As a bird artist, I am constantly trying to improve my understanding of how birds are put together! That’s because the better I know my subject, the more realistic my results. In this post, I show how varying the perspective on the bill can help you see the volume and complex shapes that are often missed when the bird is shown in profile.

Robin Bill Study. ©2020

In this study of an American Robin, I show the bill in profile then in two other poses, both from below.

In the profile, the volume of the bill is essentially invisible. However, in the three-quarter view (upper right), you can see the roundness of the mandibles more clearly. Also visible is the arch formed by the edges of the lower mandible which enclose the chin.

From nearly straight on, with the bill pointing upward (lower right), the lower mandible dominates and the maxilla (also called the upper mandible) is barely visible. The gape edges are seen flaring out just below the eyes and it becomes obvious that the bill is much wider at the base than the tip—a feature that isn’t possible to see when the bill is in profile.

As bird artists, these kinds of studies can be incredibly valuable and informative to our work. I encourage you to undertake sketching birds from many different perspectives to gain greater familiarity with the volumes and shapes of the various features.

Related: Bird Anatomy for Artists: The Bill

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