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Art Education

John James Audubon

John James Audubon

Birds have been the study of a lot of artists throughout history. John Audubon is the best known bird painter ever since his publication of his book of paintings, Birds of America. Artist and naturalist, he wandered the American frontier and painted detailed illustrations of birds and their native habitat showing them in dramatic poses that became a signature of his work.  In 1824, when he was 39 years old, he traveled to Europe to sell his book. He was especially famous in England and Scotland where he traveled a lot to look for engravers who could reproduce his work for print. While there he exhibited his paintings to much applause from people who’ve seldom seen images from America. Cameras were not invented for another 50 years and Europeans were very interested in the wild American frontier. There they revered Audubon as the “American Woodsman”.

Cameras were not invented for another 50 years
and Europeans were very
interested in the wild American frontier.

Audubon was born in Haiti in 1785, his father was a Frenchman, a plantation owner and Captain. In 1803 his father sent the 18 year old to America to avoid the Napoleonic Wars and the Haitian Revolution of the late 1790’s.  He drew birds at an early age and was interested in nature, drawing, painting, and music. His master piece, Birds of America, is considered one of the greatest ornithological work ever created and lead to his fame. The word ornithology comes from the Greek word ornis, which means bird. In modern day, his name has is synonymous with birds, in fact it was used to establish the National Audubon Society in his honor, an organization created to protect birds and their natural environment.

Audubon’s Birds

Learning Targets

1. I can draw a well proportioned bird by analyzing and identifying the basic shapes of the overall form.
2. I can create a detailed illustration of a bird by analyzing and identifying the complex elements of shapes within the illustrations of master ornithological illustrators.
3. I can illustrate the colored forms of a bird by applying color gradients to the different parts of the bird.
4. I can create an image that illustrates the details of different song birds from nature by emulating the painting and gradient techniques of master artists like John Audubon.

Watch how you can draw and paint complex images of birds by creating dark areas and light areas within each shape. Depending on which material you are using, apply the appropriate technique to make the color appear to gradually get lighter creating the illusion of highlight and shadow.

5. I can create different textures on a bird’s form by creating rough and smooth brush strokes when mixing and applying colors.
6. I can draw the details and patterns by analyzing and emulating patterns evident in ornithological illustrations by John Audubon.
7. I can create the texture by examining and identifying the patterns evident in the wing and tail feathers.

Student Bird Works


Vocabulary Terms

Ornithology, ornis in ancient Greek means bird, the study of birds, a branch of zoology.

Shape, the outline of an area or a form, the space made from the borders of a linear circuit.

Form, the appearance of a 3 dimensional object under light, showing highlights and shadows.

Value, the lightness or darkness of a color or a tone.

Gradient, a gradual change in color from dark to light or from color to color.

Texture, the appearance or feeling that object’s surface has tactile qualities, such as fuzzy or silky.

Pattern, the repetition of a decorative elements such as line, shape, color, theme, or design.

Detail, small items, parts or decorative features of a design or work.

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