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OK, aspiring artists! Sharpen your pencils and get ready to draw!

Hold that pose!

Hold that pose!

“Drawing is rather like playing chess: your mind races ahead of the moves that you eventually make. “— David Hockney

While scrolling through the photos taken over the past week, I critiqued the series of toucan photos with a disciplined eye.   Four are shown below; “A” shows the personality of the toucan. “B, C and D” were similar with subtle differences, but one seemed stronger to me. Which is your favorite? If you were about to draw one of the four, which would you chose and why?

Which would you chose to draw?

Which would you chose to draw?

Two of the eight or so photos were my favorites, and I toggled between the two to decide which one would be the best candidate for a painting.  The two photos are below:


Toucan B


Toucan C

“B” bird seemed relaxed in its environment.   It also seemed heavy on the right side, as if an invisible line was pulling the bird toward the ground.   “C” seemed to tap into its survival sense, and though I was almost hidden from the bird’s view, it seemed to sense a foreign presence. “D” pose amused me; like many humans who are suddenly aware of a photo about to be taken, this bird lifted its beak just a bit and displayed a classic profile. Most likely, it was definitely aware of a foreign presence, and it was preparing to take flight! For a painting, however, it looked too perfect, although I really liked the backwards “S” curve of its throat and neck.

Toucan D held a classic pose, but it seemed too perfect...

Toucan D held a classic pose, but it seemed too perfect…

After appreciating the toucan’s body English, I tried – through a teacher’s eyes – to decide what made “C” more pleasing to my eye. It appeared more balanced.   My analytical skills automatically stripped the images into basic shapes and directions, and I realized that I should slow down, decipher my methods and share a few easy ways to stay on track when drawing.

Sometimes we start drawing in one scale, but we sometimes lose control of the ratio, and the end result is a drawing out of scale. Then we waste time trying to correct those first lines. Perhaps the head – of a bird or a horse or a person – is way out of scale with the rest of its body. By using the toucan photos and the gift of computer drawing programs, I will illustrate a few classic examples of how to stay in scale.

Working with grids keeps the math skills strong!

Working with grids keeps the math skills strong!

The easiest is the grid method. No; the easiest is via projection or tracing, but I am from the old school of mastering a skill and not using shortcuts. The grid method is very helpful, and most anyone can apply basic math and draw a precise grid on the photo then enlarge that same grid on paper. Anyone who has the patience to stick with drawing eventually weans away from this method and develops natural analytical skills. At that stage, drawing the grid becomes a wasted step. I don’t frown on it, and at times still use it when dealing with very complicated subjects or when transferring a drawing to a large floor. With computer programs, it’s easy to pop the grid in place, either by the ‘grid’ command – presto, it’s there, or by hand ‘inserting’ each line. I usually start by drawing the strongest horizontal and vertical lines, then radiate outward depending on the subject.

My eye spotted this spot as the 'Bull's Eye.'

My eye spotted this spot as the ‘Bull’s Eye.’

The method I use most is by finding one very strong starting point and going from there. When a student’s drawing is way off, and if I catch their preliminary mistake soon enough, I will ask them to point where the center of a clock might be in a certain area. Then I point to a second area and ask, “If you drew a line from the center of the clock to this point, what hour might that be?”

Sometimes their just-drawn line might be pointing to four on the clock, when it should be pointing somewhere between three and four. There is a subtle difference when drawing, yet it makes a huge difference!

The toucan was very considerate to pose with a very precise alignment!

The toucan was very considerate to pose with very precise alignment!

That starting point was so strong on the toucan that it inspired this post!  It’s very easy to see that the base of the bill and the start of the neck can represent the center of the clock, and the neck extends down almost exactly to six…until the bottom, and then it sort of tweaks a bit to the right to form a backwards ‘S.’  The other hand of the clock points straight toward nine, making a 90-degree wedge of negative space. Negative space is a very strong tool for drawing, and it is also important for a good design. For this lesson, we’ll focus on its use for drawing.


After drawing those two basic lines, you have already mapped a large part of the bill and also its neck. Now look at that line that goes from the end of the bill to the center of the ‘clock.’ Continue that line to the right, through the neck of the bird, in the direction of ‘three’ on a clock’s dial. Eureka! Now you have the top of the back!


The same concept works for locating reference points for the entire bird! You can do this!


Another grid approach would be to divide the squares with a second corner-to-cornergrid…

With drawing, you sometimes see a few strong details at first, and the more you focus and concentrate, the more you see. That’s why it’s important to shut down the conversations, the television, the outside distractions, and focus intensely on your subject and nothing else. Another benefit is that your brainwaves will slow down, and a natural flow of calming endorphins coaxes you forward. At times, another part of your brain will awaken and distract you, and during those times it’s tempting to be self critical or frustrated and say, ‘I’ll never get this!” but you will… staying focused is the key. If you find yourself saying “Stay focused, stay focused” – Ha! I would probably smirk and coax you to take five minutes and resort to drawing a page full of tornadoes, round and round and round and round and… soon your mind is no longer saying, “I can’t do this.” Instead it’s saying, “Ahhhhhh, this is so relaxing.”

Then resume your work.

Drawing Exercises - Museo Portoviejo

Drawing Exercises – Museo Portoviejo

Many times when I see a person’s ultra-precise drawings, I’ll state, “You are probably good in math.” I’m not sure if an aptitude for maths and numbers helps one to draw, or if mastering drawing (I did at an early age) helps one grasp the maths. (*Any feedback is appreciated.)

One should grasp good drawing skills before graduating to painting.  Otherwise if the drawing is out of scale, the painting will be also…

*Just after I wrote this, we lost power, and now, six days later, we are still waiting on power to be restored to the area along ‘Upper Rio Cinto.”

The waterfalls along Rio Cinto have been exceptionally beautiful this year.

The waterfalls along Rio Cinto have been exceptionally beautiful this year.

When working in watercolor, you can paint over the pencil lines, then when you are sure the paper had dried, erase the lines with a soft eraser. (I use a kneaded eraser.) If you are working with acrylics, the pigment will laminate the pencil lines, which show through the light colors. Remember to keep your network of lines – especially the grid – as subtle as possible so that the pencil does not detract from the painting.

As with last week, this is scheduled to be posted on Thursday!  Remember that Saturday the 14th is EBird’s Global Big Day – please take time to officially report the birds of your area!  Each bird reported truly makes a difference!

If you don’t want to draw the toucan, maybe you can sketch a nearby tree while counting the birds!  Find the center starting point and note which direction each limb is pointing.  It’s easy1