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The Value of Drawing

by Robin Tuck
May 1997

It was in second or third grade when my teacher had the class close their eyes and draw freely on a blank sheet of paper. I peeked and drew jets and cars. When the exercise was over, I was embarrassed—all the other kids had neat-looking scribbles they got to fill in with crayons. I didn’t try drawing any more; I knew I was lousy.

A few years ago while hiking the Uintas, just before I really got serious about birding, a plain bird with strong black and white markings was flitting at a lake’s edge. I hadn't a clue what it was, so I pulled out a note pad and (painfully) sketched it. When I got to a field book, I found the name of my mystery bird, a "White-crowned Sparrow."

Unpracticed and dormant, I could still draw. Trying to get it on paper caused me to observe more carefully, and fanned a spark into a flame. I learned I was not a lousy artist, just an unskilled one. I can cure a lack of skill.

Most of us have drawing talents, largely undeveloped, we can use to good advantage while birding. There are things we can sketch all around us, if we are just a little prepared. Minimal preparation includes a pencil and a pad of unlined paper. Nice additions might include a sturdy drawing surface (clipboard) and a chair, turning the entire world into your "studio."

Learning moments are all around us. In this example, it was a busy bird not more than 10 feet away, that ignored me long enough that I could get a good look. Other things are not as fleeting as a little bird who knows it is being watched. Suppose you found a feather while birding or noticed some interesting tracks in the mud. Many of these opportunities are fleeting and cannot be carried home, but a record of them can be carried home as a drawing.

A few more useful items to carry with the pad and pencil would be a small rule marked in inches and centimeters and a magnifying glass. I prefer a loupe with three lenses giving me 5X, 10X and 15X magnification.

When I set out drawing, a whole new world of learning is before me.