Long before there were digital cameras in every mobile phone – or for that matter long before there were digital cameras or mobile phones – many bird watchers considered a pencil suitable for drawing and a small sketch pad essential elements of their field kit. Indeed, the very development of one’s skills as a bird watcher, just as it was with the other areas of field nature study, included the development of one’s skills as a sketch artist.

Needless to say, advances in technology, particularly the development of affordable high magnification zoom digital cameras and the expansion of digiscoping from its esoteric origins into to a widely practiced photographic technique, have made field sketching something of a quaint anachronism to far too many modern bird watchers. More’s the pity; for the development of one’s sketching abilities and the field application thereof can go far toward the development of one’s skills as a bird watcher. John Muir Laws knows this very well, and thanks to his recently published book The Laws Guide to Drawing Birds even those who may not consider themselves qualified to wield a pencil for anything more than writing a grocery list might very well come to discover just how effective as a learning exercise – as well as simply enjoyable – the sketching of birds can be.

Drawing upon, if you’ll pardon the pun, his background as both a wildlife biologist as well as a scientific illustrator, Mr. Laws approaches the topic of his book from the perspective of one who is not simply interested in depicting his subjects as they would look best in an ideal situation but as they actually look given their physiology. As a result, as one works through The Laws Guide, one is not only given instruction in how to ensure that proportions are maintained and correct appearances are achieved, but also shown how and why birds do and must move as a result of their physical composition.

The techniques he demonstrates can be applied in as rudimentary or as polished a form as one likes. However whether one’s drawings are merely augmentations to field notes or developed into fine artistic renderings, the essentials skills needed to produce them are the same. And it is these very skills that Mr. Laws presents in easy to understand and follow chapters – including an entire section devoted to what is perhaps the most commonly misunderstood element in the understanding of avian locomotion: flight.

Just as in the rendering of any three dimensional object in two dimensional form, one must truly see the bird to depict it correctly; not just as a passing object (or worse, merely as a potential tick on a check list) but see it in all its actual form and activity. To do so, one must slow down and focus upon the moment at hand. As a result, it is quite likely that fewer birds may be “noticed” over the course of a walk or a day afield; however those that are will be much better and more accurately seen.

Book Title: The Laws Guide to Drawing Birds

Author: Written and illustrated by John Muir Laws, Foreword by David Allen Sibley

Publisher: Heyday

Imprint: Heyday

Series: n/a

Format: Paperback

ISBN-13/ EAN: 978-1-59714-195-6

Published: 12 September 2012

This review was originally published in the January / February 2013 edition of Bird Watcher’s Digest.

In accordance with Federal Trade Commission 16 CFR Part 255, it is disclosed that the copy of the book read in order to produce this review was provided gratis to the reviewer by the publisher.