Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Sketching Hummingbirds in Flight--Vickie Henderson

I have had the exceptional pleasure of enjoying the largest seasonal migration of hummingbirds I have witnessed in recent years.  Almost a week ago, as a cold front was moving in, I arrived home from the office to find more than fifty hummingbirds converging on my feeders all at once, eager to drink and take advantage of the front.  
With plenty still moving through last weekend, I sat outside with them for a while and tried sketching them.  A fascinating experience.  Hummingbirds move their wings at a speed of 40-80 beats per second and their flying speed ranges from 30-50 mph.  In addition they are hot-tempered and territorial when it comes to their nectar source which they need for their high-energy life styles, so trying to sketch them in flight is a considerable adjustment for your visual memory.  

What was nearly as fascinating as watching the birds, was noticing changes in my focus and perception.  How my mind began to adjust, simplifying and searching for specific shapes, such as the line of the back as they hovered, the shape of the main body, the distance between head and shoulder, the way that beak comes out of the face.  Without looking at the paper, I visually tried to grab a shape, just one.  It was like experiencing the short-hand version of both memory and drawing.   
After about an hour of sketching, I snapped some images of the same flight positions I had been trying to sketch outside and put about six of them in a digital slide show on my laptop.  I tried sketching again while the slide show was in motion.  This was amazing. Sketching seemed effortless at this speed!  Not what I would have experienced without the attempt to sketch them in "real time".
The sketch above was my favorite even though it was sketched from the slide show.  It was in creating this sketch with such ease that I realized how much I had learned from my efforts!  

To see more about this sketching experience, visit:  Sketching Hummingbirds in Flight at Vickie's Sketchbook.
And to see amazing numbers of ruby-throated hummingbirds and their beautiful feathers up close, visit:  Swarming Hummers and The Beauty of Hummingbird Feathers at Vickie Henderson Art.


  1. Wonderful sketches...and I thought it an impossible task to catch the motion and grace of these birds while in flight (as they always are!)
    Sketching is a wonderful training and it is surprising, as you say, moving from the first attempts to a relatively easy grasping of the subject.

  2. I love the page of quick gestures. You really did benefit from this practice. Wonderful post. Thanks!


  3. Wonderful sketches, Vickie! And a fascinating blog.

  4. Fantastic, Vickie! Your quick gesture sketches really paid off.

  5. wonderful sketches. Thanks for sharing a unique exerience. I saw a hummingbird once while on holidays in the USA. I was fascinated by it. I canot imagine seeing 50 of them at once ! You sketches capture their character and speed

  6. What a great post. I'm convinced that learning to drawn any animal well is a learning process ... and that part of the process should be drawing from life and part from photos.


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