How to Draw a Bird Art Tutorial

June 01, 2019 maddoctorartist 0 Comments

Hello all, I'm back again, this time with an art tutorial! As may already be quite obvious, I love drawing birds, and with an infinite number of species to choose from, you could spend a lifetime drawing and never draw them all!

Nonetheless, they can be tricky to capture on paper (or Fire Alpaca in my case), so I thought I'd do a little tutorial that may help. Note that I'll be focusing on the drawing aspect, not the colouring, though if you'd also like a tutorial on my colouring process I'd be happy to do one!

I am by no means an expert on drawing, I'm just a hobbyist sharing my work process, so if you don't feel this style suits you, then don't worry! There are many other art resources out there- you can click on my 'art resources page' to get started.

So, without further ago, here are my tips for how to draw a bird...


This is the most important step, as it will act as main guide. In the example I'll be using, I wanted to draw a goaway bird, so I found a some photos with a pose I liked:

You can tweak them as you need until you find a composition you're happy with.


This is a useful tip for drawing anything. In order to understand the form, you need to break it down. You can initially break it down into 2D shapes, like circles, but then try to make them more 3D (I admit this latter step I still struggle with!). This helps you know the main shapes to capture, and stops you getting bogged down in detail.

The head, body, tail and legs can be simplified into shapes

You may also want to measure- some artists do this with a ruler, but something less technical and a bit more flexible is to use an aspect of the reference photo as a measurement. I typically use the bird's head, and measure the body/ tail/ legs in 'heads'. This gives you a good estimate of the position of the features, and ensures you don't elongate or shorten things that make the proportions look off.

The body is roughly 4 heads long, the tail about the same length as the body...

For digital drawing, open up a new image (the examples below are from Photoshop Elements as I had already done the linework, but I use Fire Alpaca for the actual drawing of the lines). Put in your reference images [you can copy and paste from the original image], then make a new layer on top [by clicking the 'New Layer' icon at the bottom right, or via Layers-> New Layer in the top menu]. You may also want to make a new layer below and fill with a colour [using the gradient tool- try to avoid pure white as this can be hard on the eyes, so i tend to use cream or grey].

On a clean new layer, you can start building the form of the birds. For digital art, I tend to use an outlandish colour for this (red/ blue) so that it's clear which is the sketch and which is the layer for the proper lines.

Once the base shapes are in place, you can join it up and add smaller details, and make corrections as needed.

You can keep checking back to the reference until you're happy with the base sketch.

If you're using traditional media like pencil and paper, keep the lines light so they can be easily erased later.


Now it's time to make the lines! I make a new layer above the sketch layer, and use single, crisp strokes for the lines.

See how I've gone over the red lines and made some corrections...

Now Firealpaca has a lovely feature called a stabilizer- this helps your lines be less jittery, and you can adjust it to how much you want it to 'correct'. But even if you draw traditionally, this same tip applies- try to draw with confident, single strokes, and not multiple stuttered lines. This is fine for the sketch, but for lines to be crisp, they should be fluid. If you're painting digitially, you can try and undo multiple strokes if need be, and using the layers option, you can 'overshoot' lines and erase later. You can also rotate the canvas- curves are easier to draw in different planes so find out which angles are most comfortable for you.

Fire Alpaca has the correction tool as highlighted, and you can also rotate the canvas freely using the arrow keys or the navigator in the top right corner

It's also useful to decrease the opacity of the sketch layer, as if you accidentally draw on the wrong layer you can tell right away. Photoshop in particular has an annoying habit where if you undo a move, it puts you back on the other layer (if you had another layer selected) and it's the most frustrating thing to be half-way done only to find it's all on the wrong layer!


Now with the main lines set, you can add the details- such as the webbing on the legs, smaller feathers, etc. You can also add in background elements too. Once you're all happy, delete the sketch layer (or hide it if you prefer) and voila!

And you're done!

And with that, there's the pair of goaway birds lineart finished! They look pretty neat, huh?

I hope you found this run down helpful! And as I've mentioned, there are many ways to draw and paint birds, this is just my method.

Got any tips to share? I'd love to hear!

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