I love whenever 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 drawing of a White-throated Sparrow.
My avian drawings always start with an unfortunate bird that’s died from a window collision. In this instance, the little sparrow 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 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. My original intention was to orient the picture using a landscape format, but I eventually settled on a vertical composition instead. The initial rough sketch was still useful though.
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 were completed, they are 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 I redraw the entire image so that the dark graphite on the backside gets transferred. The transfer lines are always faint, so I use them as a guide to doing the final line drawing with an HB pencil.
The picture was finished with India ink and watercolour paint.
Most Indian ink sold in bottles are waterproof, but they do vary in drying time and how they appear once dry. 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 all the steps involved to making this picture. I considered adding a 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 using the image to illustrate a story about window collisions or perhaps printing the image onto fundraising merchandise like prints or cards.