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Nov 26 12 4:44 PM

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Project FeederWatch: Sketch is an eight-week program comprised of four stages that each lasts two weeks.  Each stage has its own set of activities that will be outlined when it begins.  

There are two activities (FeederSketches and Draw a Bird) that we'll ask you to do several times throughout PFW: Sketch. For both of these activities, be sure to keep your original sketches so that at the end of the program you can examine them to see what changes in what you notice, write and draw in your sketches.

The activities and examples provided for each stage have been designed to correspond with how much time has been invested in learning to draw birds up to that point. There are activities that appeal to both novice and expert sketchers in each stage. Sometimes the same activity will appeal to both the novice and the expert, sometimes there are activities that are more directed toward one or the other.

You do not have to do each activity, but you are welcome to.  Read over each of them, choose the ones that seem especially interesting or challenging.  Ignore the ones that seem boring or pointless to you.  Pay attention to your resistance, though. If you're choosing to not do an activity because it feels especially difficult or intimidating, give it a try anyway. There's often a lot to be learned in times when our default reaction is resistance. 

Upload your sketches from each activity in its dedicated topic on the PFW: Sketch forum. If you want to create a new topic, feel free to do that, too.  The forum is ours to share with each other and talk about what we're learning.  We are flexible to accommodating your needs and ideas in how to create a supportive, easy-to-use and respectful online space. And just because you don't feel like "an expert" doesn't mean you shouldn't chime in and tell us what you know or think.  We all have much to learn from one another.

We'll update this sticky post at each stage with new activity descriptions on the following schedule.  If you are signed up for PFW: Sketch, you'll also receive an email reminder.

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#1 [url]

Dec 10 12 3:23 PM


Stage One Activities (November 26th - December 9th):

Choose as many or as few as you like, with special encouragement to try the first two.

1. FeederSketches (do this every week or more often)
Sit at your feeder and fill a page with sketches. Sketch birds, feeders, the habitat, make shapes...draw whatever you like, large or small. The point of this activity is to warm your eyes, hands and brain up to drawing and demystify the intimidation of a blank page.  There is no wrong way to complete this activity. Upload your sketch(es) to the FeederSketches topic.

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2. Draw a Bird (do this every stage)
From your memory, draw a bird you see frequently at your feeder without looking at a photograph or image - just think about the first image of a bird that pops into your brain. Once you’re done with that drawing, try drawing that same type of bird from a photograph or from life.  Upload your sketch(es) to the Draw a Bird topic.

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3. Playing with Tools (complete and post on or before 12/9/12)
As you complete this stage’s activities, try different tools (cheap and fancy pens, markers of varying nib, pencils of various hardness and sharpness, papers of various weight and tooth) to see what you like best.  

Try this: Start with what’s in your pencil/pen jar and a clean page. Draw lines and circles, think about the weight of the drawing utensil, how it feels in your hand, and how much resistance it has against the paper. Fill a page with circles and lines, making note of which drawing utensil you were using, and your experiences with each. Basic bird shapes are circles and lines, which is why we are practicing with these shapes.

Once you’ve found your favorite drawing utensils, try different types of paper including recycled, newsprint, cocktail napkins, post-its, etc. 

How does the tool you’re using influence how you draw? What tools make it easier to draw? What tools make your drawings better?

Upload any sketch(es) that seem illustrative of your experience to the Playing with Tools topic.

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4. Basic Shapes (complete and post on or before 12/9/12)
Practice drawing basic shapes such as circles, ovals, squares, triangles, and straight lines. Once you feel comfortable with those, try playing with your shapes, like morphing a circle into a thin oval or triangle, or gradually changing the angle of your lines. Experiment with value by using cross hatching, shading, or stippling.

Upload your sketch(es) to the Basic Shapes topic.

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5. Basic BIRD Shapes (complete and post on or before 12/9/12)
Using circles/ovals and lines, try to capture the silhouette of the bird. Start with a circle or oval for the body, next draw a circle for the head and a line for the tail, paying particular attention to proportions and where the head and tail attach to the body. Starting with the body shape and size will make it easier to get more accurate head proportions. Fill one or two pages with basic bird outlines.

Upload your sketch(es) to the Basic BIRD Shapes topic.

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6. Drawing to See (complete and post on or before 12/9/12)
Go to your feeder or some place in nature and let your eyes fall on whatever happens to be in front of you. Close your eyes for the next five minutes and sit quietly. Then, open your eyes and focus on whatever you observed before, and draw what you see without looking at pen or paper. Hold your pen or pencil loosely and do not worry if your pen goes off the paper, just gently guide it back on.  Start over as many times as you like, drawing the same thing over again or something new.  If you do not see birds, try drawing your feeder or something from the nearby habitat. 

Upload your sketch(es) to the Drawing to See topic.

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7. Gesture Drawings (complete and post on or before 12/9/12)
Sit at your feeder, or another site where birds come and go. While keeping your eyes on a bird, attempt to capture the most essential lines of the bird on paper as quickly as possible. This is called a gesture drawing. Pay particular attention to capturing only the contours and lines that you see. 

Some birds will only stay in a pose for a few seconds, while others will stay longer. Start by capturing the essential lines of the pose. If the bird moves, don’t worry if you are not able to finish the sketch, start another gesture drawing. The goal is to capture as many different poses as possible. Remember this activity is about process not product. 

Upload your sketch(es) to the Gesture Drawings topic.


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#2 [url]

Dec 10 12 5:58 PM


Stage Two Activities (December 10th - 23rd):

Choose as many or as few as you like, with special encouragement to try the first two.

1. FeederSketches (do this every week or more often)
Sit at your feeder and fill a page with sketches. Sketch birds, feeders, the habitat, make shapes...draw whatever you like, large or small. The point of this activity is to warm your eyes, hands and brain up to drawing and demystify the intimidation of a blank page.  There is no wrong way to complete this activity. Upload your sketch(es) to the FeederSketches topic.

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2. Draw a Bird (do this every stage)
From your memory, draw a bird you see frequently at your feeder without looking at a photograph or image - just think about the first image of a bird that pops into your brain. Once you’re done with that drawing, try drawing that same type of bird from a photograph or from life.  Upload your sketch(es) to the Draw a Bird topic.

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3. Basic BIRD Shapes (Extended)

Start by filling a page with very quick sketches that simply draw a line indicating the bird's posture (the long axis of the body) as it engages in different activities.  Next, draw birds with lines for posture, circles for body, and lines for the tail and legs.

Next, focus on the proportions of the bird.  First draw the oval shaped body, then add a circular head. (John Muir Laws’ tip: It is easier to draw the smaller circle proportionate to the larger one.) Keep in mind, depending upon the way the bird is standing, the head circle may overlap with the oval body. Look carefully at the subject, since proportions can change between species. Continue to draw bird bodies and heads, while focusing on proportions and the angle of the head relative to the body. Another challenge would be to draw the same species of bird in several different sizes on your paper while trying to maintain the same body-to-head proportions. 

Then, looking at your drawings, correct the head position so that it is tangent to the bird’s breast.  Feel free to also draw new birds with close attention to keeping the head tangent in an anatomically correct way.

Last, carve in the angles of your bird so that it is not overly round.

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4. Drawing to See (Extended)

Go to your feeder, sit quietly for five minutes with eyes closed, open your eyes and draw what you see without looking at pen or paper. Spend five minutes doing these sorts of blind drawings, flipping to a new page when necessary. If there are no birds at your feeder, try drawing a branch, the feeder itself, a squirrel or whatever you see in front of you. 

Turn to a fresh page, then draw again for 5 minutes again, but this time look down sparingly. 

Go to a fresh piece of paper, and draw for 5 more minutes, but look down as much as you like.

Take a photo of your favorite blind sketch (one from the first five minutes.) After photographing it (so that you’ll be able to compare your original to the next drawing), use that sketch as a template for adding more details. Only add details that you actually see, if the bird has flown away and does not return, resist the urge to fill in details from your memory. 

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5. Negative Space

Fill a page of bird sketches where you only draw negative space around the birds. One way to do this is “to try to look through” the bird. Try to define the space around the bird. Sometimes it helps to use a framing device, such as a window pane or only the space you see while looking through binoculars.

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6. Silhouettes 

Although we usually draw objects such as birds using lines and shapes, this time sit by your feeder and while observing a bird try paying special attention to the bird’s mass, and the meat or fluff of its body. Instead of drawing an outline, fill in the shape of the bird from the inside out. It may help to use a drawing utensil that does not allow sharp lines (i.e. using a brush, charcoal, or the side of a pencil.) 

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7. Challenging and Unfamiliar Perspectives 

Without meaning to, it can become standard practice to only draw birds in profile.  If you haven’t already, practice drawing birds from unfamiliar or challenging angles. Perhaps this is facing forward, from above, from below, or a ¾ view. 

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8. Heads, Beaks and Bills

Quickly sketch a bird, paying close attention to its head and the connection to the body, and the angle of the head.  Before adding any other detail, draw the eye and the ring around the eye. Then, draw the ear patch and other details. Draw the bill, paying close attention to its angle. Try this with several birds.

John Muir Laws’ Tips:

  • In song birds, the eyes sits on top of the bill line. To place the eye, observe its distance from the front of the head.
  • Pay attention to the cutting edge of the bill, the angle of this can vary greatly.
  • Try sketching open and shut bills, and note that you can’t see the hinge of an open bill. It may be hard to detect movement of the upper bill(stays stationary, unless yawning or begging), and the bill does not hinge at that front of the head.
  • Watch how birds move their heads, and how that changes the shape of head whether they’re facing you or in profile.

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#3 [url]

Dec 24 12 11:57 AM


Stage Three Activities (December 24th - January 6th):

Choose as many or as few as you like.

1. FeederSketches (do this every week or more often)
Sit at your feeder and fill a page with sketches. Sketch birds, feeders, the habitat, make shapes...draw whatever you like, large or small. The point of this activity is to warm your eyes, hands and brain up to drawing and demystify the intimidation of a blank page.  There is no wrong way to complete this activity. Upload your sketch(es) to the FeederSketches topic.

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2. Draw a Bird (do this every stage)
From your memory, draw a bird you see frequently at your feeder without looking at a photograph or image - just think about the first image of a bird that pops into your brain. Once you’re done with that drawing, try drawing that same type of bird from a photograph or from life.  Upload your sketch(es) to the Draw a Bird topic.

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3. One minute sketches from photos
One of the best ways to train yourself to rapidly draw birds in the field is to practice at home with clear sharp photographs. Pick out a photograph of a bird, then set a timer and give yourself one minute to sketch the bird from that photograph. Do not worry about details but concentrate on getting the basic shape or silhouette. 

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4. Legs and Feet
Try one or both of these activities:

Activity Option A: 50 bird feet. 
A good way to get comfortable with bird feet is to find pictures of bird feet online and draw 50 examples of bird feet. In the first drawings, add as much detail as you can. As you get further along, start to simplify the feet, seeking to capture the feel of bird feet with minimal detail.

Activity Option B: Make a bird-leg model. 
From the front, bird legs are slightly splayed. When viewed from the side, the legs are parallel. However, if the bird perches at an angle to the viewer, the legs appear to be at different angles. To develop an intuitive sense of this effect, push two toothpicks at a steep angle into an orange so that they make a V-shaped angle between them. Now rotate the orange and watch how that changes the appearance of the “legs.” Draw about 10-20 sketches of the toothpicks protruding from the orange at various angles of rotation, to practice capturing a variety of bird leg angles you may see in nature.

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5. Tail Feathers
While drawing at your feeder, pay particular attention to bird tails. Start by drawing the body and head, then add a line for the tail, noting angle, length, and point of intersection with the body. When you first start drawing tails, it might be easiest to use geometric shapes to capture the shape of the tail. Next observe more closely and add details to the tails by trying to figure out how the feathers overlap. 

If the birds at your feeder are moving too quickly, just practice drawing the geometric shape angle, length, and point of intersection with the body. Do this exercise repeatedly, until you feel more comfortable drawing tails.

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6. Flight Model Study
Make a Flight Model. Fill one or two pages with sketches of the model held in various configurations to practice drawing different wing angles and positions.

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7. Wings and Wing Tips
Quickly sketch a bird and indicate leading edge of wing and the boundary of the secondary feathers.  Using your sketches, annotate details of wing. Draw wings from various angles (above, below, open, closed). 

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8. Reproducing Bird Photos
Birds are some of the most photographed animals in nature. Find a favorite photo of a bird, either one you have taken yourself, or from another source. Draw what you see in this photo. Post the photo and you drawing side by side online. Please list the source of the photograph and mention why you chose this photo in particular.

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#4 [url]

Jan 7 13 3:28 PM

Stage Four Activities (January 7th - 20th)

Choose as many or as few as you like.

1. FeederSketches (do this every week or more often)
Sit at your feeder and fill a page with sketches. Sketch birds, feeders, the habitat, make shapes...draw whatever you like, large or small. The point of this activity is to warm your eyes, hands and brain up to drawing and demystify the intimidation of a blank page.  There is no wrong way to complete this activity. Upload your sketch(es) to the FeederSketches topic.

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2. Draw a Bird (do this every stage)
From your memory, draw a bird you see frequently at your feeder without looking at a photograph or image - just think about the first image of a bird that pops into your brain. Once you’re done with that drawing, try drawing that same type of bird from a photograph or from life.  Upload your sketch(es) to the Draw a Bird topic.

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3. Birds in Flight
Fill a page with sketches of birds in flight. Start with just body/wing posture lines, graduate to block in the proportions, eventually work on cutting in angles.

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4. Memory Snapshots of Bird Wings
Sit at your feeder, or go outdoors and watch birds in flight. The birds will be in motion but will return again and again to familiar angles. John Muir Laws suggests “closing your eyes to clear your brain, then open them for a moment like the shutter of a camera, then close your eyes once again. A moment of flight will be briefly etched in your vision. Make a fast sketch of what you saw by jotting down the angle of the leading edge of the wing and the contour of the belly.” 

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5. Tracing Paper
Drawing with tracing paper or transparencies enables you to build up layers of drawings, and gives you the freedom to discard certain layers if you feel like starting a challenging part over without losing all your previous work. If you have access to tracing paper or transparencies, try focusing on observing one type of bird at your feeder. Begin by drawing the basic bird shapes, angles and posture on the first sheet. Place a second sheet on top of the first, begin to refine the image by lightly drawing the silhouette and form of the bird. Place a third sheet over the second and block out the major areas of dark and light values. On the fourth sheet, add the eyes, beak, wings, tail, feathers and other details. 

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6. Bird Bones Study (Field Trip)
Take a visit to your local natural history or science museum to sketch the anatomy of a bird. Inside those circles and ovals we’ve been drawing is the underlying structure that allows birds to stand, fly, run, and roost. 

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7. Bird Study Skins (Field Trip)
Take a visit to your local natural history or science museum to view study skins of birds.  Study skins are the scientific version of taxidermy – instead of forming dead creatures into lifelike positions, study skins are a standardized way of preserving and displaying biological organisms, like birds. Through this activity, learn about the biology and physiology of birds, and get a chance to observe and sketch the birds once they have been preserved.

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