Bird flourishes hold a special place in the history of Western script calligraphy. Among illustrative calligraphy art (meaning that which draws images rather than letters), birds may be the most repeated motif over the past two hundred years. Their dynamic curves and long feathers lend themselves beautifully to the elegant strokes of a pointed calligraphy pen.
Above: examples of nineteenth-century calligraphic bird flourishing
In this tutorial, I will teach you a modern version of this centuries-old design. I drew this flourished, festive swallow with an olive branch in its beak for my 24 Days of Calligraphy event, where I am revealing a free calligraphy practice sheet every day until Christmas. You can download the practice sheets yourself for free to follow along in Procreate, or print them to draw with ink on paper!
Procreate calligraphy brush
I am using the Classic Pointed Pen brush from my very own pack, The Ultimate Lettering & Calligraphy Procreate Kit. You can use any of the brushes in my pack’s Pointed Pen set to follow along with this tutorial, because all of them create elegant, fine hairlines and thick swells. If you are a beginner to pointed pen calligraphy and want to learn how to use this type of pressure-sensitive brush, check out my lettering brush video tutorial (the pointed pen lesson starts at 01:17).
Step 1: Body
Start with a loose, freehand swirl on the right side of your canvas. This stroke starts from the right, moves downward to the left, and swirls clockwise. Don’t worry if your flourish is rounder or narrower than mine – birds come in lots of shapes and sizes!
Step 2: Beak
Return to the starting point of the first stroke. Draw your pen upward and create four small strokes which meet and change direction at sharp points. Now you have your bird’s beak!
Step 3: Head
The bird’s head is one simple downstroke, which should be drawn from right to left. Start at the end point of the beak and move down and to the left as you draw. Increasing your pressure toward the beginning and decreasing again toward the end creates the beautiful swell in the stroke’s width.
Step 4: Tail
Now for some really fun flourishing! The primary shape of the tail consists of a long, overlapping flourish, but don’t worry – it’s not as hard as it looks! Start close to the left side of the bird’s body, but leave a small space between the body and tail. Draw your first stroke to the left and slightly upward. When the length of this stroke is just a bit longer than the bird’s body, curve the stroke down into the swirl pictured above. Once your pen comes back to just under your starting point, create a final curve by moving left and downward.
Step 5: Wing
Starting at the top tip of the wing, draw your pen downward in a loose, S-shaped curve. End this stroke in the space between the bird’s head and body. Draw your pen upward again, curving around the swirl of the body. Loop over into a downstroke, which will intersect the bird’s body and end roughly in the center of its belly.
Step 6: Tail feathers
Now it’s time to fill in the spaces above and below the tail with feathers. Draw simple, curved strokes – two above and one below – which follow the general curved shape of the tail itself.
Step 7: Wing feathers
Similarly, fill in the space of the wing with three curved downstrokes of varying lengths. I like to start with the middle stroke, which I make the longest, then add the other two to fill in the remaining space.
Step 8: Eye
Don’t be fooled by the size of this stroke. It may be small but it’s not exactly easy to get right the first time. It’s okay if you have to tap undo a few times before you get an eye you’re happy with! Start by drawing a small upward curve with slight pressure on the pen, then end in a small loop that connects to roughly the middle of the curve.
Step 9: Branch
While you could consider your bird flourish complete after Step 8, I like to add this olive branch as a finishing touch. Start with the primary stem. Draw a downstroke beginning above the beak and ending below it, curving out to the right. To make it look like the branch is in the bird’s mouth, erase just the part of the stem that overlaps the top beak. Then add your leaves as short, curved strokes, starting at the stem and moving outward.
Your bird flourish is complete!
Voilà! Congratulations on drawing a beautiful, flourished bird illustration. Feel free to experiment with the proportions and curves to create endless variations. And remember to have fun!
Free practice sheets
You can download printable and Procreate practice sheets of this design – and dozens of others! – from Molly’s Lettering Toolkit, my 100% free archive of lettering exercises, calligraphy exemplars, and Procreate brushes.
This article was contributed by the lovely designer and hand lettering artist Molly Suber Thorpe of Molly Suber Thorpe. Molly loves teaching and has done a lot of Procreate tutorials, and also kindly put together this tutorial to share with our community. To explore more of her work and tutorials, you can find her on Instagram and her website.