White-throated needletail

I noticed this bird – a Stachelschwanzsegler – White-throated Needletail – because in the guidebook it’s bodily appearance was unflatteringly described as something looking between a flying barrel and a cigar. Looking for more information on this bird online I found out that it can travel up to 105mph | 170kmh. While not the fastest bird this is still pretty fast and as far as I know faster than the other swift-type birds.

Upon reading of its travel speeds, I remembered poster designs for the Porsche racing series and wondered if I could create something similar for this bird. Thus I scribbled down the following thumbnails.

I wasn’t particularly patient that day so I jumped straight into creating the illustration. Draw the bird, draw the rest of the image. Done.

Almost.

Since I was going for a poster inspired design there wasn’t much for me to do on the background. I threw in a couple of gradients, picking colors reminiscent of vintage air travel posters, designed the bird shape to look like a cross between a flying barrel and a cigar – like the guidebook had described – and took some liberty on the wings to angle them in a way that looked as if this bird was traveling at high speed.

But it did not quite feel right. I tried to remember what the Porsche racing design posters looked like – I actually have an artbook about them, but I didn’t want to copy, so I didn’t look it up – and then changed the graphic element in the illustration. Also, I started adding the shading to the bird.

While this was interesting and I could see this work with any sort of on-the-surface-moving animal or vehicle, to me it lost all association with air-travel. So I switched back to the previous design but with minor alterations.

I like this version and I almost made this the final one – after some changes to the brighter values.

I let the image rest a night and after looking at it again, and changing the value-curves a bit as I mentioned before – I decided to for no apparent reason, alter it one more time and go dark. After adding some more lines and shapes, this now is my final version for this illustration. I like this and the previous state almost equally though, and I think there’s more to be explored in this direction. Not just because I think it would visually be exciting but also because I feel like I left potential on the table there and didn’t quite achieve what I had in my mind at the start.

Here is a crop of the illustration at 100% zoom so you can see how the noise effect looks at the actual size I create these images.

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