Are you interested in drawing? John James Audubon's passion for painting birds inspired others to do the same. Today, thanks to him there is more awareness on the study of birds.

Some of you maybe interested in wildlife, especially birds. If so, maybe you would like to hear about a famous wildlife artist named John James Audubon (1785-1851). He is remembered for his wonderful collection of 435 life-size paintings of American birds. In fact, he is considered to be one of the greatest wildlife artists ever born.  His life story is interesting too. The son of a sea captain, John James was born in Saint Domingue, now Haiti. Even as a child he hated the thought of birds being kept in cages.

Book of birds

When John James was older he came to live in the U.S. which was full of forests and birds. John James loved birds and painted many of them.  As a matter of fact, he was the first artist to make lifelike drawings of birds. But he could not find anyone to publish his pictures in America. So he went to Europe where it was published in four volumes. The book was called The Birds of America. The work was said to be in “Elephant folio” because each page was more than three feet wide.  The book made him famous. He later made a smaller book of the same birds when he returned to America. People say that when you look at one of Audubon’s paintings, you can almost feel the birds singing! Grown-ups and children everywhere have come to know and love birds because of Audubon’s beautiful pictures. There are many clubs worldwide called Audubon Societies to study and protect birds. Perhaps you will belong to one of them some day!

For the artist in you

Painting and sketching from life is the key. Use these sketches as aids to photographs. And use pictures that you have clicked. Please do not use them from the web.

Position your picture in relation to other elements in the frame.

Choose an animal you can spend time watching, so that you can capture its essence.

Remember when drawing from life to get maximum information in the shortest time. Sketch every ‘moment’ that catches your eye.

To brighten a painting, don’t just add white. Use other colours effectively to make the painting seem richer.

After studying your chosen subject and making lightning sketches, create a pose that you will like. Use anatomical diagrams for and rework so that you get the proportions right. 

Choose a creature that you can spend time watching to see how it behaves and even in its natural habitat. Watch how a new subject moves. Keeping in mind how a limb behaves will add realism to your work. Painting or drawing more than one animal together can add life to a composition.

Observe how they interact — do they naturally act independently or huddle together?

The right atmosphere will help you paint better. Visit a zoo or a safari park to observe them up close and personal.


His biographer writes about the time when John James was young and someone had gifted him a cage of goldfinches. John James hated to see the birds fluttering wildly inside the cage. Finally, unable to bear it any longer, he said, “Don’t be afraid, little birds, I’m your friend.” He opened the window and then the door of the cage. The goldfinches hopped out, happy to be out at last. “Fly!” whispered John James, “you are free!” He watched the birds get on to the windowsill and then fly to a tree.  They sang joyfully as they flew away. John James told his father that he had done it because he hated to see the little birds in a cage. He was afraid that his father would be angry. But surprisingly his father said, “I loved those goldfinches, too. I am glad that you set them free.” John James loved the birds so much that he made several drawings of their activities. He now showed his father one of them. “They look so real!” said his father amazed, “how did you do it?” “I watched them,” John James said. “I also watched goldfinches in the open. I watched how they moved their wings and how they held their heads when they sang — and then I drew them.” “I hope you will draw more pictures of birds,” said his father.