Blue Jays (Cyanocitta crystata) have always been one of my favourite birds to draw and one of the few species I can sketch with a fair amount of accuracy from memory (though this one was done using a photo as a reference). There’s just something about the shapes and patterns that have burned their way into my brain over the years. I think it’s because they’re one of the most colourful birds we had around the house when I was growing up.
City birds in Manitoba that are easily spotted by a child tend to be fairly subdued in their colouration; the subtle hues of sparrows and pigeons mixed with the solid blacks of crows and whites of gulls. Not blue jays; they stood out in the trees of my youth, brilliant and loud against the green foliage. So, naturally I learned to draw them, to try and capture some of that charisma on the page.
The thing is, most of my work, until very recently, was done in pencil. Sure, there was some dabbling with acrylics during my teens, but never with any great measure of success. So, recreating that brilliant blue was impossible. Then, a few years ago, I discovered coloured pencils.
It’s taken a bit of practice; but with the right amount of layering and a lot of patience, I figured out how to capture the stunning blue of this common garden bird. I started with the lighter blues first, getting darker and darker with each, successive pass. It takes hours to do this, but it’s a relaxing way to spend an afternoon, layering blue after blue until it starts looking like the bird I know and love.
A lot of people actually don’t like these guys all that much. They’re noisy, aggressive, sometimes predatory and tend to scare away the more ‘desirable’ species from feeders and backyards. However, if you take the time to get to know them, jays are fascinating birds. Part of the family Corvidae, along with crows and ravens, jays are highly intelligent, possessed of a fairly remarkable memory that allows them to remember where they’ve hidden a stash of food for later consumption as well as develop complex social systems founded on strong family bonds.
I imagine this won’t be the last blue jay I’ll draw. Even with all of the other fascinating subjects out there, these boisterous, blue birds will always catch my eye.