I particularly remember one day in art class when he was trying to do a pencil drawing of a hawk. He was struggling with the feathers of the bird's shoulder. His drawing looked very similar to the re-creation I did in the above photo. He knew all about lesser and greater coverts, secondaries and primaries etc. What he could'nt do was make them look natural.
He was far from satisfied with his results and we were discussing the difficulty of making feathers look right. I wanted to help him but I did'nt know how to properly render bird feathers either. The art teacher was fully aware of our discussion, but she felt that it was her job to encourage artistic self expression rather than to teach technique. I assumed at the time that she did'nt help us because she could'nt draw feathers either.
This Red-throated Loon demonstrates how the feathers follow the curved form of the bird, with some cast shadow to create the illusion of three dimensions. It has the added feature of some reflected light at the back of the bird.
The technical challenge of pulling that off is something that amazes me. I analized that painting for hours on end. It helps to have a strong light source for that kind of a painting to emphazise the bird's form.
The painting above depicts a pair of Trumpeter Swans that I observed in Potter Marsh, south of Anchorage. Notice the mix of warm and cold tones beneath the swan's plummage, and especially in the cast shadows.