Our collection of bird drawings includes work by artist Kerry Beall, who uses bird drawings to create her surrealist images. She does this by layering brightly coloured birds and feathers over portraits of people and other animals to create her striking images. One of her images that really stands out to us is the bold Carnival, in which she arranges bird feathers over the head of a black and white tiger drawing.
Bird drawings are a genre of fine art that’s inspired by and inspires the natural sciences. Humans have always been deeply curious by animals, especially ones as fleeting and uniquely beautiful as birds. For artist David Hockey, drawing is an ancient form of communication and many artists who draw see their practice as a type of knowledge making.
Historically, it wasn’t until the 19th century that artists began to appreciate the artistic potential of depicting birds, and bird art suddenly became a genre of drawing. Before this, birds were mostly drawn scientifically by naturalists who studied the physical features of birds by exploring them using pencil on paper. Since then there has been an explosion of mediums through which the subject has been explored.
While many artists do still draw almost scientific black and white renderings of birds, contemporary artists have found ways of incorporating bird drawings into conceptual artworks. Using vivid colours, feathers, birds and parts of birds like their wings, alongside other subject matter, many of the artists in our collection are experimenting with bird drawings in new ways.
Two of the first accomplished artists to make birds the dominant subjects in their paintings were artists and ornithologists, John Gould and John James Audubon. Responsible for the bird art genre, Audubon created a book called The Birds of America and Gould The Birds of Great Britain.
Audubon’s book consisted of 435 hand-coloured, life-size prints made from engraved plates. Preserved in the pages of his book are six birds that are now extinct. Ironically, those who used birds as their subject at the time had to shoot the birds they intended to draw. The book was an enormous 39.5 inches tall by 28.5 inches wide and Audubon funded it by lecturing on ornithology around the UK and France and convincing members of the French and British monarchies to subscribe to it.
Gould produced Birds of Great Britain much later in his life when his drawing style changed to adding illustrations of nests and young birds on a large scale. The University of Glasgow describes and Gould as the great figure in bird drawings after Audubon and have a copy of Birds of Great Britain in their collection.