Book review: Capturing the essence- techniques for bird artists

If you, like me, are interested in painting wildlife, then Capturing the Essence- techniques for bird artists (<—you can see a preview on this link) by Australian artist William T. Cooper, is a beautiful book to read.

The book not only covers all the essentials on how to get started on painting and drawing birds, but also covers a few step-by-step paintings in a variety of mediums (watercolours, acrylics, and oils). While I much prefer books that go into depth on techniques rather than getting you to follow the steps in a paint by numbers approach, this book is entirely the opposite of this and definitely has some of the most  informative projects I have seen in an art book. I found the step-by step stages to be very useful particularly the full page colour photographs of the paintings as they progressed from stage to stage. It is inspirational to see how such a talented artist works in depth. In addition, the projects section is less than 1/2 of the overall volume of the text, the rest is packed full of information on how to get into painting birds.


The author emphasises the importance of knowing your subject very well before attempting painting them, and provides many suggestions about how to get to know birds better.



The other thing I love about this book is the detailed illustrations, especially in the first section (Part A- the basics), which covers things like composition of paintings, bird anatomy, as well as tips on sketching from life and painting backgrounds. The illustrations to describe bird anatomy are very detailed and beautiful, with illustrations of skeletons, wings, feathers, beaks and feet, with useful technical information to back up observations. The mix of sketches and finished work is just wonderfully designed and would have to be the most beautiful book I have seen on the subject.


What more can I say? I love this book and would definitely recommend this book to anyone who loves wildlife art, even if all you do is look at the beautiful paintings and don’t even pick up a paint brush (though you will definitely be inspired to after reading this!).

See more about William T. Cooper on his website. He also has a very interesting section on his site with videos of himself working!! Check them out.

William T Cooper – Andrew Isles from sarahscragg on Vimeo.

All images used with permission. 


monday morning inspirations

just some inspiring words from goethe for your monday morning!

goethequote Last week I was at the art shop and managed to pick up this schminke calligraphy gouache at clearance price! its a pearly red colour- would be great for christmas cards! was fun to quickly letter up this quote (its more sparkly IRL).


The quote itself I heard on one of Will Terrell’s videos. Will Terrell is a very talented comic artist. If you haven’t seen any of his youtube videos yet- I really encourage you to. he shares a lot of amazing information about drawing as well as advice on life on general and on becoming a better artist. The video below is the one where the quote was mentioned. I also highly recommend his people sketching series!

That’s all for this random Monday post. Hope you have an awesome day!


scientific drawings 1

As I mentioned in my new year post– this year I am studying a graduate paper in scientific illustration through University Nebraska-Lincoln distance program. Scientific and natural history illustration is something I am really interested in, and the course has been great so far- learning lots of technical and drafting skills.

I thought I’d post some of the work I’ve done so far…

Male Tree Weta, pencil
Camoflaged spider crab, crowquill pen and ink/ rapidographs
Puriri (Vitex lucens) leaf
Kauri Snail shell, pen+ink, vectorised

All of the specimens used for the drawings had to be collected by the student, or borrowed. I went collecting a few weeks ago at a nearby beach, and as the tide was out, walked around the rocks. Guess what I found hiding out in the deepest rock pools!


There were actually heaps of these guys- as I climbed up to photograph this one, all the others were clattering away under rocks. The only reason I managed to take this photo is this guy was stuck in a little pool on the top of a rock (don’t worry- he stayed there too! I only collected shells and a freshly dead crab for my drawings). He had beautiful purple vein patterns on his claws 🙂

Amazing what you find once you start looking!



Motivation- creating the right environment to create

Recently, I did a thorough clean out of my workspace, (in reality= a corner of my desk, which included my computer and various piles of other paper work) as I was beginning to realise that it was frustrating and unproductive environment for two main reasons:

1. too many ‘other’ things cluttering the area– receipts, work things, letters, they all take up work space and brain space (even if you don’t realise it at the time)

2. the laptop. What a HUGE distraction. In the past you may have found me nursing my healthy collection of pinterest boards and searching for ‘inspiration’. I have since come to realise that this results in zero work being done. And that I am actually going to get nowhere by somehow waiting for the day when my own work will suddenly become cool enough to be pinned. Not cool.  Its hard to create your own work but even harder if you don’t try at all.

All up- not a hugely motivating work space! Which leads me to…

The make-over

In attempt to change this- I decided to make the area mine , and mine alone (no distractions!)- creating a clean and fresh environment to (hopefully) develop my own work. While finding  inspiration is very important (and there are hundreds of wonderfully inspiring illustrators/artists out there), it shouldn’t be (completely) replacing your own work time.

So, instead, I did a few things:

Seperation: I bought a new desk (actually an old wooden table which I stripped the paint off and restored with painted white legs!) which now houses my computer, paperwork and blog stuff (ie all the distractions), seperate from my art area.

Dedication: My old hybrid desk/ email centre/ art nook, is now entirely dedicated to creating- with my drawing board permanently set up instead of having to be tidied away.


– Organisation: I have built in some extra shelves above my desk to hold all my books and sketch books. Also created a filing system for ‘in progress work’, ‘study work’, ‘sketchbooks in use’, ‘scrap paper’ etc. Finally I have plenty of space left over!

Decoration– with a beautiful vintage black anglepoise lamp gifted to me by my sister (great light source) and walls covered with prints of some amazing art I admire. Collected feathers, shells and leaves.

old wooden bowl+collected feathers+shells+eucalypt leaves= decoration

No more moving papers and spending too much time avoiding drawing because the computer is there and just so much easier. And its a relief.  So, what I recommend to all of you who do not have a space set aside for your art- do it! By creating your own space devoid of clutter and distractions, not only do you save time in set up/tidy up time and procrastination, your mind will be calmer and clearer and most importantly of all, you will have committed to your passion of creating, which can make a big difference!

Other optional additions I think make for a great art space:

  • plants! they are green, they create fresh oxygen and they liven the space up. As long as you remember to water them of course… (this is coming from a serial plant killer)
love succulents
  • art and design that inspires you– images/objects/furniture that you admire makes your space more enjoyable to be in. This doesn’t need to be fancy! Op shopping is great for vintage lamps, furniture, photo frames etc. Prints of your favourite artwork don’t have to be expensive (I like to buy a postcard of my favourite artwork for a couple of dollars every time I go to the art gallery/museum and stick it on my wall)
working on an illustration of puriri tree leaves

Most importantly it has to be functional. I have noticed, since I set up this new work desk configuration, how much time I spent on the laptop in the past. By having a discrete art desk/computer area its easy to see how long I spent at each desk, and in the beginning of this project- I am afraid to say not a whole lot of time was spent at my art desk…

I am now cutting down computer time- which means more time for creating. This is a work in progress (hopefully I have something to show for it!) but it will be the subject of my next Motivation post.

Thanks for reading. If you have any suggestions on this topic (I’m sure you do!) please post a comment 🙂


silvereye sketch

pencil, 2013
pencil, 2014

A little life-size drawing I did of a silvereye found dead in the garden. Silvereyes are tiny birds which move around in large groups, this one measured only about 8 cm long. They have beautiful colouration- olive green and fawn.

loving this song at the moment- thought I would share it on here 🙂

Hope you are having a great weekend,


new year- new post

Dear readers,

This is the first post of the new year- and its already the start of February! How did that happen?


I have a lot of plans for this little blog for the next year, so I just thought I’d let you know about some of them.

Its been almost a year since I started up Drawing Escape, and I feel like while I’ve learnt a lot, I still have a fair way to go in getting this blog-thing running right- especially in getting regular (interesting) posts out. This means that I am going to decrease the wordy-ness of a lot of the posts I write- and post more visuals of work I (hopefully) do with all that saved time ;). I have also started an instagram account that I am going to try and post on as much as possible. The wordy posts will be limited to once a fortnight or so and will include a few new things:

  • interviews with inspiring professional illustrators, and people who have combined professional science careers with art
  • tutorials and product reviews
  • giveaways (I am hoping to do a least a few this year)
  • focussed articles– next week I’ll be starting a series of articles on ‘finding motivation to get work done’ which is something I personally struggle with sometimes (um, pinterest obsession?), and is my personal goal to get more work done this year! Hopefully something in there might be helpful to someone.

In addition, I am hoping to get more of a focus on scientific and natural history illustration, because that is why I initially started this site. I’m currently doing a graduate course in scientific illustration and will be showing more of my work from there on here.

My personal goal for this year:

written with my new Kuretake no.8 fountain brush pen!

As Goethe said- “Until one is committed there is the chance to draw back, always ineffectiveness. Concerning all acts of initiative and creation, there is one elementary truth – the ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans: that the moment one definitely commits oneself then providence moves too.”

To not feel bad about spending time doing what I love- drawing and art, and getting more work done as a result!

Here’s to an exciting year ahead!

Q: do you have any favourite quotes or goals for the coming year? Share them for everyone below.

Merry Christmas tags- free download

Merry Christmas! I just wanted to say a big thank you to everyone who is now following this little blog.


As a little thank you for visiting this little corner of the internet this year, I have made some hand-painted christmas gift tags for you to download for free. The little birds are inspired by the New Zealand fantail. Hopefully, like me, you still have presents to wrap and can use these to decorate your parcels.  Just a little thanks for visiting this little corner of the internet this year!

Here is a link to download the front, and the back of the tags! Download both, and print double sided onto card stock, or like I did, use some heavy watercolour paper. I got these printed with laser, but I think inkjet would probably look even nicer.



I also made some wrapping paper using recycled brown packing paper and potato stamps- inspired by this tutorial on etsy. It took surprisingly less time than I thought- I made about 3 metres of wrapping paper in about 15mins- great at this busy time of year.


Check out the rest of the DIY advent series on etsy- they have some really nice decorations and gifts you can make as well.

Finally- I hope you have a merry christmas


gannet greetings

Hi everyone,

I hope you are enjoying the festive season! Today I thought I would finally get back to posting some other illustration projects I’ve been working on. I mentioned before that I volunteer at a local bird rescue charity. Recently I was asked by them to do an illustration for a ‘Thank you’ greeting card. I came up with a few ideas, but the one I liked the most was of two gannets greeting one another. Gannets (in New Zealand the most common gannet is the Australasian gannet, Morus serrator) engage in a behaviour called bill fencing, which is a sort of greeting display. If you haven’t seen them before they also have a very cool behaviour- a torpedo-like dive- that they do from mid air to catch fish underwater (see a video of that here <– after watching this you’ll see why they need such flippery feet!).I thought the gannet greeting was quite a nice idea for the card.

Here is the final artwork, done in acrylics, with a watercolour wash background (is it really bad to mix the two mediums??- I never have before and was sort of expecting it to be a disaster!) on Fabriano watercolour paper.


and then put together all the design elements in photoshop, including a hand-lettered ‘thank you’:


It was a great project to work on. If anyone is interested I am thinking of doing a tutorial on how I made the vectorised signature at the bottom corner. Its so useful to be able to add your signature digitally after scanning in artwork!

Until next time,


Calligraphic#4 an inspiration


That just about wraps up the week of calligraphic quotes. As you may have noticed I was rather slack and didn’t manage to post something every day! Anyway- its probably time the blog got back to illustrations, as I fear its turning into a calligraphy blog! I will post hand lettering from time to time as its something I’m really enjoying, otherwise I will post things on the newly created Hand Lettering page.

In my last lettering link of this series, I am going to feature a few very inspiring calligraphers- because its always nice to look at how the pro’s do it:

1. Molly Jacques

2. Angelique Ink

3. Maybelle Imasa-Stukuls

4. Stephanie Fishwick (who also incidentally has a lovely introduction on how to get started in calligraphy)

I hope you are enjoying the lead up to Christmas- will have some more festive-themed posts coming up soon!