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Turkey Drawing: a Rant About How Hard it Is

I wanted to call this lesson “Easy Turkey Drawing” and confidently place it in my round-up of cute animal drawings… but that was before I actually began trying to create a cartoon beyond an elementary-school-style “traced-hand turkey.” ARGH — it turns out that drawing turkeys is HARD!

You’d think I wouldn’t have this problem. I’ve been an artist and teacher for years, and have hand-drawn every illustration on this site, from bat drawings to sea urchins, with ease… but this bird is different. Here’s why.

Drawing of a turkey, black and white
My drawing of a turkey in black and white.

Turkey Drawing Stress

Before we start, I want to clarify that we’re talking here about the bird called a turkey, not the country called Turkey with the Hagia Sophia landmark! So, here’s why this particular poultry is so difficult to sketch.

1. Turkeys have so many parts!!!

Unlike our snowman drawing, which basically just has three circles on top of each other, a turkey has a TON of complicated body parts. There’s the red or pink “wattle” and “snood” under the curved beak. There’s the rotund body and the wings — and then there are layers and layers of feathers in back!

To make the sketch above, I pored over dozens and dozens of photos of real turkeys — and still probably missed some key aspects in my art. Sheesh — this made me long for the simplicity of octopus drawing.

Turkey drawing
Turkey drawing frustration.

2. Turkey colors vary widely — and are often dull.

I have a passion for bright colors, and though real turkeys have more shades than just brown, for the most part they’re pretty dull hues. When I inked in my drawing, above, I opted for a surprising dusty blue for the body because my research revealed that some turkeys really do have that color!

3. Shading and highlights become difficult.

As you’ve likely seen in my tutorials like “Mushroom Drawing,” I usually have a third illustration in my art lessons which show how to add shading and highlights — but in the case of a turkey, it’s just too crazy. Again — just gaze at photos of the actual birds. They have a zillion different colors of feathers mixed together, and the rolls of their bodies are intense to shade.

Turkey Drawing, in Sum

Now I know why easy “hand turkeys” are so popular — trying to actually create a turkey drawing using the real birds as guides is wild! So what about you? Do you also find it a challenge? What other holiday drawings would you like me to illustrate? Do share!

Want more for Thanksgiving? Check out “What is the Plural of Turkey?”