[Birds That Swim But Don’t Fly]

I’m sure you know what kind of birds I’m talking about.

Penguins. Yes, lovely, waddling, cute penguins. They are such intriguing creatures. Penguins have wings but they can’t fly. They don’t have fins but they spend a lot of their time under the water. According to Google, there are 17 species of penguin. Before I worked on this new piece, which I will be talking about soon, I didn’t even know there are 17 different kinds of them!

A couple of days ago, I decided to create a piece about penguins knowing that today would be World Penguin Day. I sat down at my desk and began my research. I managed to collect some pictures of penguins before I completely lost myself in baby penguin pictures. I drew a few penguin faces to see which one was my favorite and to feature in my piece.

Penguin sketches

Here I included a Gentoo, an African penguin, a Chinstrap, a baby Emperor, a Magellanic penguin and an Emperor penguin. I think my favorite is the Chinstrap. They look so goofy and harmless with that single strap going around their faces. There is one kind of penguin that’s not in my test drawing and that is the Rockhopper. They are just too much for me to handle. If you Google Rockhoppers, you will see many boy bands with attitude and bad ass hairstyle.

Though my favorite penguin is the Chinstrap, I chose to feature a Gentoo in my piece. I just thought that the strap will look too distracting and make me feel like laughing all the time. My second favorite, the Gentoo penguin, would be the poster boy in my piece. After deciding which penguin to draw, I needed something to go with it. When thinking of penguins I think of coldness even though not all penguins live in or around Antarctica. Anyway I imagined this penguin was about to enjoy a very tasty ice cream! I quickly created a draft to combine the two.

Draft one of Penguin & Ice cream

This penguin seemed slightly too big. I wanted the size of the ice cream to overpower it a little bit. Just to create a visual impact.

After evaluating the first draft, I quickly drew another one. This time I drew a smaller Gentoo and added more detail.

Draft two of Penguin & Ice cream

Knowing that once I put down the ink there is no way back. I prepared a few texture tests on whipped cream and some ice cream.

First thing I tried was whipped cream.

whipped cream_practice
Texture test on whipped cream

Whipped cream is really difficult to work with. Though it seemed to have a certain shape, the details and shades were hard to depict. To get the shading right, I had to dot very slowly and lightly. There are a few ways to cope with the shades, just like different penguin species have different ways of attracting a mate. King Penguins, for example, sing long songs with their partners. Gentoo Penguin males give their mates gifts of small pebbles or stones. For penguins, bonding is an important part of raising a chick. For whipped cream, patience is an important part of achieving a nice texture.

After whipped cream, I worked on the ice cream.

ice cream_practice
Texture test on ice cream

This particular one I drew is strawberry flavored. You just have to imagine the color yourself. This pink will be very unique to you. Do you know what is very unique as well? Penguins’ coloring. Their unique coloring is called “countershading. ” To predators looking down from above, the penguins’ black backs help them blend into the dark ocean. To predators looking up from underwater, the penguin’s white belly blends in against the light sky and snow. However my strawberry ice cream doesn’t have such special coloring. It is also tricky to draw because of its randomly cracked and grainy surface.

After these two texture tests, I decided to just work on the piece straight away and see how it goes.

Progress of Penguin & Ice cream

The whipped cream and ice cream looked nice. The chocolate sauce was a bit intimidating in the beginning. It was so dark. I’m glad it turned out quite okay. One thing I have to mention is that the cherry on top is very distinct. Just like each penguin has a distinct call, which allows individual penguins to find their mates and chicks even in the largest groups.


After working on the glass I moved onto the Gentoo. Finally.

penguin and ice cream

You can see that my Gentoo has a very round tummy. Penguins often slide on their tummies over ice and snow. This is called tobogganing. Researchers believe they do this for fun and as an efficient way to travel. As for my Gentoo, it simply wants to put this yummy ice cream in its tummy.

After hours of drawing, this piece was almost done.

Before post production

As you may notice, the glass was still empty here. If it’s not colored no one would know what’s really in the glass. It could be ice cream. It could be salt water. Imagine how disappointing it would be for someone to look at an ice cream but taste salt water. But that wouldn’t trouble a penguin too much. You see, penguins can drink salt water because they have a special gland, the supraorbital gland, that filters salt from the bloodstream. I know, very interesting. Alright. I would still like to put ice cream in the glass so it’s time to send this little guy and its dessert to post production.

I know I’ve been trying to sneak some fun facts about penguins in this post. I just can’t help but share with you some of the things I learned about them during my research. Hope you enjoy these little facts as much as I do.

Here are some details of the finished piece.


For a look at the final drawing, please click here. Hope you like this piece!

Happy World Penguin Day!

12 thoughts on “[Birds That Swim But Don’t Fly]

  1. Wonderful clarity of contrasting images. I really like this behind-the-scenes of how you came up with the final image which I might entitle “Sweet and Cute” … I didn’t know Penguins could drink salt water – wow! Thanks for sharing.

    Liked by 1 person

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