We’ve had our second snowstorm in a month and a half; a little unusual for Oklahoma, but not out of line for these latitudes. A few days ago an ice storm roared in and sheathed everything with about 1″ of frozen glass, and the following morning the snow started and didn’t stop until the ice was buried by a foot of white fluff. Magically beautiful. Ignore the popping of laden tree branches. They resonate like rifle shots in the clarified silence of the snowscape; I can picture Hussars hunting stags on taiga (or less romantically, neighbors hunting squirrels fattened on my blackoil sunflower seeds).
When it quit snowing, the moon came out. It was full and brilliant and cast crisp blue-green shadows across the fields. The ice on a million branches glittered like a lacework of white neon. Magical.
Naturally, my house is snowbird central for everything feathered and a furred. Suet, seed, cover and open water provided free of charge. When the ice was falling the long-tailed birds got the worst of it; icy clumps adhered to tail feathers. I’ve kept the pond pump on and the waterfall running; bathing and drinking can’t be put off no matter what the weather.
I can’t let an opportunity pass by; I’ve been sketching the meleé from the studio window. Feeder birds are perfect for study and wonderfully convenient, and a lot of shy species are getting bold in their hunger. My feeder list includes 4 species of woodpecker, a red-shouldered hawk (who got white-shouldered in the snowstorm), a noisy mob of 100+ red-winged blackbirds, sparrows of 6 flavors and a brilliant yellow pine warbler. The cardinals give it a real Christmas card touch.
Drawing birds is one part anatomical learning (look at the schematic drawing of a bird at the front of any field guide. It looks kind of like a chart showing a side of beef divided into cuts. Here’s the auricular [ear patch], that’s the mantle [upper back], this is the supercilium [eyebrow] and over here is the brisket. Before drawing, learn the parts) to one part concentrated looking (pick one species and keep looking until your eye adjusts to its proportions. Focus on drawing a particular body type, say, that of a wren, or a sparrow until you’re comfortable with it) to one part memorization (practice “freeze-framing” a single pose in your mind’s eye for the few seconds it takes to put it on paper. Look hard, shut your eyes tight and clench that image in your mind for a second or two. Don’t look back at the bird again- just look down at the paper and draw your mental image).
Get your hand moving so fast you can whip it around on the paper; don’t fuss over details. For a warmup exercise to help you gain a fast hand, you might try the technique shown in this video.
If you’re snowbound and looking for a satisfying challenge, give bird drawing a try. You are a captive audience anyway. Take advantage of the situation and sketch those hungry avian models as they plow through your expensive birdseed and suet. And happy drawing!