Book Review: The Laws Guide to Drawing Birds, by John Muir Laws

Reviewed by Stephen J. Bodio
April 15, 2013
The Laws Guide to Drawing Birds book review

The Laws Guide to Drawing Birds is as much a guide to seeing as a handbook for drawing. A better title might be that of his first chapter: “The Joy of Drawing Birds.” Laws believes that every birder should try to draw. “Drawing reinforces the sort of Gestalt observations that advanced birders use to identify birds from fleeting glimpses and in poor light.” And if you think you can’t draw, think again. “You are no more a born artist than a chef or mechanic. Drawing is a skill that you develop by practice.” (Incidentally, this is a statement heartily endorsed by Jonathan Kingdon, in his book on field notes!)

Laws does not say “do as I do,” but builds from first steps, going all the way through everything from families to building flying models to understand the perspective of flight. He combines wonderful drawings with quotable precepts: “All birds have a long, flexible S-shaped neck”; “Do not make up anything”; “When you want to draw birds, just do it”; “Do not be overwhelmed by detail”; “Stop before you are done”; “A sketch is not field guide art”; “Zoom in and out.” Again, do not take this as a book for artists; listen to his repeated message: “The most important part of field sketching is not the drawing itself, but the focus that it brings to your observations and the strengthened memories that come from drawing what you see.”

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