July 15, 2016

Behind The Scenes Of The Cooper’s Hawk Drawing

by Corrina Thurston

Cooper's Hawk, in colored pencil.
Cooper’s Hawk, in colored pencil.

Every drawing I do is an experiment and opportunity to push the window of what I can accomplish with colored pencil.

My Cooper’s Hawk was an even more experimental drawing for two reasons: it was drawn just using black, white, and grey pencils, and it was the first drawing I filmed.

When you think of colored pencil, you probably don’t think of black and white, you probably think of, well, colors!

Typically when I do a drawing in black and white, I use graphite pencils, but this time I decided to do the drawing in colored pencil to experiment with the limited color palette.


Cooper’s Hawk As A Work In Progress:

Below is the image as I first started drawing it. I always start with just a line drawing of the image (the hardest part for me!) and then move on to other sections. In this case the next sections were the beak and the eye. I love drawing eyes and almost always work on those first in a drawing.

You can barely see also that I put a layer of white colored pencil down over the line drawing. This is so I can etch away layers later on, and have the etch marks show up white because of that layer.

Screen Shot 2016-07-13 at 9.31.28 PM
Work in progress of the Cooper’s Hawk drawing. I started with a line drawing and then moved on to the eye and beak.

After working on the beak and the eye, I moved on to the top of the head and the face of the bird, mapping out the feathers and the stripes.

Cooper's Hawk colored pencil drawing, work in progress.
Cooper’s Hawk colored pencil drawing, work in progress.

As the face starts to come together, it’s all about mapping out the lines in the feathers. Some of them were lightly marked in the line drawing, but most of them I had to map out as I was drawing them.

The nice thing about a drawing like this is that if you draw the feathers a little off from how they are in real life, it’s okay. No one will know if the hawk actually has more or less stripes in the feathers than what you draw in.

The most important thing for a drawing like this to come out realistically, is to have the proportions correct for where to place the eye and beak, and then in the minute details of the feathers, and the shine of the eye.

Cooper's Hawk in colored pencil, work in progress.
Cooper’s Hawk in colored pencil, work in progress.

Once I get the piece mostly finished, I take an x-acto knife, which you can see in a couple of the images above, and etch away some of those finer details in the feathers. I can do this because of that white layer I put down in the beginning because the knife will etch away all the top layers and get down to that first layer again.

With the x-acto knife, I can etch away to get tiny lines of white in the feathers, and then color over those again, etch again, color again, until I get the feathery look I want.

Using the x-acto knife takes practice! The first time I used it was on my Ocelot drawing, and I ripped right through my paper. So if you try this, be gentle!


Filming The Cooper’s Hawk Drawing:

The second experimental part of this drawing was the fact that I filmed the entire process! This was the first drawing I filmed.

I filmed it so I could create a time-lapse video of the drawing, where I show the entire drawing process, which in this case was about 8 hours, in a 3-minute video!

Check out the time-lapse video here and subscribe to my YouTube channel to see more videos as I do them!


I found all sorts of new challenges with this drawing because I was filming myself.

For example, normally I’m hunched over my drawing, my face only a few inches away from the paper so I can closely inspect the details I’m laying down. But I couldn’t do that with this drawing because my head was get in the way of the camera. This meant I had to sit back away from the table so the camera could see over my shoulder. This was annoying at first, but it certainly helped my posture!

I also had to work in specific time chunks, instead of being able to work on it as I felt like it. If the tape in the camera was done (each hour), then I had to stop, put my pencils down, take the tape out, insert a new one, make sure nothing had changed in the camera, and start up again.

The nice thing about the tapes is that I didn’t have to log or guess how much time I put into drawing this piece. With 8 tapes full of video, I knew I had drawn for exactly 8 hours!

Screen Shot 2016-07-13 at 9.33.15 PM
In my studio drawing the Cooper’s Hawk, with the video camera.

I also had to keep reminding myself not to move the drawing. Typically, I’ll twist and turn the drawing to get the best angle for whichever area I’m working on, but for this video to work, I had to leave the drawing pad in its place. This meant I had to work at my drawing table the whole time, which is rare for me as I usually switch up my work location, and I had to keep the drawing in the same spot on the table.

These were all adjustments I had to make, many of which were annoying or frustrating at first, but as I kept working, I started to realize the benefits of each one. My posture was better, I likely wasn’t working my eyes quite as hard, I was forced to keep drawing while the camera was on and not check my phone or email or consider any other distractions, which kept me more productive and focused. I challenged myself with having to keep the drawing in place and having to change the tapes in the camera made a good routine that forced me to stand up and walk around every hour, instead of sitting the whole time.


Prints Available!

XXL Canvas print of the Cooper's Hawk drawing.
XXL Canvas print of the Cooper’s Hawk drawing.

If you have interest in ordering a print of this drawing, like the canvas print shown above, check out the options here! And if you want a bigger print than what’s available in my shop, feel free to ask me!


This was a great piece to draw and I thoroughly enjoyed it. It was the fastest colored pencil drawing I have ever done!

I would be remiss if I didn’t thank the awesome photographer, Crystal Stacey, from Feathered Edge Photography, for allowing me to use her photograph to draw from! Without it, this piece never would have come to life and I appreciate her generosity with her amazing photos. You may see more bird of prey drawings in the future from me that are based on her photos!



4 thoughts on “Behind The Scenes Of The Cooper’s Hawk Drawing

  1. TERRIFIC. Thanks for sharing all your knowledge. He is wonderful.

    1. Thanks so much, Diane! Glad you like it!

  2. This is an incredible image Corrina, you did a wonderful job with this capture. I am so glad I found this image so I could include it in our publication. Please note, it is now circulated all over the US, Canada and Europe, so I hope it brings you some well-deserved recognition.

    Let me know if you have any future bird of prey works coming up . . . I would LOVE to see them.

    Dan Milner
    Editor, North American Falconers Association.

    1. Thanks so much, Dan! I’m so glad you like it and hope your readers will too! I’ll let you know when I do upcoming birds of prey! Thanks again!

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