Drawing Hawks for a new book

Back when I was creating the artwork for Fantastic Press-Out Flying Birds, I hatched a new plan to create hawks that would fly like the songbirds. They will need to be larger, so there will be some new engineering involved, but they will also represent a new method (for me) of illustrating them.

I’m drawing the individual feathers, and building the hawk from that.

I began with a Rough-Legged hawk, Buteo lagopus. 

Feathers (thanks to the US Fish and Wildlife’s Feather Atlas).

hawk feathers
Feathers from wing. The little one is from up near the alula, the “thumb.”


The feathers are fascinating when you draw them this way. Each part contributes to the patterns you see in the wing when they’re overlaid in regular rows. The feather fibers interlock like velcro to create the smooth aerodynamic surface of a bird’s wing. The rounded, thicker shaft near the base, and the tapering lengths of the feather barbs help create the thickness on the front of the wing and the thin trailing edge.

Here’s the tip of the wing, assembled with feathers. Each feather is not simply a copy – they’re all slightly different sizes, shapes, each is modifed from it’s “template” feather to be unique to its placement and purpose.

Rough-legged hawk wing feathers
The wing shows the primary feathers splayed like fingers.

Drawing the head involves many small feathers, each slightly different, but substantially similar. Feathers overlap like shingles on a roof. The eyes in this view will be hidden once the bird is folded to fly, but they’re kind of fierce anyway, simply by laying the feathers in the way they’re supposed to go.

The head has many overlapping small feathers
The head has many overlapping small feathers. Here I haven’t done the back feathers yet. The black outline will be the cutline in the final book.

The rough-legged hawk is a work in progress. I’ll post more as it emerges.

This is done in Adobe Illustrator on a laptop using the touchpad for drawing. A Dell Inspiron XPS laptop with quad-core Intel i7 processers and 16GB ram allows me to keep enough programs open to handle each one and work efficiently.

This is so much fun!