Zeladoniac of Drawing the Motmot has a nicely illustrated post (natch) on a topic of some interest to anybody who studies the natural world for a living. Her “5 steps to better bird drawing”, might just comprise a new entry point in learning about your favorite organism.
I summarize (and annotate) her 5 steps below.
1) Establish familiarity. Spend some time looking at your organisms as an artist, not a scientist. Nothing makes you notice features like having to draw them.
2) Learn some basic anatomy. The best artists are also comparative anatomists. Why did Leonardo spend all that time dissecting? Its amazing how many ecologists and evolutionary biologists never dissect their study organism. Its, like, a whole different world in there. Check out Dr. Vector’s post on, among other things, a do it yerself Comparative Anatomy course.
3) Practice short-term memory storage and retrieval. I find this the most intriguing tip of all. Perhaps making a virtue of a necessity, bird artists
want to start by “freeze-framing” a mental image of your bird. Don’t worry about anatomy, accuracy, species, or making a pretty drawing. Just look, “snap” a picture in your mind’s eye, squeeze your eyes shut, and STOP LOOKING AT THE BIRD. Instead, look straight down at your paper and stare at the blank page, conjuring up the quick little snapshot out of your retinal area, until you see it floating on the paper. It will only be there a moment. Move your pencil through and around it, and get it down before it’s gone.
Its not about drawing borders and filling in the details, its about “moving the pencil through and around” your subject.
4) Draw an egg. Trouble getting started? Just remember, the chicken didn’t come first.
5) Work fast. As in anything creative, perfectionism kills. Keep loose; don’t be afraid to make a mistake; start over; have fun.
Remember, as more illustrations make their way into journals (and for good reason), a scientist that can sketch is a scientist with an edge.