In this article, I will offer some tips and tricks on how to give bird feathers a more three-dimensional finish. For more suggestions, take a look at our article on how to draw animals. I will use the example of a drawing of an osprey: below you can see the finished thing.
For this work of art, I used the Rembrandt soft pastels and a mixture of Derwent is Cretacolor pastel pencils on Canson Mi-Teintes Touch paper, which has a fine texture similar to a sandpaper. I have amassed a wide range of pastel crayons in various shades over the years, and I use Derwent for its softer texture, while Cretacolor's pastel crayons are harder and can be finely sharpened for details.
For most of my works, I like that my sheet has a bit of "tooth". However, if I am creating a human portrait for example, a more absorbent paper – like Clairefontaine Pastelmat – it is better, because it allows you to blend with a smoother finish to the skin.
01. Draw outlines and add a base color
The first step is to draw the outline of the feathers. Work from photos to reproduce details as accurately as possible. Each feather has a basic color applied – I use photography to choose the range of colors I need. This base color is then mixed to create a smooth surface using a piece of styrofoam shaped polystyrene.
02. Use three different shades
The second step is to choose three different shades (light, medium and dark) for the next level. You have to study every feather to see where the light falls – one side will always be darker than the other. To give the effect of stripes to each feather, I accareo with the pencil from the edge of the feather towards the center. Note the darker parts are always under the feather.
03. Add highlights
The final step is to add reflections along the central pen using a pastel white pencil – I use white Cretacolor because it sharpens well and gives the best true white available. Then I add refined details to the pen using very sharp pencils. I look at the photo again to capture the final touches and give a three-dimensional effect.