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Drawing Birds... On the Computer

posted by Tim Avery at
on Saturday, March 24, 2012 

Rufous-crested Coquette Illustration
click on the image for full size version

Growing up I liked to draw things.  In my grade school years and teens I took art classes learning to paint, and to illustrate.  When I got into birding I started to sketch and draw a ton of birds and always wanted to illustrate a book with birds, or contribute to a field guide.  When I went to college and decided to continue to pursue art in a Studio Art program I shifted from drawing to photography.  I loved what  you could do with a camera, and in my college years it was the dawn of the digital age.  I took a computer illustration course at the end of my freshman year.  After all, you had to have a breadth of classes for the degree, and I figured it was worth a shot to see what could be done on a computer.  My first illustrations were simple, and usually contained little detail.  As I became more comfortable with it I was able to create illustrations with subtle details, and over time was able to crank designs out pretty quick.  The class was the only digital class that my college offered at the time and after it was over everything I did was on my own.  

I shifted from illustrations into photo manipulation as I tried to figure out where I was going in life--I only illustrated a few things after that first year, and mostly forgot about what an art it was.  By my senior year I started doing web design and did a little illustration for the designs, but no full scale drawings.  And after I graduated it was much of the same.  I shifted my work to user interface design, and most of what I was doing had to do with laying out pages and figuring out how to make a graceful experience for people visiting a website.  I was no longer an illustrator.

I still had to illustrate the occasional icon, or graphic, but nothing that was overly complicated and nothing that required a ton of detail.  Occasionally I feel like drawing something and will hop in and give it a shot.  Usually, I get frustrated and just walk away from what I am working on because it isn't turning out how I hoped.  This week I had an urge to draw a hummingbird.  I started and the first couple versions jsut sucked.  The shapes were off, the details were too big, and I just wasn't liking the final product.  So last night I sat down and dove into a drawing.  I picked up again this morning and finished everything up.  The picture above is what I came up with.  I worked off this picture:

Photograph from Kolibri Expedtions

Overall I'm pretty happy with how it turned out.  This species is one of the birds I hope to see when I go to Peru this fall--a truly spectacular hummingbird.  I was able to get a lot of detail without having to draw any real feathers.  The individual lines helped create the feathered look.  

Based off this first try I might have to do a few more--it has been a long time since I have seriously illustrated and I lost some of my finesse, but I really enjoy it and it's not something anyone is really doing (semi-realistic photo illustrations of birds).

In any event I hope you enjoy! 

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Blogger Robert Mortensen said...

Nice job Tim. Though through a different art medium, your renderings could be great tools to illustrate the most important features for field identification, much like David Sibley's illustrations. I think iBird has the only computer generated bird renderings I have seen. Some folks don't like the style, but if it works, it works.

March 24, 2012 at 11:00 AM  
Anonymous Dave Cresine said...

Beautiful rendition of a beautiful bird. Is iBird difficult to use? I have just about zero drawing skills but would like to do something like you've done with a couple of pheasant and dove photos I have.

March 24, 2012 at 11:52 AM  
Blogger Bryce said...

Looks great TIm.

March 24, 2012 at 12:07 PM  
Blogger Cory said...

I'd buy that calendar, or print. NICE!

March 24, 2012 at 5:10 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

GREAT!!! I KNOW A PLACE WHERE TO SEE THE RUFOUS CRESTED COQUETTE, Hill Forest. pretty sure that this individual is Peruvian, the location must be in Manu Park or Alto Madre de Dios River at least!


Miguel Ajahuana
Birding guide. PERU.

March 24, 2012 at 6:04 PM  
Blogger Tim Avery said...

@Robert: Thank You! I can't imagine illustrating a couple hundred species let alone an entire apps worth. It's just fun to pass a few hours here an there, so for now I'll let the pros kick out those guides :)

@David: iBird is a field guide app for the iPhone and Android, it's not for rendering images. I use Adobe Photoshop and Illustrator when I draw. This one was done in Photoshop. Each feather detail is created piece by piece, and each part of the bird is created then layered on top of the next.

@Bryce: Thanks man! Nothing like your watercolors though!

@Cory: Well maybe I will throw some prints up for availability in the next couple weeks! Thanks for the idea!

@Miguel: Yes, this photo is from Peru, I think Amazonia Lodge. I will be heading down in August and would love to talk with you. Shoot me an email at western.tanager@gmail.com if you wouldn't mind.

March 24, 2012 at 10:55 PM  
Blogger Carolyn said...

Awesome, Tim! You never cease to amaze me.

April 2, 2012 at 8:32 AM  
Blogger carolina studios said...

I think it is magnificent. I have taken course in digital painting and I find it painstakingly difficult to get what I want.
What programs did you use?

I think that you have a career in not just bird illustration, a admirable position in and of itself, but just an all around illustrator.
Well done!
I just happened upon you blog looking for another subject. Good luck in Peru. I hear it is just gorgeous both the country and the people.

January 4, 2013 at 12:20 PM  

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