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The Kingfisher

The Kingfisher

Today is all about The Kingfisher!

I’m going to be sharing some details about this piece…how the drawing formed in my mind, some progress photos, and ideas behind the drawing. This is the first time I’ve written a blog about one of my drawings, so this should be interesting!

  • First, a little bit of back story behind my “bird series.” So far, I’ve completed four drawings in this series: the Raven, the Sparrow, the Goldfinch, and The Kingfisher. This series is about creating compositions that reflect each bird’s personality and mythos, rather than just depicting the birds themselves. In these drawings, I combine the birds with nature imagery along with historical art styles to create a window into the world of each bird. With each bird I draw, I go through the same process to determine its personality and “tone” and how to depict that tone in my drawing. The process usually goes like this:
  • First, I research the bird itself — What does it live? What does it eat? What is its general behavior / what makes it unique from other birds?

  • Next, I research general symbolism about the bird — does the bird have a particular way its perceived across cultures? Does one culture have a different perspective on the bird that differs from most others? How has the bird been used throughout art and art history? (A good example of this sort of “general symbolism” is that owls are typically thought to be wise and prudent.)

  • After gathering some basic information, I start to look for more unique or obscure connections based on what I have learned so far...think of it kind of like mind-mapping, where you start with one word or idea and start to connect other related ideas to that first word. I also start to think about how I personally perceive the bird, too.

  • With all of this thinking done, I’m able to begin formulating how the drawing might look in my head, and sketching begins. (To be honest, I’m not a huge sketcher. Most of my initial ideas are in the form of teeny-tiny thumbnail drawings that aren’t very good and are unintelligible to anyone else.)

Now that I’ve given you some background on how I think through these bird drawings, it’s time to talk about the Kingfisher! I’m going to walk you through my research and thought process on the kingfisher in the same way I outlined my general process above…so to begin:

  • Kingfishers are colorful, small birds, only about 6 inches in length on average (only slightly bigger than a hummingbird). They typically live near streams, creeks, and canals where the water is clear and slow-moving. This is because kingfishers mostly eat small fish, like minnows, which they catch by diving — yes, diving — into the water. They are most commonly found in Europe, Asia, and North Africa, but Kingfishers can be found in the United States, too. Plants associated with kingfishers include river grass, water lilies, and lotus flowers due to their aquatic habitat…I think some of these plants help to keep water clean and fresh, which would attract kingfishers.

    • Symbolically, kingfishers are thought to represent peace and prosperity. The kingfisher, often thought to have been one of the first birds released from Noah’s ark after the flood, supposedly flew toward the sun and scorched his belly, which is how he received his orange plumage along with the blue of the sky on his back. Kingfishers are also closely associated with the word “halcyon,” which is often used to describe a happy, idyllic time in the past that is remembered fondly…so kingfishers are somewhat associated with nostalgia for a bygone time. In Greek mythology, kingfishers are beloved by sea nymphs (kinda like mermaids) and are thought to calm storms and protect waterways.
      • To me, the most striking aspect of the kingfisher is how it plunges into the water for food, as well as its nostalgic association with the past. These two concepts together made me associate the kingfisher with “depth” and more specifically, the "depths of the human mind” or “diving” into one’s memories. Additionally, the idea of a fondly remembered past along with the kingfisher’s importance in Greek mythology, made me think that an ancient temple would be a good framing device for conveying a sense of something that is ancient to the viewer. Also, the kingfisher seems to exude the concept of time, so I initially pictured a clock partially submerged in water along with imagery of the sun and moon, two celestial beings that have marked the passing of time each day for millions of years.

      So with that I started sketching, ultimately to decide that the kingfisher would be resting on a lotus leaf…you would be able to see under the water, where ancient mountains reside and reveal the vastness of time…the sun and moon would sit inside the temple frame along with a double-clock…and sea nymphs/mermaids would provide a nice, small addition to the piece to reinforce the kingfisher’s importance in myths.

      The Drawing

      I started with these tiny thumbnails to decide how I wanted to the composition to look overall. Like I said, they’re pretty messy because they’re only intended for me to get a sense of how the drawing might look.

      Once I found a composition that I liked, I started to sketch the drawing to actual size. (I determined what size would be best for this drawing by measuring my thumbnail sketch and figuring out the scale of objects in the sketch. The finished drawing is 22 x 16 inches…so pretty big for a pen and ink piece.)

      [Side note: You may have noticed that the first sketch is a little backwards from the second sketch — the kingfisher flipped sides, etc. This is because I don’t have a stream-lined process for transferring a sketch to the final, clean sheet of paper. Sometimes I use graphite paper to transfer the drawing, sometimes I use tracing paper. Using tracing paper is a very time consuming process, because if you don’t want the drawing flipped from how you originally drew it, you have to trace the drawing on the back of the tracing paper before you can transfer it on to the clean sheet. (*Insert sigh of frustration.) If I use graphite paper, which has a layer of graphite on one side so that you only have to draw on top of the graphite paper, I run the risk of pressing down too hard with my stylus and leaving dark marks that are difficult to erase. (*Insert another sign of frustration.) I tried to use graphite paper for this one…but I pressed down too hard, which meant I couldn’t change the river grass on the edges of the drawing. I ended up re-drawing/tracing this piece about four times before it ended up on the clean sheet of paper how I wanted it…it was quite time consuming. Luckily, I just got a gigantic lightboard that will hopefully cut out some of that time during my next drawing. Long story short — the tracing process was difficult for this piece, which is why some elements ended up backwards.]

      In this bird series, the birds themselves are arguably the most important part of each piece…they are also the most daunting. I usually start with the bird first, so that if I don’t get the bird exactly how I want it, I can start over without having wasted time on the rest of the drawing. Here, I sketched the kingfisher in pencil and in pen on separate pieces of paper so that I could decide how to pen him in on the final drawing:


      Next, I outlined most of the drawing in pen and started adding extra detail with pencil. I find that I work best if I add detail as I go, rather than getting everything perfect first. This helps me to focus on the drawing as a whole, because as I work I can see areas that may need more attention or interest that I might not have seen at the beginning of the drawing. I also like to pencil-in shadows before applying ink.

      Pen is a difficult medium, simply because you can’t erase a mark once it’s down on the paper. It can make the process a little intimidating…but it’s well worth it because pen and ink is so striking. I’ve discovered that at the beginning of a drawing, it feels like it will take forever to come together. And I often feel like certain elements won’t work out. But by the end, it suddenly comes together almost of its own accord. As long as I work through it little by little, everything starts to work itself out. Below you can see some different stages of the drawing:

      Finally, after a few days of working on it here and there, I finished “The Kingfisher!” My favorite parts of the drawing are the lotus leaves and the temple columns.

      Now, on to another drawing! Thank you for reading my blog…your interest and support means a lot!

      Until next time,



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