I’ve always used more than one method for drawings birds. My usual fallback is the mental snapshot freeze-frame: I snag the bird in my mind’s eye, plop it on the page and draw it before it dissolves. Scope drawing is another good skill (you keep both eyes open- one on the bird through the eyepiece and one on the paper, going back and forth while drawing). And now for something a little different: blind contour drawing. This is where you keep both eyes on the bird and sketch freely without looking at the paper. In doing blind contour drawing, I can virtually feel the pencil touching the bird’s feathers. I’ve been working on this technique for several days now, getting some decent results.
Blind contour drawing might sound slightly loopy, but there’s history and reasoning to back it up. Kimon Nicolaides first proposed the idea in The Natural Way to Draw, and Betty Edwards developed it further in Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain.
From personal experience I’ve found that my bird drawings, errors and all, have occasionally wiped and replaced the reality of the bird with a contaminated memory. Unfortunately, I often carry that broken image around with me until the next time I get a good look. Then I have to work hard to overcome the difference. In drawing blind, I hold my eyes on the bird instead of the drawing and spend more time learning the bird, getting a better baseline image. The sketch appears to take care of itself, but in practice the eye is unconsciously guiding the hand. It feels odd, but seems to work.
I’m new at this method but find I’m drawing with a lighter touch, making fewer marks, and catching quick gestures and proportions a little more effectively, all without forcing my will on the sketch. Try it yourself. The best moment will come when you look at the paper and think, “who drew that?” In a good way.