Audubon Inspired Bird Study and Cardinal Drawing Tutorial

Audubon Inspired Bird Study and Cardinal Drawing Tutorial

On our recent trip to the library we stumbled upon The Boy who Drew Birds: a story of John James Audubon.  We enjoyed reading the book very much and decided that we wanted to learn more about this inspiring painter and ornithologist.  Imagine my surprise when the following week my friend, and creator of popular online unit studies, asked me, if I would be interested in creating a Tutorial for a John James Audubon project that is part of her Famous Artists Online Unit Study!  Not only I was very interested in working through the Unit Study so I can learn more about John James Audubon, but I’m also, as you probably already heard, a big fan of drawing.  Ever since we bought our first Waldorf-inspired homeschool curriculum I became very passionate about drawing and even enrolled in a fancy Drawing class at a local art school.  Creating a drawing tutorial is just about the most exciting thing I could do with my new found drawing knowledge.  


Audubon Inspired Bird Study and Cardinal Drawing Tutorial



But first, let me tell you a bit about the Famous Artists Unit Study.  It’s a unique online art program for homeschooled kids or anyone interested in supplementing their education.  I have a first hand experience with The Famous Artists Part I that concentrates on the lives and styles of 10 famous artists from the Renaissance to Surrealist Art Movements.  Each lesson is the result of a lot of research and includes history, geography, science, art, facts, and activity suggestions.  All you have to do is click on each lesson, work through it and click “complete” at the end when you are ready to move to the next lesson.


I will now briefly describe the five modules of the John James Audubon lesson and guide you through the lesson’s project. The first module concentrates on what the Realism Art Movement is.  It begins with an informative and entertaining 3-minute youtube video.  After watching the video you are asked to write a short description of Realism.  The second module includes a 9-minute recording about John James Audubon, a slide show of his paintings, and art response prompts to facilitate the discussion of one of the paintings.  In module three, the focus is on Audubon’s famous book The Birds of America.  Here you will take a virtual tour of the book and watch two interesting youtube videos.   In module 4 you get a chance to create your own masterpiece using the drawing instructions.  And in module 5 you create a John James Audubon Art Exhibit.  


Plate 1 of Birds of America by John James Audubon depicting Wild Turkey. Source credit: Wikipedia
Plate 1 of Birds of America by John James Audubon depicting Wild Turkey. Source credit: Wikipedia

So how do you create your masterpiece, if you don’t know how to draw?  Never fear!  Drawing is an acquired skill.   Just over a year ago I couldn’t draw a stick figure, if my life depended on it.  And now I can draw a sinking Titanic on demand (my son is a huge fan).  I will do my best to guide you through the tutorial.  


Audubon Inspired Bird Study and Cardinal Drawing Tutorial


You need a few materials to draw

#2 HB School Pencil



Some colors (i.e. pencils, oil pastels, acrylic paints, crayons, ….)



Step 1 

Take time to observe the subject matter.  John James Audubon spent days quietly observing birds. Once he spent a whole season (from early spring till late fall) sitting in a cave every day observing just one family of pewee birds.  


Contrary to popular conviction, good drawings are not simply a matter of good technique but start with the ability to observe.  The most important thing to know is the ability to observe can improve with training: let yourself see birds without telling yourself what it is you should see, notice the proportions of the birds, basic shapes, value (where is light and where are the shadows) and scale (dimensions of an object proportional to the actual dimensions).  


Audubon inspired Bird Drawing Tutorial

It’s been snowing or raining in Chicago nearly every day since Easter, so even though we went on many walks we didn’t get an opportunity to observe many birds.  We had to get creative and order some bird food from amazon.  We put the food in our backyard and were rewarded by a short visit from cardinals during a little rain free time one early morning.  The Cardinal is the Illinois state bird and my kids were really happy to make it the focus of our project.  


Even  if it is relatively easy to observe birds in your area, reference materials (books, magazines, google photos) can enhance your drawing experience.  Use them to figure out the exact proportions or trace the basic shapes of an image.    


Step 2

Start with sketching the basic shapes: circles and ovals.   Don’t expect to draw one circle for the head and have it look like a perfect circle.  I have observed professionals working on sketches and noticed that they tend to draw one circle over and over again over the same lines.  This way you get a closer approximation of circle.  


Audubon inspired bird study and Cardinal Drawing Tutorial 

Step 3

Use the basic shapes to work out proportions and composition (like a branch the bird is sitting on).  It’s been said that believable art starts with correct proportions.  There are many tricks you can use to help you achieve this goal.  You can start with this post.  


Audubon Inspired Bird Study and Cardinal Drawing Tutorial

Step 4

Add details, like a face mask, a couple of feathers in the tail and the wing.  Erase the sketch lines.  Feel free to define the shape of a tree and draw some leaves, if you feel like it.


Audubon Inspired Bird Study and Cardinal Drawing TutorialStep 5

Add value and color.  Value is an interplay between light and shadow that gives depth and definition and makes the drawing look more realistic.  Ask yourself: where is the source of light?  Which parts of the bird are likely to have shadows?  Probably around the wing and along the belly.  Colors might not be necessary, but they just make everything look more fun.  I used Pentel Arts Color Pencils. 


Audubon Inspired Bird study and Cardinal Drawing Tutorial



Audubon Inspired Bird Study and Cardinal Drawing Tutorial
Cardinal by 5 year old, School pencil and pastels
Cardinal by 7 year old, school pencil and crayons
Cardinal by 7 year old, school pencil and crayons

How did you do?  You can print all steps here


Audubon Inspired Bird Study and Cardinal Drawing Instructions


I know that most of my homeschooling friends pride themselves on creating their own learning resources for their kids, but one thing I learned is that you can not teach everything yourself.  So, if you want to give yourself a break and put Famous Artists education in competent hands, try this Famous Artists online Unit Study.  You will have fun with it, I promise!  


Disclaimer:  I received a free copy of this product in exchange for my honest review.  This post contains affiliate links.  For more information, please, read my full disclosure policy.


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