In Poland there's a legend about the Golden Duck: she was an enchanted princess living in the cellars under a castle. It was said that if you found her, she would make you rich beyond your wildest dreams. A young, poor cobbler decided to visit her, and she promised to make him rich, but under one condition: he was supposed to spend a bag of golden coins she gave him in one day, without sharing it with anyone.
He managed to spend almost everything, but when he met a poor soldier, he gave him the last coins. At the same moment he lost all the things he got to buy this day, but the old soldier stayed happy and thankful. "That duck was not a princess, but an evil witch," he explained to the boy, "for gold is worth nothing when you can't share it."
No matter if you want to draw a duck, or any other bird, you need to know how to draw feathers. I've prepared guides for three different styles, depending on the effect you're going for: cartoon, semi-realistic, and realistic.
What You Will Need
- Some sheets of paper
- Hard pencil (HB/No 2)
- Soft pencil (2B or lower)
- Very soft pencil (5B or lower—8B will be perfect!)
- Pencil sharpener
- Ball-point pen, ink, or something else making dark lines (optional)
- Cotton swab
Optionally, you may use some photo references of feathers from Envato Market, like:
1. Draw a Simple Cartoon Feather
Sometimes you want to draw fast, without paying attention to details, but without any confusion about what you're drawing. Cartoon style comes really handy in such situations.
Start with a very subtle line using a hard pencil. It doesn't need to be completely straight—don't use a ruler!
Make it slightly thicker in the middle, keeping both ends sharp. This will be the rachis.
Mark the area where the vane will start.
Most feathers are not symmetrical. To achieve a natural effect, define its sides with two different lines.
Sketch the tip of the feather using the same angle as between the "side lines".
Connect the lines with gentle arcs.
Sketch the barbs, creating "cuts" here and there.
Add the fluffy afterfeathers. The smaller and softer the feather, the more of them you can add.
Use ink or a ball-point pen to draw the contours of the feather (or simply press harder with your pencil).
2. Draw a Semi-Realistic Feather
You don't always want to be realistic—realism is boring and strict. Semi-realism, on the other hand, lets you achieve an easily recognizable effect without limiting your creativity. Here I will show you one example of creating a feather in this style.
Let's start with the same sketch as in the previous section. We only need the general outline of the feather.
Add the afterfeathers. Make them soft and fluffy, controlling the pressure of your pen.
Darken the rachis to make it stand out.
Take a softer brush and shade the rachis slightly, giving it a more 3D shape.
Take the softest brush and add a pinch of darkness to make the rachis even sharper in look.
Return to a hard pencil and sketch the "cuts" in the vane.
Draw the rows of barbs one by one. Keep your pencil sharp, or they will not look consistent! Don't place them too tightly—there should be a band of white between every two barbs.
Darken the base of each barb by pressing harder (you can also draw subtly with a softer brush for this effect). The farther you go from the rachis, the thinner these lines should be.
Do the same around the outline of the vane. The feather should look slightly shiny afterwards.
Take a softer brush and accentuate both areas without covering them all.
Take the softest brush and accentuate certain parts with black. Don't use too much of it!
3. Draw a Realistic Feather
What if you want to draw an actually realistic feather, with little or no stylization? It can be even easier than semi-realism—just look:
Let's start with the feather already outlined, with its rachis darkened.
Use a hard pencil to darken the vane uniformly. Don't press too hard, and try to leave as little white as possible between the strokes.
Take a cotton swab and smudge the strokes carefully, without pressing too hard. You can achieve a nice, uniform effect by "drawing" little spirals with the swab.
Take a softer pencil and draw tight barbs lightly...
... then blend them again with the cotton swab.
Use the softest pencil to darken the rachis and make it look sharp.
Use a soft brush to darken a part of the vane once again, but this time press harder.
Take the softest brush and add some darkness hidden in the details.
Smooth some parts of it out.
Press harder to achieve the darkest black and darken the upper part of the vane, leaving some area to create shine.
Take the eraser, make sure it's clean, and carefully drag it over the shiny part. After you create one smudge, clean the eraser on a spare sheet of paper and try once again until you get a satisfying result. If you lost some details in the process, fix it now.
In this tutorial you have learned how to draw feathers in different styles, depending on the purpose. If you like this way of learning, check out my other drawing tutorials for beginners:
And if you want to learn more about wings, check these out: