Our recent vacation to Utah was an opportunity for me to keep up with my goal of drawing daily, so I carried my nature journal everywhere I went. I drew landscapes, dinosaur tracks, and ancient artifacts, but the most educational session of the trip was the time I spent drawing a common raven (Corvus corax). I learned lots about ravens and one very important thing about drawing.
Even though the raven let me draw for twenty minutes, I worked quickly, convinced that he would fly off at any moment. I really struggled to capture the raven’s head and bill and it wasn’t just because the bird kept moving. I was sure that I wasn’t getting it right. My drawings reminded me of parrots, not ravens.
Despite my struggles, I learned a lot by drawing the raven. None of my field sketches are beautiful, but making them forced me to really look at the bird. I wrote notes to remind myself of the things I’d noticed.
- Ravens have a beard or bib of large glossy feathers that are different from the other feathers on their body.
- When folded, their wings are nearly as long as their tail.
- When perched, their tail makes a big wedge.
- The bristles on my raven lay so tightly against the upper bill that it looked like the bill was two different colors.
- My raven also had short bristles at the base of the lower part of his bill.
There was one thing I couldn’t draw: his intelligence. I could see and feel him thinking. He definitely looked to see what was in the front seat of our car. But he also kept an eye on me. What did he think I was doing? I can only wonder.
Later, I printed out a photo of the raven I’d been drawing and did a study from that. I discovered that the bird’s head is almost exactly the same length front to back as the bill, and that the angle between the upper bill and forehead is incredibly shallow. But my big realization was that my field sketches weren’t that far off.
It was a good reminder that I have to ignore what my brain thinks is right and just draw what I see. The more I look and the less I think, the better. I was more successful than I imagined, probably because I was rushing to get down whatever I could while the bird was there and didn’t have time to think.
I’m still in awe of my moment with the raven. It’s the most memorable thing that happened on a trip full of amazing and wonderful experiences. But what made it so special and has carved it into my memory in detail was the things I learned as I took the time to draw the bird in front of me.
Have you learned interesting things by drawing wildlife or nature? What’s your favorite drawing story?