Tutorial: Drawing an Atlantic Puffin

Completed Puffin DrawingAtlantic Puffins are a summertime visitor to the rocky shores of Maine and a perfect subject for a summer drawing tutorial.

Supplies: Throughout this demonstration I will be using an HB graphite pencil, a kneaded eraser, and 80 lb. drawing paper. If you want to color your drawing like I did then you will also need the following colored pencils (from the Prismacolor Premiere line) – canary yellow, yellow ochre, orange, poppy red, light blue, 70% cool gray, 30% warm gray, indigo, light umber, dark umber, brown, black, and white. If you don’t have these exact supplies don’t worry just use whatever you have in your art box.

Notes: In order to make it easier to see my process I have darkened the images. As you follow along please remember to keep your pencil marks light. The initial lines are guidelines so you want them to be light to make it easier to erase them once all of the details have been added. I have also colored some of lines to make it easier to see the transitions between steps. This is only for demonstration purposes. You just need to use your graphite pencil for the entire drawing.

Step 1: Blocking in Basic Shapes

Step 1

Begin by drawing the simplest shapes. Draw a large oval for the body and a small circle for the head. Pay attention to the head placement and size, it is easy to make the head too large or put it too far back on the body.

Next, draw a line to mark where the beak and eye will be.

Draw a line to represent the tail. The tail begins at a point inside the body oval.


Step 2: Initial Details

Step 2

Carefully observe the angles of the neck and draw those lines in. There is an angle at the back of the puffin’s head, be sure to indicate that. Birds are not round like snowmen, there are angles that happen between the transitions of the head, neck, and body be sure to indicate those so your bird has a more life-like feel.

Check your proportions before going any further. Once you add details it is more difficult to go back and make corrections. Ask yourself – is the size of the head in proportion to the body? Is the eye beak line at the correct angle? Have the angles between the head, neck, and body been indicated?

Step 3: Building Up Your Drawing

Step 3

Slowly begin to build up your drawing by adding more details. Begin by indicating the outer ring of the eye and the general shape of the beak.

Use simple lines to indicate the placement of the feathers. There is not a lot of detail in the wings so you only need to indicate where the colors change.

Draw the position of the tail feathers.

Finally use simple lines to indicate the legs and feet. I chose to have my bird balance on a rock so I added the general shape of the rock after positioning the feet. You want to avoid drawing the object your bird is resting on before you draw the legs and feet. If you draw it the opposite way there is a tendency to stretch the legs to meet the branch, rock, etc.

Step 4: Refining Your Drawing

Step 4Continue to add finer details to your drawing. Indicate the colored areas of the beak and use light lines to indicate the cheek area.

Build up the legs and feet. The foot facing us is at the steep angle to balance the bird. Take your time drawing this, you want to be sure the angle of the toes is correct otherwise your bird may look unnatural. Once you are satisfied erase any stray lines and marks that won’t be part of your finished drawing using your kneaded eraser. At this stage you could stop and you would have a very nice line drawing of a puffin. But, I like color so I continued on with the next step.

Step 5: Adding Color

In my reference photo the puffin was facing into the sun so the back of his head and tail were in shadow. Knowing this helps me plan where to place the darkest colors so it gives my bird a more realistic feel. You can refer to the drawing at the top of the page for color placement.

I began by adding color to the eye using brown for the iris, black for the pupil, and poppy red for the outer eye ring.

The beak was a mixture of poppy red, orange, canary yellow, yellow ochre, and 70% cool gray. I used white on the tip of the beak to blend and dull the color a bit.

For the areas of the head, neck, wings, and tail I used 70% cool gray in the lighter areas and gradually added indigo and black to the areas in shadow.

The feet were done in orange with light and dark umber added to create form.

In the lightest areas of chest I used light blue with white over it to blend and soften the color. In the shadowy areas of the chest I layered yellow ochre and 30% warm gray. Again, I used the white to blend and soften the color. The rock was a mixture of light umber, brown, and 30% warm gray.

I hope you enjoyed this tutorial. If you have any questions about drawing a puffin or if there is something you would like me to draw for a future tutorial please send me a message.

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