I love anytime there’s an opportunity to go behind the scenes and learn how something is made. Whether it’s watching the creation of a dessert or the making of a movie, there’s often more value in watching how the creative process unfolds than the finished work itself. Unscripted interviews are particularly insightful (those are my favourite type of podcast)
With that in mind, here’s a look at everything that went into making this White Throated Sparrow drawing.
My avian drawings always start with an unfortunate bird that’s died from a window collision. In this instance the little sparrow here which died after flying into this large wall of reflective glass. This is exactly how I found it lying face down on the ground. I think the bird must have hit shortly before I arrived since you can see the last signs of life in its eye.
(I should note that I volunteer for FLAP Canada and under their federal permit I’m allowed to collect dead migratory birds and temporarily keep them in storage)
What I do next is think about creating the image. I decided to draw the sparrow perched on a piece of driftwood, so I posed the bird and secured it with pins. The bird then went into the freezer so it would stiffen into that position. Because the sparrow will go to the museum afterwards, I only take it out of the freezer for short periods to draw.
While waiting for the bird to freeze, I loosely sketched the driftwood life size. I was originally going for a horizontal format picture, but along the way decided to compose the image vertically. The rough sketch was still useful.
Whenever a bird out of the freezer its overall shape is a bit compressed, so when I’m sketching I'll draw the feathers more fluffed out like they appear in real life. If I ever need reminders of how a live bird moves and behaves, I have a large flock of House Sparrows living directly across the street from me.
After the sketches are done, they get photocopied and I rub a dark 6B pencil all over the back of the copies. The photocopies (face up) are then placed on my Illustration Board where they need to be and I redraw the entire image so that the 6B graphite on the backside gets transferred. The transfer lines are always faint, so I used them as a guide to doing a final line drawing using an HB pencil.
I decided to finish the picture with pen & ink and watercolour paint.
Most Indian Inks that come in bottles are waterproof, but they do vary in how long they take to dry and how they look once dried. I chose an ink that was known to dry quickly to a matte finish. Dip pens vary too, and my preference is to use metal Japanese G nibs. Indian Ink will dry on your nib, so it’s important to keep a rag and some rubbing alcohol nearby to periodically wipe it clean.
After leaving the ink to fully dry on the board, I mixed up the necessary colours and applied them in thin transparent layers. I paint wet on dry using a fine tipped brush and work on a flat surface so the paint does dribble down the page.
That’s pretty much all the steps involved to making this picture. I was going to do something to the white background, but after setting it aside for a few days I've grown to like it the way it is.
What happens now is finding a way to use the image to help protect birds. It could be that the drawing gets used to illustrate a story about window collisions or the image gets printed onto fundraising merchandise, or maybe there's someone with other good suggestions worth considering.