Realistic Parrot Drawing in 4 Steps With Photoshop

Completing a realistic parrot drawing involves looking at multiple different species to get a better idea of the overall silhouette. While it is not necessary to review all 392 different parrots, there are common traits that can be used to create a convincing parrot.

Parrots come in all shapes, sizes, and colors. In all these different species, two distinct trait is always present: a curved beak with the upper beak much larger than the bottom one, and Zygodactyly feet used for climbing and swinging. The feet looks like the letter 'X'.

Parrots are intelligent animals that have the ability to mimic human voices. While parrots are often known as pets, these birds require a lot of attention to keep them stimulated. They are high upkeep animals that may not be for everyone. Still, they are beautiful birds to have around.

On the art side of things, the challenge in learning realistic parrot drawing comes from the feathers. There are many different sizes of feathers to consider. Luckily, there is a method to draw most of the feathers will relative ease: the smudge brush.

Sketching the realistic parrot drawing

Since there are so many different types of parrots, it's a good idea to nail down a specific specie to be drawn out. This demonstration will focus on a scarlet macaw. The advantage of drawing it in black and white takes focus away from the vibrant colors and steers it towards the proper form.

On a new layer, simply draw out a sketch of the main parts of the bird. A few circles here and there are used to determine placement of the feather layers. After that, fill in the line drawing with a neutral color and continue to add in some simple shading.

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Plus, colors can always be added in later. That is the advantage of digital artworks. For the body, this bird is very slim where a large portion of the length comes from the tail feathers. As mentioned before, draw the common features of the parrot with the 'X' shaped toes and the curved beak.

The chalk brush is a great way to tab in the little layers of feathers. Start with the head and then move down towards the tail. The unique shape of the chalk brush head automatically fills in large sections of feathers so long as it is drawn according to the gesture lines.

Smudging the realistic parrot drawing

As suggested before, the smudge tool is important here to get the feathers drawn out properly. There are two ways to smudge: hard smudging and soft smudging. For soft smudging, set the pressure sensitivity to the drawing pen.

Then, using a chalk brush head, smudge large sections of the sketch to form large shaded areas of where the feathers will go. This will also get rid of any unwanted sketch lines in addition to creating more color variances. When that is done, it's time to start working on the details.

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Using all the black and white tones available through dabbing in areas of shading, set the pressure of the smudge brush to maximum and get ready to 'draw' the feathers using the hard smudging technique. Unlike soft smudging, colors are no longer blending. Instead, it is being shifted around.

A small brush head is a great way to work on the tiny feathers found in the head as well as the beak and the large white spot around the eyes. In a circular manner, draw using the smudge tool to shift the colors in a way to resemble tiny feathers, the beak, and the facial region.

Detailing the realistic parrot drawing

Continuing on with the hard smudging technique, this step is very meticulous but does wonders in dividing up the feathers and fine tuning the outline through shifting the pixels around. The only difference is that larger brush heads are used for larger feathers.

Typically, the smudge tool paired with a small chalk brush head is good enough for hard smudging out the feathers found on the wings. However, there are shading gradients between each feather where hard smudging does not help.

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These small areas of shading will need to be drawn in with a soft round brush. In essence, there is some switching required between the smudge tool and the airbrush to get the feathered regions done properly.

Another consideration is the range of color tones. Sometimes, there may not be enough blacks or whites to do a proper shifting of value to form the feathers. In those cases, the dodge and burn tools will add just a little bit more color range. Just keep at it till the entire bird is finished.

Shading the realistic parrot drawing

At last, the only thing left to do, in this guide on realistic parrot drawing, is to take the finished realistic parrot drawing and enhance the colors in addition to adding the proper shading based on the direction of the light. The shading can either be done directly on the drawing or on a separate layer first.

Drawing the shading on a separate layer allows the artist to experiment on light direction. There are still some basic rules to follow, though. There will always be some sort of fill light near the general light direction with shadows on the opposite side.

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To get nice shading gradients, use a large and soft round brush. If this is done directly on the drawing, lock the parrot layer to prevent color spilling out of the outline. An alternative is to use the dodge and burn tools as these tools will try to preserve as much of the textures as possible.

Other than that, drawing shading on another layer is best if there is uncertainty with filling in the shading. In Photoshop, this shading layer can be converted to a clipping mask so it automatically confines itself to the shape of the parrot.

For color enhancements, Photoshop has something called adjustment layers. These are layers that are automatically generated that contains special properties like brightness/contrast, gradients, color curves, etc. that can be applied globally to the entire drawing. Try it out to get amazing effects without altering any of the drawing layers underneath it.

A word of caution: while Photoshop does alter colors automatically, it is no replacement for the artist's intrinsic drawing knowledge. There are many things for which the artist has to take control and draw the parrot properly. With that said, the drawing is now complete as it is or be used to add in color later.