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How to Draw a Feather

This may not be the ideal time to write up a tutorial; I’m traveling for work and don’t have a lot of my art resources with me, but… Let’s give it a go, anyway!

Feathers are fun to draw.  There is something about them that really inspires people to try to draw them, but when it comes down to it, a lot of people don’t know where to start!  They’re tricky, no doubt about it.

The way you’d draw a feather depends on the type of bird it comes from (or if the feather is for fantasy, and you just need to know how to get started), if the feather should be cartoonish or realistic, etc.  I did a post about drawing what you see; I have to admit, feathers could be one area where that whole theory doesn’t exactly apply, and that’s probably why people struggle so much with them.

Do you remember the drawing I did of the impossible triangle?  That’s the type of thing that feathers fall under; the eye will fill in the blanks for you to make sense of things that don’t quite make visual sense.

Allow me to show you what I mean.

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I scribbled out this sketch very quickly – it was maybe 15 seconds.  The point here isn’t to show you a masterpiece, but rather to explain what you’re seeing.  If you pay attention, you’ll notice that I did not outline the entire feather.  It’s mostly just a bunch of lines and open spaces; however, your brain fills in the blanks!  Your brain sees a completed feather!  Amazing.  If I wanted to draw something a bit more realistic, I would draw the actual clumps of feather instead of individual strands.

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Again, a quick sketch.  The appearance of these feathers can change drastically depending on the type of detail you want to put into them.  Let’s do a couple basic outlines.

Step 1:

Draw a curve line on your page.

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Step 2:

I like to work from the base of the feather to the tip, but you can do whatever works best for you.  Add some lines that are curved out from the quill.  Don’t attach the lines to the quill; this will limit the details that you can add later if you do.

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Step 3:

Do the same on the other side. Stagger the lines a little, though; feathers aren’t perfectly symmetrical!

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Step 4:

Add some more little lines in the feather to fill it out.

That’s it.  That’s a rough sketch of your feather.  This can work if you’re just practicing on rough sketches, or want to leave something very raw.

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Now, let’s try the other feather that is drawn in clumps.

Step 1:

Draw the quill.  You can do a straighter line, or curved – whatever suits your drawing the best! Keep it thin, and be sure to taper the end to a point.

Step 2:

I like to start at the base of the feather.  Draw a curve line just a little above the base of the quill.

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Step 3:

Add your first feathery clump outlines.  Don’t stress about it – You can make one (or both) pointy, or you can draw a larger clump.  Just remember to avoid making them exactly the same!

Step 4:

Leave a tiny gap in between the first clump of feathers and the second; if you look at a real feather, you’ll often see these types of breaks.  Remember that your feather will taper in as you get close to the tip, but don’t make the tapering too drastic, or it’ll look weird.  Avoid drawing patterns!  The eye will pick up on patterns right away, and it won’t look right.  Erase a small section of the quill just above where the feathers begin to give the feather some depth.

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Beautiful!  You have your wonderful feathery outline.  Now do something with it!  Look up some photos of feathers and look at the shadows; pay attention to the lights and darks.  Don’t be afraid to deviate from what you see in the pictures – if it doesn’t work out, you can try something else.  My point is, don’t get stuck on method and don’t be a slave to realism; make your drawing believable, but make it yours.