The raven

Happy Draw-A-Bird-Day!

I didn’t plan on spending 12 hours with this raven but I did. I mostly used a mechanical pencil with a fat HB lead. The fat lead can be sharpened with the little steel head of the pencil but I found it easier to use my 3-sided pencil sharpener on the side with the half-length blade. Even right after sharpening, the tip of my fat lead was always a bit rounded and I enjoyed the slight softness of its marks both for sketching lines and for shading. I enjoyed the feel of the lead on the paper so much, that each day that I worked on the raven, I looked forward to spending an hour or two adding a little more graphite. I drew the bird’s outline first and then shaded in the eye. As I shaded the beak and added feathers, the kind, wise, glossy eye looked at me while the raven became more and more raven-like.

I did a lot of erasing because I had trouble keeping track of which feathers I was drawing. For future raven portraits, I will outline all the feather groups before adding feather shading. And maybe I’ll use a grid to draw the outline… this will make it easier to get the shapes and proportions closer to real life. And I’ll try the fat lead on heavier paper (80 lb instead of 50 lb). And maybe I’ll try a 2B or 4B fat lead…

My reference photo was taken by Steven Kessel, who takes beautiful photographs of wildlife, mostly in Arizona.

39 Comments

    1. Thanks for your nice comment, Hien! 🙂 I’ve done a few other drawings that took 12 or more hours (over many days), but this was the first one this year. I was glad to find out that I can still access that kind of patience.

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    1. Thanks, Sherry :-). At 72 dpi, 450 px is about the size of my actual drawing. It wasn’t very big and I didn’t vary the grey tones very much, so the details are somewhat subtle. Your comment lead me to notice something interesting about image dpi. On my MacBook, the raven image in my post is 4 inches wide, 112 dpi. If I click on the image, a new webpage opens with the image only; this image is 5 inches wide, 90 dpi. On my desktop monitor, where I edited the image in Photoshop, the image is 5.5 inches wide, 82 dpi. I don’t know which dpi to base my image sizes on!

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      1. On my screen your image is less than only inches wide. I find 1200 px wide at 72 dpi provides is a reasonable size to display images when clicked on in WordPress. Also watch that WordPress settings are not downsizing your images. I had to change my settings to display a slightly larger image.

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  1. I’m looking at your drawing on my computer, not my phone, and I see all of the feathers beautifully. It is a wonderful piece, Myriam. I’m getting ready to made the DAB-Day post for the Wednesday Studio. Only a few artists submitted birds, though, so the December flock will be small.

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    1. Thanks, Melissa :-). I’ve been trying to draw between 2:30 and 3:30 lately, the last good hour of afternoon sunlight. It is nice when for that hour, there is just the process of drawing. At 3:35, the drawing starts to be hard to see and the rest of the world slowly reappears. And then I can stretch my arms!

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    1. Thanks, Lynn :-). I was very surprised that I always looked forward to the process of adding graphite to this bird. I usually worry about the outcome before I sit down to put marks on paper. Do you worry about the outcome of your artistic processes sometimes?

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      1. It’s different with photography – you can change things so easily. I may worry as I’m taking a photo about whether it will turn out the way i want, but that’s really not comparable. I used to draw, and did some botanical illustration, which was comparable to your bird drawings. I did feel anxious, especially at first, but once a drawing got going, usually there wasn’t so much worrying. Your drawing was a long process, and I wonder if maybe it was pleasant to begin with, so you looked forward to it because it just kept on that way. The repetitious nature of drawing the feathers might be like knitting, weaving or even sanding. I can’t think of any part of the photographic process that has that quality, plus you have the tactile sensation of pen and paper.

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        1. Thanks for your insightful response, Lynn. I appreciate that you mentioned different types of artistic/crafting activities and the tactile sensations associated with paper and drawing tools. It got me thinking about the similarities and differences between my drawing and photography processes. And your recent blog post about your Takumar lens also got mixed into that. Part of your description of using that lens was tactile, and that made me think of the tactile sensation of using my new camera and lens this past summer. I got my first DSLR with a 200 mm lens and that set up is way, way bigger than my point-and-shoot with the same zoom capacity. It was awkward at first, but eventually, I got into a flow with it. And I think that is similar to drawing materials for me. New materials are awkward at first but eventually I get into a flow (some materials require a bit more time to get into some kind of flow mode). But there was something else with the raven. There was this pull to work on it similar to the pull I feel to go into the woods and take photos. And I think a big part of the pull was that I chose to work on the raven in natural light, which happened to be really good that week (lots of bright, cold, crisp winter days). I found that so much more enjoyable that drawing under electric light. And in photography too, some lighting situations are way more compelling than others, though in a somewhat different way. Thanks for the food for thought! 🙂

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          1. That’s interesting about putting the Takumar post into the mix! Tactility is important, and we forget about it, but what a world there is in touch, right? I only have one larger lens, and even that one isn’t as big as the DSLR bird lenses, but it was hard to get used to, like you say.
            And you bring up natural light! Yes!! Another factor that has a powerful effect on us, that we too easily forget about. That is SO interesting that you realized you enjoyed drawing more in natural light. I have noticed that – though I still have not picked up the pencil or brush much at all – I am most strongly moved to do that when I’m being influenced by natural light and spaciousness. If I’m in a cramped, dark space, my spirit sags and I’m not inspired, but in a bright, open space, I am more drawn to create. When we moved here 6 months ago I was happy that the space is brighter and more open than where I lived before. I set up an art corner with drawing, watercolor & photography materials, and so far I have only used the photography tools, but one of these days….
            (And another thing – I know my photography has gotten better since moving here and I had attributed that entirely to the outdoors here, but now I wonder if the indoor space being more conducive hasn’t also had a positive effect.) So thank YOU for the food for thought, too.

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  2. Now that you spent so many hours with this raven, did you get a sense of whether it was a she or a he? It looks like a she to me, and I think she radiates beauty and intelligence, and, as you mentioned, kindness. One could spend twelve hours of one’s life with far lesser companions. You portrayed her beautifully.

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    1. Thanks so much for your kind comments, Tanja :-). And such an interesting question! I had to think about it for a while. Also, I did a bit of reading about ravens on Birds of North America Online, mostly about the physical differences between the two sexes and a bit about their mating displays. I’ll go back and read a bit more… I want to know more about how paired males and females behave with one another… quite differently or not so differently? Physically, males and females look about the same, except that female measurements, on average, have been found to be a bit smaller. Pairs stay together all year. There are 2 pairs in my neighbourhood that I’ve seen together recently.

      I never thought about the sex of the raven in the portrait. I just thought of he/she as a benevolent being. I think I was wrong to attribute kindness to the bird. I’ve seen a raven steal and eat eggs from a magpie nest while 4 magpies were trying to chase it away, and that didn’t look kind to me at all. I think the sense of kindness in the portrait comes mostly from the warm dark-brown, circular eye with a large pupil. The bill seems kind too and the wisps of hair-like feathers that frame it.

      A few hours after you asked me your question, I saw a photo on instagram – a portrait of a raven in warm, late-day light (unfortunately, I can’t seem to find the photo now). The photographer noted how calm the bird look perched on a wooden post, even though many people were walking in the area. So maybe I meant to call the raven in my drawing calm, not kind. But now that I’ve stared at my drawing a bit more, I still feel like I get a sense of kindness, like from a calm and welcoming meditation or yoga teacher. Maybe it is the kindness of a female raven sitting on her nest. Or maybe it is the kindness of the male as he sits on a nearby perch. Or maybe it is the shared kindness of the male and female as they preen each other.

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      1. I did not intend to saddle you with homework, Myriam, but I thank you for the additional information about ravens.

        I think we have a tendency to anthropomorphize animals, and I don’t think there is anything wrong with that, even though we might be incorrect. It deepens our attachment to nature, and that is a beneficial consequence.

        Some behaviors animals display are definitely not kind, regardless how we view them, your example being one, but that does not preclude them from showing something that we would interpret as kindness in another situation.

        I still think your raven’s gaze exudes kindness, or friendliness.

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        1. I think you’re right, beings can be kind in some situations but not others… and that includes ravens and humans. I like your thoughts about anthropomorphizing animals… it does create a sense of connection… whether the anthropomorphizing is very fantastical or a matter of thinking: if I was a bird, why would I do that?

          I’m still quite intrigued by your question about the raven’s gender. I wonder why some animals end up with different gender looks while others don’t. I probably won’t look it up. But hopefully the answer will magically appear some day. Sometimes answers work like that. 🙂

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          1. Maybe nobody knows the answer to that question, Myriam, and that would be ok. A world without questions would be poorer for it.
            I hope you are enjoying the end of the year, and will start the new one well.
            Best wishes,
            Tanja

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            1. There probably is no definitive answer but I would imagine at least one scientist has looked into this. Maybe. There are indeed always new questions to investigate and old questions to re-investigate. The fuel for human curiosity and creativity!

              The year here is ending with some gentle falling slow. Quite lovely. I hope your year end is lovely too and that your 2019 is looking good. 🙂

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              1. Thank you, Myriam. No gently falling snow here, but it is cold and crispy at night, and cool and sunny during the day. We plan to ease into 2019 and are curious to see what it might bring.
                As we say in German, slide well into the new year (not to be understood literally!).

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  3. The time you spent really shows with the meticulous stroke of each hair and feather. I love the highlight in the eye.
    It was well worth the time spent! I hope you have a spray fixit so it doesn’t smear, and someday you frame it. It’s wonderful!

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    1. Thanks for your lovely comments, Deborah! I do like a good eye highlight :-). I don’t know if I will frame this portrait. Maybe. It does give me a sense of calm me. I’m thinking of making a big drawing of a bird in flight in graphite some day, so I’m practicing my graphite skills and patience.

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    1. Thanks, Wayne! 🙂 That’s so nice of you to say. I don’t feel up to the task of putting together a book but I’ve been thinking of putting all my drawings together in a gallery on my blog, that way they are all in one place and it is easier to look at a bunch of them in sequence.

      While I was working on the raven portrait, I remembered the high resolution photo portraits of Romeo and Juliette, the bald eagle pair, which you e-mailed me a while back. Would it be ok with you if I did some graphite portraits of them?

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        1. Thanks! That’s awesome! For the portraits, the images I have are large enough. However, I’ll be happy to ask for a larger file of one of your eagle landing photos in the future. Open wings are a challenge to draw, but they look so cool. 🙂

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