many bird watchers considered a pencil and a small sketchpad to be essential elements of their field kit. Indeed, the very development of one’s skills as a bird watcher, just as it was with the other areas of field nature study, included the development of one’s skills as a sketch artist.
Advances in technology—particularly the development of affordable high-magnification zoom digital cameras and the expansion of digiscoping into a widely practiced photographic technique—have made field sketching something of a quaint anachronism to far too many modern bird watchers. More’s the pity; for the development of one’s sketching abilities and the field application thereof can go far toward the development of one’s skills as a bird watcher. John Muir Laws knows this well, and thanks to his recently published book The Laws Guide to Drawing Birds, even those who may not consider themselves qualified to wield a pencil for anything more than writing a grocery list might well come to discover just how enjoyable and effective as a learning exercise sketching birds can be.
Drawing upon—if you’ll pardon the pun—his background as both a wildlife biologist as well as a scientific illustrator, Laws approaches the topic of his book from the perspective of one who is not simply interested in depicting his subjects as they would look best in an ideal situation, but as they actually look given their physiology. As a result,
The Laws Guide not only gives instruction in how to ensure that proportions are maintained and correct appearances are achieved, but also shows how and why birds do and must move as a result of their physical composition.
The techniques he demonstrates can be applied in as rudimentary or as polished a form as one likes. Whether one’s drawings are merely augmentations to field notes or developed into fine artistic renderings, the essentials skills needed to produce them are the same. Laws presents these skills in easy-to-understand chapters, including an entire section devoted to what is perhaps the most commonly misunderstood element in avian locomotion: flight.
One must truly see the bird to depict it correctly, not just as a passing object or as a tick mark on a checklist, but in all its actual form and activity. To do so, one must slow down and focus upon the moment at hand. As a result, it is quite likely that fewer birds may be “noticed” over the course of a walk or a day afield; however those that are will be much better and more accurately seen.
Read a review in The Birder's Library, by Grant McCreary, December 20, 2012
I am not an artist. As a kid, I enjoyed drawing and coloring, but I never developed that skill. I never even thought about it further until I started birding. I saw all these wonderful illustrations of birds and wished that I could create something like that. At the very least, I wanted to accurately document birds that I saw and, more ambitiously, recreate experiences I had with them. But I had no idea how. I have no excuse anymore with the publication of The Laws Guide to Drawing Birds.
Ok, perhaps you think that you don’t want to draw birds. Or, more likely, that you can’t draw them. I was right there with you. But I challenge you to read the first two pages of this book and still feel the same way afterward. Laws makes some great points as to why you should draw birds, even if just for yourself. It forces you to really study birds and look at them critically. The obvious benefit of this is that you will learn birds better. But it will also help you to remember details and experiences. And, although it sounds a bit clichéd it could still be true, Laws argues that “drawing birds opens you to the beauty of the world”.
Befitting of the subject matter, this guide is intensely visual. On most pages, there are more pencil strokes than letters. The author not only tells you what to do, but more importantly demonstrates how to do it. Sometimes this takes the form of incremental drawings, such as the two-page spread that shows how to draw wings step by step. Other illustrations are more finished, with annotations pointing out some feature or trick (very much like many field guides). The many illustrations, combined with a great layout and overall design, make this book not only instructional, but also pleasing to simply flip through and admire.
But, once you open this book, it’s hard not to get intimidated. The Laws Guide to Drawing Birds is incredibly detailed. But it gets more comforting when you realize that the author is giving you just about everything you need to know in order to draw birds. Laws gives tips on drawing all kinds of feathers, from head to tail, and birds in all positions. There are special instructions for certain kinds of birds, such as raptors, ducks, and hummingbirds. He even gives suggestions on choosing media like colored pencil and watercolor, along with techniques of how to use them.
One of the things that surprised me the most about The Laws Guide is that, as a birder, you can learn much more than how to draw birds. The writer/artist notes and illustrates things that most people have probably never noticed, like the pattern of white spots on the rear of Carolina and Bewick’s Wrens when their rump feathers are elevated. Laws also gives some lessons in bird anatomy, for “to convincingly draw birds, you must understand what lies beneath the surface”. This includes some things, such as facial feather groups, that are covered in field guides and other resources. But it also gives many fascinating insights that I’d never noticed before, such as that a bird’s beak doesn’t hinge at the gape, but rather much further back in the skull. And there’s a wonderful sequence that illustrates how a wing opens, something that I had always wondered about and have seen covered in only one other source (Kaufman Field Guide to Advanced Birding).
Recommendation: If you’ve ever even remotely considered drawing birds, you will find The Laws Guide to Drawing Birds eye-opening, and then essential. If you are already an experienced artist, this guide is so “detailed and thorough” that it would be helpful to you as well, as David Allen Sibley writes in the forward here. Even if you never plan to take up pen or brush, there are still important lessons that you can learn. Altogether then, I’d recommend it to anyone interested in birds (excepting Mr. Sibley – I think he’s ok!).
Read a review in Audubon Magazine's Blog, Last-Minute Gift Idea for a Creative New Year's Resolution: Bird Drawing Guide, By Julie Leibach December 14, 2012, 6:03 PM
Christmas is fast approaching, and before you know it, New Year’s Eve will be staring you down. Instead of committing yourself to the same tired resolutions, try something new and creative. Here’s one idea: Learn how to draw birds. To make sure you follow through, ask Santa for a little encouragement in the form of a new book, The Laws Guide to Drawing Birds. Author John Muir Laws provides detailed but accessible instructions that will help you channel your inner Roger Tory Peterson.
Leena Khanzode, a California-based physician, can attest to the joys of avian sketching, as well as Laws’s helpful instruction—she and her 10-year-old daughter Mitali have both taken lessons from him. Under his tutelage and encouragement, “I think I’ve not only become a better bird sketcher, I’ve become a better birder,” she told me when I was reporting for this story from our November-December issue. “I’ve started looking at things very differently. I’ve started looking at the details.” Enjoy these images by Leena, Mitali, as well as a few others who have taken a gander at Laws’s book. For more gift ideas, visit Audubon's Holiday Gift Guide.
Charlene Ruiz, National Audubon's receptionist and administrative assistsant, has a background in visual arts and drew the cardinal above after perusing Laws's book. She says, "It's a great guide for beginners and helps you accurately define proportion and position your drawing by using simple shapes and angles. Laws' step-by-step process is easy to follow and understand. While I have very little experience drawing birds, they are fascinating subjects and his instruction certainly helps you artistically explore their beauty."
Former Audubon intern Justine Hausheer also browsed sample pages from Laws’ book (see a few here) to learn some tricks. She admits that she started drawing this chickadee (left) without first establishing its head and body shapes and sizes, which Law recommends. “The most valuable drawing tip I learned from the book is to be patient and sketch accurately proportioned body and wing lines before diving into detail,” she says. Hausheer will have the chance to learn a lot more in a few days—the book is "wrapped under the Christmas tree."
Read a review in BirdChaser by Rob Fergus, December 13, 2012
John Muir Laws has put out perhaps the most visually stunning bird book of the year, an insanely beautiful and useful guide to not only drawing and painting–but seeing birds. If you've ever wanted to be a bird artist, or to just better see and know the birds around you (like Julie Zickefoose), this is the guide for you. Even if you don't want to draw birds, you won't be able to put this book down because it is just so amazing. Muir walks you through not only how to erdraw birds, but how to see them and understand why they look the way they do. Perhaps my favorite illustration in the book is a "cutaway" view of a Hermit Thrush, showing the tiny naked bird body inside the fluffy feather coat. You've got to see this book to fully appreciate it. There are quite a few pages viewable on Amazon. Take a look and enjoy! Then get the book! You can also see a lot of Laws' work and get some drawing lessons at his website.
Read a review in 10,000 Birds by Matthew Dodder, December 10, 2012
At some point, I expect more than a few birders have tried (or at least considered) drawing their favorite bird. There is something quite natural about wanting to do this. If you are one of these birders, and even if you are not, take a look at the newly published “The Laws Guide to Drawing Birds“, and find out why I believe it is a must-have book for artist-birders. For that matter, I think it has value for anyone who simply wishes to improve their skills of observation. There is a lot to celebrate in the pages of this book, trust me. It is truly a birder’s guide to drawing…
Until recently, “how-to-draw” books about birds seemed to focus primarily on plumage-related issues. Specifics about barring and vermiculation were amply covered, as were things like the gross differences between Cranes and Herons. There was often a goodly description of how to draw a Duck step-by-step also. But what if one needed to draw a Diving Duck and not a Mallard, or compose a bird not shown in the book at all…?
Enter John Muir Laws. His work on the color-coded “Sierra Birds: A Hiker’s Guide” and the follow-up “The Laws Field Guide to the Sierra Nevada” are testaments to his position as an artist, but his most recent book firmly establishes him as a teacher of art as well.
Logically organized, the “Law’s Guide to Drawing Birds” succeeds in giving students something I believe was lacking in previous books. We get a better understanding of bird structure in this book, particularly what is desperately needed, a study of what lies beneath all those lovely feathers—flesh and bone. Appreciating avian inner architecture is basic to successful drawing. As well, Laws forces us to step back and see basic lines of motion, balance of stance, proportions of head and bill, the true nature of light and shadow on our subject, and what isn’t necessary to show.
“The Laws Guide” doesn’t jump into all this material headlong however. As with any user manual, it starts with a few pages of quick-start basics, allowing eager artists to start drawing right away with a few simple examples that simultaneously demonstrate concepts that set the foundation for more complex ideas. One-page sections on “Posture, the First Line”, “Proportion”, “Head Position” and “Angles” lay important ground work that allow the artist to continue. The book is in fact, assembled with many such short lessons, each complete in itself, but progressing toward a complete “picture” of the art of drawing birds.
Sections I found particularly interesting were those on “Feathers of the Chest” which informs about the direction of feathers of the breast and the subtle contours they create. Having struggled with legs and feet in my own drawings, I especially enjoyed the sections on “How to Balance Your Birds” and “Understanding Bird Feet”. Did you know, for example that the rear-facing toe (hallux) on a Passerine has only one bone that cannot bend around a branch as one might assume, while the inner toe has two, the middle toe has three, and the outer toe has four? Well, perhaps you did know this, but had you ever observed it? Additionally, why is this important? Well, for one thing, knowledge of such details provides more realism and accuracy to your drawings. But for non-artist birders as well, stopping to notice this feature in a bird enriches our birding experience whether we plan on drawing or not. Opening the book to any page is guaranteed to open birder, and artist-birder’s eyes alike to details we may have not given much thought to before.
John Laws has a great love for the subject of the book obviously. An avid birder himself, as well as an accomplished artist, his attention to detail such as those mentioned above, encourage us to look as closely at the birds we see in our binoculars as an artist would. What better advice could we give ourselves than to look more closely at our subjects, drink in the all details and remember them more vividly…?
The Laws Guide offers plenty of material for advanced artist such as a lengthy section on “Birds in Flight”, as well as “Observing Light and Shadow”, “Negative Space”, “Planes and Textures” and tips for those wishing to improve colored pencil practice and water color techniques.
Of all the sections in the book I found useful, perhaps the section on “Iridescence” was the most eye-opening. I’d been afraid of attempting this in my artwork prior to Law’s easy explanation. My attempts had always turned out like a brightly colored mud of rainbow colors, but nothing like the purple-blue-black flame we see on a Great-tailed Grackle, or the god-like golden-orange blaze of an Rufous Hummingbird. I feel I have a handle on this concept now, but by no means is my technique perfect. Everything worthwhile takes practice—lots of practice. And now there’s a whole lot more hope for others like me.
This is one of the important take-aways from the book, and it echoes what John Laws said in a recent presentation at Sequoia Audubon in San Mateo, California. Noticing details like the way the toes wrap (or do not wrap) around a branch, or the fact that the gape of the mouth is never a single hinged angle, but several… or that the median coverts switch directions on Passerines, while Raptors, Cormorants and Herons have several rows of reversed coverts… and on and on until morning. These tiny, lovely details deepen our experience with a bird—they give us something to watch for, something new to learn, and something beautiful to draw, if we care to try.
Read a Review in the San Francisco Examiner: Even beginners can draw birds using 'The Laws Guide' by Diane Weddington, October 23, 2012
Always wanted to draw but thought you could not? Fascinated by birds? "The Laws Guide to Drawing Birds" enables even beginners to sketch birds.
Naturalist John Muir Laws has produced more than a guide to the techniques of drawing. He has drawn on a lifetime of work in conservation and wildlife biology to connect drawing with the actual lives of the birds.
He writes, "To draw feathers, you must understand how feathers grow, overlap and insert into the body. To create the body, you must have an understanding of the bird's skeletal structure. To pose this skeleton, you must be able to perceive the energy, intention, and life of the bird."
This tall order is filled expertly in the lessons of this excellent primer. Each step is accompanied by numerous drawings and careful examples of what works and what does not.
Laws urges readers to look closely at the bird before beginning. What is the bird doing? What is its posture? The student is then to draw a long vertical line indicating how the bird is posing: Trying to draw by starting with the bill and going to the tail will not capture the posture, he says, and the drawing will not look like the bird.
Using the single line, the student roughly blocks in where the head, body and tail are. It is important to place the head carefully because otherwise the drawing will look like a feathered hot dog. The head can be at a tangent or resting on the body. Small birds have big heads.
Once the two main ovals of body and head are in place, look for places where angles are visible, such as where the tail joins the body. Otherwise the bird will look like a snowman.
After sketching the rough blocks, the student should indicate where major feather groupings are. In painstaking detail, Laws explains how to distinguish feather groups from feather marks and how to find groups around the eyes and bill, back, chest and wings. He shows how to draw whole groups rather than individual feathers.
The next step is to observe light and dark areas and indicate which are which. If drawing in color, use colors which match the actual colors of the bird.
Proportion is important when filling in the wings, bill, tail and feet. Laws gives a detailed lesson in bird anatomy as he explains how to capture the most elusive poses.
Finally, fill in a few details, but avoid using too many. Laws advises using restraint when doing the eyes. To capture the iridescence of some birds' feathers, he suggests putting pure color adjacent to black.
The second section discusses how to best depict common birds, in this case meaning raptors, waterfowl, waders and hummingbirds.
He devotes an entire section to birds in flight, with bountiful illustrations of how to block in wing span and direction.
The beginner will find the section on field sketching perhaps the most enjoyable of the book. He explains here the difference between observing and sketching in the field and painting or drawing for the purposes of art or illustration.
The final section is a discussion of tools and techniques. Here the reader will find examples of color theory, how to use colored pencils and watercolor, how to draw on toned paper and how to achieve depth, refine techniques and develop a personal style.
Noted artist David Allen Sibley wrote the foreword for the book. He writes, "This book is superficially about drawing and painting birds, but it's really a guide to a more thoughtful and inquisitive study of birds, with drawing as the method….it should be truly empowering for beginners."
Read a review in Birding is Fun: The Laws Guide to Drawing Birds by Robert Mortensen 10/12/12
When I was a kid, I was very fond of sketching. Now looking back on old drawings, I couldn't believe how good some of the stuff is that I had produced at such a young age. I had a knack for it, but it was a talent that went unnutured for most of my life. Once I got into birding, and after following the blog posts of Kelly Riccetti and Julie Zickefoose, the hankering for sketching was reawakened in my soul. I've tried a few sketches of birds out in the field. They were terrible. I tried drawing from my own photographs and they were all right, but never having had any art instruction I have just felt utterly inept. The birds I drew were so out of proportion one might mistake them for alien species. So, over the last several years I have casually searched for a book about how to draw birds. I've found some sketch instruction books that dedicate a page or two to birds, but they didn't provide what I was after.
Read a review in National Parks Traveler: The Laws Guide To Drawing Birds, by Kirby Adams in 10/9/12
I’m not an artist. I’m not even close to being an artist. When I hear about artist-in-residence programs at the national parks, I envision the participants as supernatural beings with a talent that is incomprehensible to me.
Thus it was with some trepidation that I approachedThe Laws Guide to Drawing Birds by John Muir Laws. Luckily, as a non-artist birder who admires people who can draw, I have an artistic friend who admires birders. So I offer you dueling reviews of this exciting new book with the birders represented by me and the artists by my colleague Catherine Gyde of Lansing, Michigan.
The Birder’s Thoughts
With a forward penned by David Allen Sibley, it was clear this book is intended to appeal to birders. Sibley authored one of the most popular field guides we carry, essentially bearing the torch forward from the father of hand-drawn field guides, the late Roger Tory Peterson. So to hear Sibley say he wished this book had been around when he got started drawing birds is high praise from a deity in the birding and art world.
As an experienced birder ever in need of more expertise, I’m always looking for another angle from which to approach birding. The idea of drawing has crossed my mind several times, quickly to be banished amid the snickers of friends who have seen my attempts.
Laws titles the second subsection on the first page of text, “Give Yourself Permission to Draw.” Sounds good to me, but I have no talent. A few sentences later he tells us that the idea that the ability to draw is an innate talent is “utterly false.” At this point it seems Laws is both reading my mind and doing a good job of convincing me I might be able to do this. Reading through the book, it seems a bit over my head, but the author assures that with one year devoted to drawing birds, I will achieve success. I continue to be skeptical, but I have room for one or two more obsessions in 2013, so who knows. That part of this review will have to wait. Look for part two in about 14 months.
Getting back to my role as an experienced birder, I find myself frequently giving hints and tips to those who are just starting out. “Look at size and shape,” I’ll say over and over, reminding a new birder that color can be deceptive as a field mark. What does the bill look like? How long are the primary flight feathers? Is the body round or football or teardrop shaped? These are questions we learn to ask ourselves as we peer at an unknown bird through binoculars.
It turns out these are the same critical questions you have to ask when preparing to draw a bird. As I looked at this book section by section I realized it was a blueprint for the litany of field marks we should be looking for and muttering to ourselves when seeing that bird. More than once, I said to myself, “that’s something I need to pay more attention to in the field.”
At the very least, The Laws Guide to Drawing Birds will make me a better birder and a better teacher of birding. In the best case, and I assume this was the author’s intent, it might inspire me to draw a sparrow or two. My first attempts won’t appear in a field guide, nor will my hundredth attempt, but I’m wondering if I’ll start looking at sparrows differently. If so, the mission has been accomplished.
The Artist’s Thoughts
I need this book. I’ve always shied away from drawing birds, because, well, they’re birds. Birds are different than horses or butterflies. It seems like every subtle movement a bird makes alters its anatomy more than it would with other animals. Feathers shift, wings move, necks stretch. A horse has hair on its legs, but a bird has several shapes and sizes of feathers on each wing. When I opened up to a double-page spread detailing the drawing of a typical wing, followed by a table of the number of different types of flight feathers possessed by different birds, I knew this book would be a great help to me.
Drawing animals is all about understanding their anatomies on an intimate level. The Laws Guide to Drawing Birds could be subtitled as a guide to bird anatomy as much as it is a guide to drawing. That’s how it should be, of course. I just hope a beginner learning to draw birds isn’t overwhelmed by the anatomy course that comes along with that desire.
Speaking of overwhelming, my only real complaint about this book (and complaint is too strong a word), is that it could focus a bit more on the very beginning of drawing. Since I like to suggest subtitles, I think adding “for Birders” to the title would be appropriate since the thrust of the text and demonstrations seems to be the synthesis between birding and drawing birds. That’s fine, and very enlightening, but if I was teaching a beginner to draw from this book, I think I’d dedicate more time to the always important first line.
Laws devotes a page to the first line and eloquently describes how that first stroke can be a “suggestion of the life energy” of the bird. As an artist with an interest in taking up birding, that appeals to me, but I’d like to spend a little more time on the particulars of how that line pertains to the future of the drawing. That comes up later, of course, but we jump right into proportions on the next page, and I hope the reader isn’t presented with too much, too quickly.
That admittedly personal preference for teaching approach aside, the book is filled with tips that are well-presented and well-illustrated. The author cautions against avoiding the infamous “snowman” by cutting angles between the head and body. He also admonishes us to avoid making the bird “too cute” by exaggerating proportions of heads and eyes. Cute birds are great for cartoons, but not for a field sketch!
A section at the end of the book focuses on tips for coloring drawings, with an emphasis on watercolors. A whole book could be written on this subject alone, with all the plumages of birds from the subtle to the outrageous. Laws treats it well in the space allowed, including a recommended suit of colors and a guide to efficient use of the pallet.
I would highly recommend this book to someone like me who’d like to be less intimidated by the thought of drawing birds. Since I’m also starting to get a little bit of the birding bug, the fact that this book is unabashedly a cross between a drawing guide and a field guide is a bonus. Most drawing books show page after page of step-by-step demonstrations from start to finish. This guide has a few of those, but focuses more on giving me the tools I need to do it myself. Along the way, I learned a lot about birds, so the next time friends drag me out with binoculars, I’ll look at those feathered friends a bit differently. That’s a good thing.
And finally, how many drawing books caution against the potential self-injury that can be incurred when holding your pencil and your binoculars in the same hand while drawing in the field? I laughed out loud at the photo demonstration of this, mostly because I can picture one or two of my birding friends impaling themselves this way. Who said drawing birds wasn’t an adventure?
Amazon Detail : Product Description
Called a ''modern Audubon'' by the Washington Post, renowned artist and naturalist John Muir Laws brings us this full-color how-to guide to drawing birds. Laws's book, with an illuminating foreword by beloved ornithologist David Sibley, is devoted not only to art but also to the lives, forms, and postures of the birds themselves. It intertwines artistic technique and the exquisite details of natural history, and drawing becomes the vehicle for seeing.
As Laws writes, ''To draw feathers, you must understand how feathers grow, overlap, and insert into the body. To create the body, you must have an understanding of the bird's skeletal structure. To pose this skeleton, you must be able to perceive the energy, intention, and life of the bird.''
This inspiring guide will enhance the skills of serious artists but also, perhaps more importantly, it will provide help for those who insist they can't draw. Leading the mind and hand through a series of detailed exercises, Laws delivers what he promises: ''drawing birds opens you to the beauty of the world.''
Review in The Birder's Library: Laws Guide to Drawing Birds by Grant McCreary 9/13/12
Renowned artist and naturalist John Muir Laws, author of the Laws Field Guide to the Sierra Nevada and Sierra Birds: A Hiker’s Guide, brings us this full-color how-to guide to drawing birds. Laws’s book, with an illuminating foreword by David Sibley, is devoted not only to art but also to the lives, forms, and postures of the birds themselves. It intertwines artistic technique and the exquisite details of natural history, and drawing becomes the vehicle for seeing.
As Laws writes, “To draw feathers, you must understand how feathers grow, overlap, and insert into the body. To create the body, you must have an understanding of the bird’s skeletal structure. To pose this skeleton, you must be able to perceive the energy, intention, and life of the bird.”
This inspiring guide will enhance the skills of serious artists but also, perhaps more importantly, it will provide help for those who insist they can’t draw. Leading the mind and hand through a series of detailed exercises, Laws delivers what he promises: “drawing birds opens you to the beauty of the world.”
This book looks like it would be helpful for everyone from those like me who can’t draw (yet), to those artistically talented folks who want some pointers for drawing birds. For sure, it is well-produced and well-illustrated. And maybe just what you need if you want to learn how to draw birds.
Review in This Dish is Vegetarian: Drawing made easy: 'The Laws Guide to Drawing Birds' by Julia Fortney on 10/12/12
As someone who often has trouble following the vague artistic descriptions in many how-to drawing books, I found The Laws Guide to Drawing Birds easily understandable and fun.
Once I was finished following the bird making steps, I actually found myself looking down at a bird on my paper. As opposed to my usual frustrated scribbles and lines that have zero similarity to the structure of a bird except for its beak.
Along with the wonderful outcomes, The Laws Guide to Drawing Birds is a great learning experience both artistically and intellectually. Information is given on the nature and characteristics of each bird you attempt to create.
John Muir Laws is also a supporter of the Golden Gate Audubon Society, a California-based chapter of the national bird conservation organization, Audubon.
“Birds are fiercely alive, simultaneously vulnerable and resilient. Study them to quiet your mind. As you grow in patient observation, the world will open and you will be changed forever,” Laws states.