Art Gallery

This page is under construction (6 August 2020) – check back for updates

Original art for sale

A selection of my original artwork and prints are available in the shop.

I am currently offering commissioned paintings of the bird of your choice. Click for examples and more info.

Please contact me with any questions about commissions or other work.

How to draw birds

In spring 2020 I did a series of ten short videos on how to draw different birds. The whole collection of videos can be found at Audubon and at the Audubon for Kids website, along with coloring pages and step-by-step instructions

Another video – How to draw a penguin – is posted on the Brightly website here.

In fall 2009 I stopped in at the offices of Amazon.com in Seattle, Washington, where I met a couple of young birder/artists and talked about drawing birds. Several short videos from that afternoon are posted here.

My media

Pencil on paper

For many years, almost all of my artwork was pencil on paper. This was mostly very informal field sketching, quickly drawing shapes and patterns to try to learn and capture the distinctive features of all of the birds I was identifying.

comparing juvenile (upper) and adult (lower) Gray Catbird. Original pencil sketch © David Sibley.
a field sketch of a downy young Spotted Sandpiper, pencil on paper © David Sibley

Pen and Ink

Gray Hawk, drawn for the revised edition of Hawks in Flight. The pale color of this species requires a lighter touch, with sparse fine lines, and in pen-and-ink there is little room for error. If you put on too much ink there is no way to take it back.

You can read more about my pen-and-ink drawings in this post from 2012.

When I started doing more “formal” work than pencil drawings, those were mainly pen-and-ink. This is just as it sounds – ink drawn on paper with a pen. I used the low-tech crow-quill style nibs, dipped in black ink. It’s not too different from pencil drawing, since it involves a single color in lines on white paper, but since the lines can only be black it requires even further simplification. Where a pencil can produce a full range of gray shading, the pen only produces a stark black line. The impression of shading is accomplished by drawing a series of black lines parallel to each other with white space between, and at a distance these lines blend together to be perceived as gray. The more of the white paper is covered by black lines, the darker it looks. So thicker black lines with thin white spaces looks darker than vice versa.

Cross-hatching – adding another set of parallel black lines more or less perpendicular to the first – covers more of the white paper and looks even darker. There are other tricks to drawing with ink, but the most important step is figuring out how to simplify the image to the bimodal black-white color scheme. I enjoyed the challenge.

Scratchboard

After the rigorous constraints of ink on paper, I was excited by the possibilities of scratchboard. In this technique, you use a specially prepared board (heavy paper) with a thin coating of fine plaster.

A post about my scratchboard technique is here

Fox Sparrow, ink on scratchboard, © David Sibley

Gouache

Most of my bird paintings are done with gouache (opaque watercolor) on Strathmore Bristol Board, and over the years I’ve developed a style involving transparent/translucent layers of paint to represent the colors and textures of birds. All of the paintings in my bird guides – The Sibley Guide to Birds, Eastern and Western field guides, Birding Basics – are done with gouache.

A slideshow showing a painting of a Ferruginous Hawk from start to finish can be found at this post, and the steps of a Northern Saw-whet Owl painting are shown here.

Black-capped Vireo (left) and White-eyed Vireo (right) original illustration for the Sibley Guide to Birds, gouache on Bristol Board, about 14 by 22 inches, © David Sibley
Orchard Oriole singing, gouache on Bristol Board, © David Sibley
Painted Redstart and Bridled Titmouse, gouache on Bristol Board. © David Sibley

Acrylic

Beginning around 2004 with the illustrations for the Sibley Guide to Trees I have been doing more painting in acrylic. I chose acrylic paint for that book because gouache does not produce a good range of green color, and it’s also difficult to achieve the satiny texture of leaves with gouache. Acrylic proved to be much better for painting leaves, and after a few years (and a few thousand illustrations) I felt pretty comfortable with it.

Since then I’ve used acrylic for a few other paintings, even finger painting, and I chose acrylic for all of the paintings in my 2020 book What It’s Like to Be a Bird. I still use acrylic like watercolors, and many of the illustrations in that book are pencil sketches with a light translucent wash of paint (like the Belted Kingfisher below), but the full-page portraits of birds (like the Wood Duck below) use opaque layers to take advantage of the richness and saturation of color that is possible with acrylic.

a male Wood Duck, acrylic on Bristol Board from the book What It’s Like to Be a Bird © David Sibley
a female Belted Kingfisher, pencil and acrylic on Bristol Board from the book What It’s Like to Be a Bird © David Sibley

Digital

In late 2019 I started experimenting with digital art. A new iPad Pro with Apple Pencil, and the just-released Photoshop for iPad, proved to be – for me – liberating and empowering. It’s so much more flexible and powerful than drawing or painting on paper, and details that would be impossible to get right in paint can be finessed by zooming in and touching up tiny areas. The workflow is also much easier, a rough sketch can become the base layer of a painting, without the need to transfer onto a new sheet of paper. And because most of my work is eventually converted to digital (scanned) for publication, working digitally from the beginning eliminates that whole troublesome step.

I’ve already updated dozens of images for the Sibley Birds app, and you can expect to see a lot more in the near future.

a male Scarlet Tanager, gouache on Bristol Board as it appears in the book The Sibley Guide to Birds © David Sibley
The same painting of a male Scarlet Tanager, gouache on Bristol Board, now with digital alterations to correct color and contrast, and to add detail especially on the face © David Sibley
a male Scarlet Tanager, gouache on Bristol Board with digital alterations, taking the image above and altering hue and details to match an unusual individual bird I observed in spring 2020. Working directly with the digital file makes this kind of adjustment quick and easy. © David Sibley

10 thoughts on “Art Gallery”

  1. Shoot – I must be doing something wrong. I can find no site listed
    as “sibleyart” and this so-called gallery is very disappointing. Not
    only are there just a smattering of examples, but they are too small
    to get any idea of their quality. Considering the spectacular wealth
    of paintings in the Sibley Guide, I don’t get this site. I’ve been
    painting birds for sixty years and I love your opaque wc works, and
    am even emulating the technique with oil on paper, but this is just
    a major-league bummer. Regards, Rick

    1. Rick,
      Thanks for the comments. I’ve been working on a number of things to post here, and just got one of them up. I hope to have a few more essays, and a sampler of my work, posted in the next month or two.

  2. Rick,
    Click on the picture thumbnails and they will enlarge for you to view. Very nice work..Sandi

  3. Mr. Sibley:
    I would like to create a poster for educational purposes titled “Extinct Birds of Oklahoma”. My thought was to have illustrations of the Ivory-billed Woodpecker, Carolina Parakeet, and Passenger Pigeon, with general historic range maps. The poster would be displayed at various educational events that I assist with (I am a biologist with the state of Oklahoma). Would it be possible to pay to use some jpeg images (or similar format) of some of your previous illustrations (I.e. Ivory billed woodpecker) to use for the poster? Your artwork is incredible and I have always been a frequent user of your field guides. I would also gladly give you credit on the poster itself.

    Thank you and regards,
    Matt Fullerton

  4. Pingback: Inspiring Nature Artists - John Muir Laws

  5. hi I m new here I need help finding black and white scratchboard art by 2 artists the first artists name is rudy droguett and the second artist is all I have is his last name if anybody can help me I hope to hear frm you soon take care have a blessed day

  6. David,
    I read every word in your newest book, “What it’s like…”. I have been so enamored with your artwork and very readable information on all the birds in our area in Western Massachusetts. Birds are my new hobbie.
    Thanks,
    Jana Standish
    School counselor, parent and nature enthusiast

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