Drawing and Painting Birds by Tim Wootton

Published on 23 May 2011 in Book reviews

Crowood Press, 2010; pbk, 160pp, numerous artworks ; ISBN 978-1-84797-224-8; Subbuteo code M20804; £16.99

As books on drawing birds go, I realised quite quickly that this one was worth close scrutiny. I also pondered whether a novice artist would be better able to review the usefulness of such a book, or does it require someone who already has some experience of drawing birds? Whichever it might be, Tim Wootton seems amply qualified to be the author. Through eight chapters he has skilfully pulled together a very readable text and a plethora of artworks by over 30 (mainly current) artists delivering a fine mixture of artwork (usually three or four examples per page) in a broad array of styles, which makes page-turning a pleasurable expectation.

Of the eight chapters, the first is a preamble as to why people would want to draw birds, while the second addresses ‘Drawing techniques’, and starts with some pretty basic, but useful, essays (and diagrams) on shapes, forms and structures, drawing tools and some suggested exercises. I approached the latter with some scepticism, but I was won over when I realised that subconsciously I do a few of them myself! The remaining chapter headings are ‘Anatomy’, ‘Drawing bird types’, ‘Adding paint’, ‘What and where to paint’, ‘Elements of composition’ and ‘Advanced techniques’.

The content is generally excellent. I found many examples where I realised my own disordered thoughts were here, having been given clarity, and I found myself in close agreement with much of the material presented. Choosing the order of topics must have been difficult and I might have introduced the subject of field sketching earlier and given it greater prominence. Tim Wootton tackles the relationship between bird artists and photographs as early as page 23, and in more detail on page 120, and takes a very sensible and pragmatic approach (most people seem to hold strong views, some without appreciating that if you live in these times photographic influence is utterly unavoidable). The chapter on ‘Drawing bird types’ is selective in the species groups chosen (mostly large non-passerines), and could have been reduced and integrated within the ‘Anatomy’ chapter without great loss; it has four post-mortem paintings (of which I am not a great fan) and no fewer than 11 skeleton drawings and is the only section which to me seemed a little superfluous.

The penultimate chapter deals with picture making, presenting well-thought-out ideas on composition and elaborating on why some designs work and others don’t. In the final chapter, ‘Advanced techniques’, eight artists have been invited to discuss working in their chosen medium, and here users of this book will find something to aspire to.

All in all, this book contains very solid and tested advice on all aspects of bird drawing and will, I believe, prove to be of real use not only to the novice bird artist but also to those already with experience.

Alan Harris

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