My whole life, I’ve been interested in drawing birds and animals, and now that I nature journal, capturing their appearance with quick, accurate sketches has become even more important to me. But wild animals don’t hang around long and birds rarely sit still.

I needed focused practice drawing animals live, and I knew that I wouldn’t get that if I limited my drawing time to my field nature journal sessions. After all, there’s no guarantee I’ll even see a bird or animal when I go out, and when I do, I am trying to do everything at once: observe, take notes, sketch, ask questions. I wasn’t willing to limit my field time to just practicing my drawing.

Practice sketches made from a video by Kit Dunsmore

The solution? Drawing from videos made for cats and dogs. There are quite a few of them on YouTube, and they have everything I was looking for. Since they are recordings, I don’t have to feel like I’m wasting an opportunity for live observation. If something really intriguing happens, I can go back and watch it again. Also, because the videos are edited to provide lots of action, there is always something live on screen to draw.

Here’s one of the more attractive videos I’ve drawn from:

My squirrel drawings are from this video and my rook drawings are from this one.

I find that videos are better than photos, because I have to deal with moving subjects. The birds flit in and out, the squirrels keep shifting their position. It’s excellent practice for improving my visual memory. And if things are moving too fast, I can run the video at half speed, to give myself a little more time.

Practice sketches made from a video by Kit Dunsmore

The appeal of these drawing sessions for me is that my expectations are really low. I’m just doing my best to make a quick sketch of the birds I see, trying to capture a pose or marking or some other detail from the glimpses I get. I usually draw for ten or twenty minutes and call it good. Long enough to get into drawing mode, but short enough to stop before I wear myself out.

Practice sketches made from a video by Kit Dunsmore

While the practice has improved my field drawings, it’s also taught me the power of a practice mentality. Back in July, when I was trying to nature journal every day, I often thought longingly of my video drawing practice. It seemed much easier than what I was trying to do, but it took me a while to realize that it all hinged on my expectations.

Nature journaling was supposed to be pretty and profound. I wanted my pages to look great, even though a precept of the nature journal community is “nature journaling isn’t about pretty pages.” It’s also much harder to go from one thing to another, to figure out when to draw, when to write, and so forth. My video drawing practice had a single purpose. That focus, and the understanding that I was just practicing, made it much easier to do.

My video drawing practice made it much easier to take advantage of this opportunity to draw Canada geese from life. Drawings by Kit Dunsmore.

I will keep up with my video drawing practice. It’s a great way to hone my skills so I’m ready to take advantage of the brief glimpses I get of birds in the wild. But the real take-away for me is to embrace the practice mentality. Treating all my creative endeavors as practice will help me to keep moving, make it easier to get started, and help me to value my mistakes and deal with my disappointments.

Do you make time to practice your drawing? Where do you find live models to draw?

2 thoughts on “An Easy Way To Practice Drawing Live Animals”

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