Today, I want to share some fundamental tips for drawing feathers that look lifelike. Like many subjects, there’s often a perception that the process is complicated, making it difficult to know where to start. This complexity often discourages us from attempting to draw birds, flowers, and other intricate subjects. But fear not! Follow these simple and easy principles, and you’ll be able to draw birds with confidence.
Tips for Creating Realistic Feathers
Tip #1: Start with an Accurate Line Drawing
The first step is to create an accurate line drawing. However, this doesn’t mean you have to draw every single feather. Focus on capturing the main shapes of the bird, the edges between colors, as well as the play of shadows and highlights. Take a look at this example:
While this may seem like a simple line drawing, it’s an accurate representation. I’ve emphasized the hard edges of the hummingbird while indicating softer edges with dotted or dashed lines. Although I haven’t included every detail, this drawing serves as a solid foundation for adding color and depth.
Tip #2: Pay Attention to Values
While colored pencils offer a vast range of vibrant colors, it’s important to remember that value is more crucial than color when it comes to creating realistic drawings. The term “value” refers to the lightness or darkness of a color, which applies to all colors, including black and white. No matter what you’re drawing, the subject has form and occupies space, meaning some areas will be in shadow while others will be in light.
Take this hummingbird, for example. It’s illuminated from the upper right, resulting in a highlight in the eye and on the bill. The bird’s belly is in shadow, while its back is bathed in light. To achieve a realistic look, you must accurately depict these variations in value.
Consider this black-and-white version of the image. Even without color, the hummingbird appears real. Therefore, invest time and effort into getting the values right from the first application of colored pencil.
When it comes to feathers, the principles that apply to larger shapes like the hummingbird also apply to smaller shapes like individual feathers. Some feathers will be in shadow, while others will catch the light. Pay attention to the shadows beneath and between the feathers.
How to Draw Feathers
Start by shading the larger shape as seen in your reference photo. Work around the brightest areas and use short, directional strokes to begin building the texture of the feathers. Begin with the lightest value of the color you need. For instance, if the hummingbird’s chest and belly are white, start with a very light gray. Gradually darken the values by adding multiple layers, applying light pressure and using directional strokes. Refer to your reference photo frequently.
You don’t have to draw every single feather. Instead, focus on adding detail where values or colors change. These edges will naturally attract the most attention, so it’s best to include more detail there. Unless you’re working on a large-scale drawing, you won’t need excessive detail in the areas of deep shadow or brightest highlights. Take a look at my sample drawing, which showcases uneven color achieved using Faber-Castell Cold Grey II and III pencils and several layers. Maintain light pressure throughout to allow for adjustments in values as you progress.
Tip #3: Layering Is Key
In most cases, you won’t achieve the desired result with just one or two layers of color. If you’re going for a more realistic look, multiple layers are essential. Applying colors with light to medium pressure through several layers enables you to blend them and create smooth transitions in value, resulting in a more lifelike appearance.
Tip #4: Match Strokes to the Desired Texture
Let’s take another look at the detail photo, this time in color. Notice how the feathers on the bird’s chest resemble fine hair. Despite not drawing individual feathers precisely as in the reference photo, my drawing will eventually convey the impression of a hummingbird covered in feathers.
Even though the lightest gray is slightly darker than the paper and may be hard to see, I used short, hair-like strokes. You can observe this technique in the area between the base of the wing and the shadowed belly. Remember, unless you’re working on a large-scale drawing, you won’t need excessive detail to achieve the appearance of feathers. Apply the same approach to all the feathers, using the colors you observe in the reference photo.
Those Are My Tips for Creating Realistic Feathers
These tips aren’t limited to bird drawing; you can apply them to any complex subject. Whether you’re drawing horses, landscapes, or anything else, breaking down complex subjects into smaller, simpler shapes is the key. These principles serve as valuable tools in your artistic journey, enabling you to master even the most intricate subjects. So, start implementing them and unleash your artistic potential!