How to draw a feather ?

If some of you like to draw Angels, Pegasus or simply birds, maybe you have already felt like making feathers fly around them. It gives movement, it can have a poetic side too and help a lot in the composition of the image.

So today we will see how to draw a traditional feather.

As always, the first step is to observe what you want to draw. As we can see, there are various types of feathers corresponding to the breed of the bird, but also to their position in the plumage and their function.

I will distinguish two main types of feathers that interest us in our case:

The pinnae (the feathers that are most often found, long and strong and are used for flying)
The tectrices which are a small down, they are a more decorative aspect


Today, we will be interested in feathers only.

Their structure is very simple: a central stem (called the rachis) on which the standard of the feather grows. The standard is made of barbs. One can also note the barbs a little less disposed and aligned at the base of the rachis. This particular area is called the hyporachis.

The barbs do not necessarily grow equally on each side. As you can see, some are sometimes longer on one side than the other. This is an important detail.


We begin by drawing the central stem. No need to make it straight, you can give it a nice and slight curve. However, keep in mind that the stem is always thicker at its base than at its tip. Also, unless it’s a trimmed nib (for writing, for example), its base will be broken off in an irregular fashion. This is a detail, but it will give more or less realism to your design.

Next, we draw the standard. As we have seen, it does not have to be perfectly even on both sides. It can even have irregular edges.

There are no specific rules about the length of the feather or the length of the standard. It depends on the breed of bird involved, and you can find extremely variable things, from very long thin feathers to very small ones with a more extensive standard. So go with your preference. Speaking of birds, did you know that there is an article on how to draw a bird? If not, check it out!

Also, you are free to give it the shape you prefer. You can make it very almond shaped, or more like an ellipse, or even make the tip a little more square. It depends on your preferences or the breed of bird you are dealing with.

I chose to go with the second option.

Inside my standard, I isolate a section which will be the hyporachis.

Note the direction of the barbs. They start from the rachis towards the outside and from the base of the feather towards its tip. It is very important, especially for the hyporachis, to have in mind the direction of the barbs.

A feather is rarely perfect, sometimes some barbs are not well aligned with the others and leave a hole between them and their neighbors. Add one following the direction of placement. There may be more towards the end of the feather rather than on its sides.

Concerning the hyporachis, the barbs are often quite ruffled or at least far from each other. So you can draw them and detail them. Make sure that your details are not too homogeneous in order to keep a maximum of naturalness.

We erase the parts of the flag that we will not use anymore.

If you have a breadcrumb eraser (I recommend it, it’s very practical), gently erase your drawing to keep a very light line. Or, if you are particularly careful, you can redo it on a nice sheet of paper with light strokes.

Next, we will fill in the stem. The stem is rarely white. Sometimes it is slightly gray, other times it is more yellow. So choose a light shade of either of these colors.

The idea here is to simply lay the colored base before detailing it.

Let’s do the same for the rest. I picked a gray feather. These are never a uniform gray. Their base is always lighter, almost white, and their tip a very dark gray, almost black. The gray in question can vary from a bluish tint to a more ochre shade. Again, I’ll let you pick the color that suits you best. I picked a more ochre shade for my part.

Be sure to take your time to get the color base just right, with a very proper shape on the banner and small, well-defined beard hairs on the hyporachis and certain areas of the banner involved.

From there, the real work begins: shading.


Let’s go back to the stem. Use a shade that is a little darker and grayer than the base color and put it on the edges of the stem. Because your stem is a cylinder. So you need to position the shadows as such. Also add some random spots. The rod is not supposed to be clean and perfect. The imperfections will make it more realistic ^^

Also, consider darkening the stem more on the tip side than on the base. Simply because the tip is covered by the banner and therefore darkened by it.

And we’re done with the stem!

Let’s move on to the rest. A feather is rarely flat, it has a certain volume. One side may be flat, but the other will be more rounded. Either way, you’ll need to darken the area around the stem slightly. Be careful with your brush/pencil strokes, whether they are digital or traditional: always respect the direction in which the beards are placed. Otherwise, your result may not be very convincing.

Also place shadows towards the end of one half of the banner (usually the larger of the two). Always respect the direction of the barbs to give the domed look.

At this stage, our feather is starting to have a good head.

We can push the vice until detailing a little the barbs (attention to remain subtle and delicate and always to follow the direction of establishment). Don’t hesitate to really blend your shadows very gently (by this I mean: don’t make them too sharp) in order to have a very soft rendering. This remark concerns only the banner, not the stem.

Last detail, we will accentuate the shadow around the stem along the base of the banner. Choose a deep gray and draw a very thin line. You can take the opportunity to stain your stem a little more if you find it still too clean.

Finally, especially for those on computer (those on paper do not need it a priori): remove your basic design. If you find that it lacks some details, don’t hesitate to add or accentuate some ^^

There you go, you’ve made a feather!

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