Why is it that drawing bird feet is so challenging? Many artists struggle with getting an accurate depiction of this part of the bird. In this video tutorial, I’ll walk you through some of the structure of bird feet that will help you to gain confidence and draw them more accurately.

To jump to specific sections of the tutorial, see timestamps below the video.

Key moments in this tutorial (Timestamps)


13:19 Why study bird feet?
14:31 Viz Ref – the app I use to organize photo reference on my iPad

Basic foot structure

14:53 Basic structure of the passerine foot (Mourning Dove), standing bird, flat surface
15:55 Side view / Specimen: scutes, pads, nails
16:55 Front view / Specimen: Foreshortened toes, scutes as cross-contour lines

Positions of the foot

18:36 Perched on branch, foot in profile; bird at eye level
20:51 Perched on branch, foot in 3/4 view; bird above viewer
22:38 Perched on two different angles at once; bird at eye level

Drawing demo

24:31 Time lapse using Procreate

Drawing tips for bird feet:

  • When drawing a standing bird, pay special attention to measuring angles of the toes and leg accurately. Note that the sides of the tarsus (leg) may be slightly curved in some views. Front toes differ in length.
  • For a foot in profile, note the pattern of scutes and scales on the dorsal (upper)surface. The pads on the underside of the toe tips are usually visible. The nails originate from the upper surface of the toe and extend almost straight out before curving out and down. Mastering the curve of the nails will help your drawing look very clean and skillful.
  • For a bird perched on a round object (like a branch), note how the toes bend and measure those angle changes carefully. Look for the hind toe extending beyond the branch edge when the bird is facing toward the viewer. The scutes sometimes provide very clear indications of how the surface is moving in space and that will help you to depict both volume and foreshortening.
  • If the bird is perched on an irregularly shaped surface or object, the toes will assume some unusual angles and unexpected positions. Evaluate the balance between biological accuracy and artistic composition when making decisions about altering toe position in your drawing or painting.

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