How to Draw an Owl with Pen and Ink

green and white leafed plantsDo you like owls? I believe these birds are truly amazing. Just think of majestic eagle owls with their serious look, cute little elf owls, or snowy owls. All of them belong to the order Strigiformes which includes a mind blowing, 200 species.

In this tutorial, we’ll walk through the process of drawing a barn owl. Hopefully, we’ll also learn a couple of fun facts about owls along the way!

First, we’ll sketch our bird with a graphite pencil to create an underdrawing. Then, we’ll complete the artwork with ink liners. I’ll be using three ink liners (numbers are 0.05, 0.1 and 0.2) on a relatively small, A4 paper size. You may use nib or dip pens, if you prefer.

Research and Sketching

I usually suggest doing some preparatory work before proceeding to the final art. Learning more about the subject of your drawing often helps to get a more realistic and credible result. Moreover, it allows you to be more relaxed in the process because you’ve already gathered some important information and know exactly how this subject should look.

However, if you are confident enough or prefer being spontaneous, feel free to skip this part.

Quick research allows me to refresh everything that I know about owls – and common barn owls in particular. Here is a brief summary…

There is a considerable variation between the sizes and color of the approximately 28 subspecies of barn owls, but we can see some common features. The barn owl is a medium-sized bird with a slender body, long wings, and a short tail.

The plumage on the head and back is a speckled shade of grey or brown. The underparts vary from white to brown and are sometimes spotted with dark markings. The face is characteristically heart-shaped, resembling a flat mask, and is white in most subspecies.

I also examine many photos and watch some videos, observing the most popular poses and general behavior of the bird’s body.

I always like to see owls when I visit a zoo – a nice habit for somebody who spends a lot of time drawing animals. By the way, if you try to hoot near a real owl, chances are that it will answer you.

The more you observe owls, the more details you’ll notice. You’ll see that every individual bird, even inside one subspecies, is unique. That’s why this tutorial is an invitation to study owls, develop a genuine interest for them – and not a “one answer to all problems” on drawing an owl.

See also: How Step-By-Step Drawing Tutorials Can Lead You Astray

At this preparatory step, just learn anything about your subject that you feel is necessary. Also, you may find it useful to sketch whatever you like: poses, patterns, faces, eyes, feet, etc. Allow yourself to be curious, without any strict rules or expectations. If you make any preparatory drawings, there’s no need to show them to anybody – unless you want to.

My research was relatively extensive. It included various species of owls, not just barn owls. Some results are in the image below. When I’m drawing, I pay close attention to the face of an owl. It’s helpful to try and capture an expression, even the mood of the bird – in addition to the accurate facial features.

Drawing the Owl with a Graphite Pencil

I outline the general shape of the head. Its width and height are nearly equal. The height of the head shape fits into the height of the body approximately 2.5 times.

With the same rough lines, I add the body and the framework of the leg that is closer to the viewer. There are four toes, but one of them is facing backwards.

I refine the head, adding the characteristic heart-like outline. To draw the eyes and the beak, I help myself by marking a center line that divides the owl’s face into two halves. Later, we’ll add feathers around and above the beak, making it resemble a nose.

I also add the eyes. The distance between them is slightly greater than the width of a single eye.

Barn owls don’t have ear tufts. By the way, all owls have excellent hearing, but barn owls have even bigger advantage.

The heart-shaped facial disk, created by the feathers, form a hollow disk around the entire face. It operates as a satellite dish – capturing and locating the sound. Two ear openings are located at both sides of the disk. As it is for other owls, the ear openings are positioned slightly asymmetrically, which allows for greater accuracy in pinpointing the exact location of a sound.

I change the contour line of the body, making it smoother and more organic. Now we have graceful curves in the breast and leg areas.

This pose, with the accent on the long owl’s wing, is chosen deliberately. I mark out some feathers to emphasize the beautiful relief, which we’ll develop in future steps. Elongated feather segments, at the wing’s lower part, make the whole shape even more eye-catching.

The legs are long and slender. They’re covered with feathers, except for the lowest parts. I also draw the long toes with talons at the ends.

The toes on the leg that is hidden are still partially visible – so I include them in this step.

Of course, we could add some hints of the second wing and a short tail, but I decided to go for a simpler pose. The goal is to accent the distinctive face and the texture of the wing that is closer to the viewer.

Let’s proceed to the inking part.

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