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How to Draw Feathers

This post is part of a series called Fairy Tale Week.
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This post is part of a series called How to Draw Animals.
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This post is part of a series called How to Draw Textures.
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Final product image
What You'll Be Creating

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."

how to draw wings
You can read this legend here

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
  • Eraser

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.

Step 1

Start with a very subtle line using a hard pencil. It doesn't need to be completely straight—don't use a ruler!

how to start drawing a feather

Step 2

Make it slightly thicker in the middle, keeping both ends sharp. This will be the rachis.

how to draw feather rachis

Step 3

Mark the area where the vane will start.

how to draw a simple feather

Step 4

Most feathers are not symmetrical. To achieve a natural effect, define its sides with two different lines.

how to draw a flight feather

Step 5

Sketch the tip of the feather using the same angle as between the "side lines".

how to draw feather shape

Step 6

Connect the lines with gentle arcs.

how to draw feather vane

Step 7

Sketch the barbs, creating "cuts" here and there.

how to draw feather barbs

Step 8

Add the fluffy afterfeathers. The smaller and softer the feather, the more of them you can add.

how to draw afterfeathers
how to draw fluffy feather

Step 9

Use ink or a ball-point pen to draw the contours of the feather (or simply press harder with your pencil).

how to draw cartoon feather tutorial

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.

Step 1

Let's start with the same sketch as in the previous section. We only need the general outline of the feather.

how to draw feather easy

Step 2

Add the afterfeathers. Make them soft and fluffy, controlling the pressure of your pen.

how to draw fluffy afterfeathers

Step 3

Darken the rachis to make it stand out.

Step 4

Take a softer brush and shade the rachis slightly, giving it a more 3D shape.

how to shade rachis detailed

Step 5

Take the softest brush and add a pinch of darkness to make the rachis even sharper in look.

how to shade feather with pencils

Step 6

Return to a hard pencil and sketch the "cuts" in the vane. 

how to draw feather cuts

Step 7

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.

how to draw feather barbs with pencil

Step 8

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.

how to shade feather vane with pencils

Step 9

Do the same around the outline of the vane. The feather should look slightly shiny afterwards.

how to shade feather in detail

Step 10

Take a softer brush and accentuate both areas without covering them all.

how to draw detailed feather
how to shade detailed feather

Step 11

Take the softest brush and accentuate certain parts with black. Don't use too much of it!

how to draw a semi realistic feather

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:

Step 1

Let's start with the feather already outlined, with its rachis darkened.

how to star tdrawing a feather with pencils

Step 2

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.

how to darken feather vane

Step 3

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.

how to usee cotton swab for drawing

Step 4

Take a softer pencil and draw tight barbs lightly...

how to color feather in black and white

... then blend them again with the cotton swab.

blending pencils

Step 5

Use the softest pencil to darken the rachis and make it look sharp.

dark rachis

Step 6

Use a soft brush to darken a part of the vane once again, but this time press harder.

dark vane

Step 7

Blend it!

how to blend feathers

Step 8

Take the softest brush and add some darkness hidden in the details.

how to add details to feather

Step 9

Smooth some parts of it out.

how to blend soft pencils with cotton swab

Step 10

Press harder to achieve the darkest black and darken the upper part of the vane, leaving some area to create shine.

how to make black  feather shine

Step 11

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.

how to draw a realistic feather with pencils

Good Job!

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:

gold duck
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