Friday, April 8, 2016

Drawing Demonstration: A Bird’s Eye

The eyes are usually the most important element in my pieces. It is where I aim to have the most detail, contrast, and crispness, in an effort to draw the viewer to it.

Drawing birds | David Kitler,

Red-Breasted Nuthatch (graphite and acrylic, 12×9) by David Kitler. Browse his painting and drawing lessons here!

Below is a seven-step drawing demonstration of how I render an animal’s eye—in this case, the eye of a particular red-breasted nuthatch I happened to meet on a cold winter’s day, actually the shortest day of the year:

Drawing birds | David Kitler,

1.  Draw the basic shape of the eye

In this case, the eye is where I have decided to start the drawing. After having drawn the eye’s basic shape, I blocked in the surrounding areas to ensure proper placement and proportions using an HB lead in a mechanical pencil.

Drawing birds | David Kitler,

2.  Fill in lower half of pupil
The viewer will be drawn to the area with most contrast. The darkest part of the bird will be its pupil, so I used a 9B pencil to fill the pupil’s bottom half.

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Drawing birds | David Kitler,

3.  Suggest the reflected images
My encounter with this bird happened on a cold winter’s day, when we were alone in the woods. I wanted the reflection of the surrounding trees to be incorporated into its eyes, so I used an HB lead in a technical pencil to push some of the graphite from the pupil area to suggest tree shapes.

Drawing birds | David Kitler,

4.  Fill in the iris
Using 4H and HB leads, I pulled out radiating lines to fill in the iris.

Drawing birds | David Kitler,

5.  Remove top guideline for pupil
Using a mask (in this case, the holes at the edge of an old computer print-out), I used a white eraser to remove the top half of the guideline I had used for the pupil.

Drawing birds | David Kitler,

6.  Burnish and blend all grades
Next, I used a piece of wood dowel, sharpened to a point, to burnish the different grades applied into each other.

Drawing birds | David Kitler,

7.  Fill in rest of iris and reflections
I proceeded to fill in the rest of the iris and reflections by using a mixture of pencil grades, with very sharp points, applied in tiny circular motion, and then burnished again with the pointed dowel. In order to get a better feel for what the finished eye might look like, you will need to have an approximate tone around it. Therefore, I started to add the fine lines around the eye to represent the bird’s eye ring and adjacent feathers.

To see a step-by-step drawing demonstration for the rest of the bird and also how Kitler uses acrylic washes to add color to his sketches, see the July/August 2009 issue of The Artist’s Magazine.


Naturalist and artist David N. Kitler’s work has received many awards, including first place in the Animal Art category (2007) for The Artist’s Magazine Annual Art Competition. He has taught classes and workshops throughout North America for more than 15 years. To view his online gallery, read more art tips and learn about his DVDs, visit

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