David Allen Sibley: How to Draw an Osprey

I come from a long and broad line of birders. Somehow the bug didn't take with me--at the beach every summer just about the whole extended family would head out for walks with their binoculars and camera tripods while my dad and I went to hit tennis balls--but I must still carry the gene, because it has taken hold of both of my sons, who know more about the California condor than I can comprehend, and who love to spend a summer afternoon drawing birds (particularly raptors) out of David Allen Sibley's modern classic, The Sibley Guide to Birds. There are a few figures that loom as gods among the younger members of our house--Dustin Pedroia, Obi-Wan Kenobi, Rick Riordan, whoever invented Legos--but David Allen Sibley is definitely among them.

So when the folks at Knopf mentioned that Sibley himself was going to be coming to Seattle in support of his new book, The Sibley Guide to Trees, and wondered if we wanted to do anything with him, the wheels started turning in my head. Was I was thinking of the promotional possibilities for Amazon and Sibley or just of being, at least for a day, the coolest dad in the world? I'll leave that for you to judge, but I said, "Why doesn't he come teach my kids to draw birds, and I'll post the video on Omni?" Amazingly, everybody thought that was a great idea, and a little while ago, Sibley arrived on the 15th floor of our downtown Seattle building (not a great bird habitat, although he did spy some gulls circling outside our windows), and so did Peter and Henry, playing hooky from school along with their good friend Ben, who brought his own well-thumbed and marked-up copy of Sibley along.

And here are the results. Want to know how to turn a couple of ovals into that sharp-eyed and -clawed hunter, the osprey? Watch here:

And with Sibley's new book in mind, we also thought it would be fun to draw the osprey's habitat, so he showed us how to do just that, beginning with trunk, branches, and leaves, and ending--again using two ovals to start--with an osprey coming spectacularly in for a landing on its nest. What kind of tree is it? The Sibley Guide to Trees is, of course, about identification, so I was surprised that when I asked that question, Sibley shrugged and said, "Oh, it's oak-like." Oak-like? But he pointed out that, unlike with birds, trees grow in such idiosyncratic ways that the key to identifying them is not to assess their shape from a distance, but to get up close and examine their leaves, their bark, and their fruit. And so in the Guide to Trees, those are exactly the sorts of up-close illustrations you'll find. But here, we stayed wide for the action shot:

I've posted both of those videos to our Amazon pages for the books, but I have one other Omni-only exclusive outtake. In the middle of drawing the osprey, he put up another sheet of paper to make a quick sketch to demonstrate some of the underlying anatomy that any bird artist should know. See if you can guess what bird he's drawing here:

Well, thanks very much to David Allen Sibley for a memorable day, and for his kind and patient teaching. Here are the final results, the instructor alongside his proud students. Nice work!

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--Tom


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What a wonderful opportunity for these boys. I wish I'd had this video when my students were in the middle of our osprey/watershed study!

Posted by: Carol Boyer | Saturday August 7, 2010 at 10:39 AM

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