Book Review: The Laws Guide to Drawing Birds

The Laws Guide to Drawing Birds book coverIt’s been said that unless one studies the structure of birds, one will never really portray them well. This is especially true for birds, for they are cloaked in a soft covering that conceals most of their anatomy. The Laws Guide to Drawing Birds is a book that will guide the new or experienced bird artist with an in-depth approach to drawing birds.

There is a certain fear factor facing the novice bird artist. Birds have shape and form that demonstrate light and shadow, which are apparent from viewing the outside. Artists must also study and investigate what goes on underneath the feathers, how the feathers attach, and how all of this benefits flight.

I agree with Laws’ premise that one is not born to be an artist (or chef or mechanic). It’s a skill that develops with practice. Continual exercise builds familiarity with tools and skills and “every drawing is practice for the next one”. Most life drawing exercises emphasize honing the ability to observe, “see” and create “cemented” memories. This is very true of drawing living birds. Sketching is not about making a perfect picture; it’s just a tool that makes you look closely. Laws encourages the artist: “If you can’t see, don’t draw it”. If one guesses, without the knowledge of structure, it’s likely to be wrong.

The book identifies essential anatomical structure in a concise manner, pointing out salient features that every bird artist should know. It provides pathways for analyzing visible shapes and adds structural information that is vital to comprehend what lies beneath the cloak.

An investigation into the study of the structure begins with how to detect posture, proportion, balance, and angles. The internal structure of the skeleton illuminates the special nature of birds and what makes flight possible. The exterior structure of beaks and feet, along with feather groups and markings provide the artist with critical landmarks. Step by step illustrations explores eye position, proportion, and wing projection. The book discusses studying birds in flight, with varied planes and foreshortening.

Laws also presents tips on keys to better drawing, techniques, and materials applicable to field and travel sketching.

Draw what you see, but comprehend the structure underneath that will guide you through the ever-changing poses of a living bird. Aspects of anatomy will provide insight into their adaptations, behavior, and lifeways. This is a thorough book and a beneficial addition to the artist’s library.

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