Aims of the exercise: To do a series of small sketches of the animal in different poses and experiment with different media. Try to capture the essence of the animal’s poses and texture. When comfortable with the animal, make a drawing on a large sheet of paper.
What I experienced and what I learnt from that:
I don’t have any pets myself and do not know many people with pets which presented a certain amount of a problem for this part of the course. I am lucky enough though to have a wildlife park reasonably nearby and once I had taken a deep breath and paid for a pass it did mean that I could revisit multiple times without it costing anymore, so that was one problem solved, all I had to worry about now was trying to draw animals, from life, in public, surrounded by lots of people. Hmmn!
I did get a chance to draw a friend’s cat for about 10-15 minutes, A5 sketchbook p.76 (please see figure 1) so drew a couple of quick sketches in biro. He is a beautiful cat and I haven’t done him justice. The first thing I learnt was that even if an animal looks asleep that doesn’t stop it moving and as soon as you put pen to paper they appear to wake up! I enjoyed trying these and because the opportunity to do them was unexpected I didn’t have time to overthink it and just went for it. I do however need to try and not be so hesitant with my mark-making.
On my first visit to the wildlife park I used a Rotring graphic 0.1 pen to draw with as I knew I wouldn’t be able to keep stopping and rubbing out. The aspect I found hardest was capturing proportions accurately on something that moves. I found I was tending to draw the bit that was moving less first, so if the body was stiller I was tending to draw this first and then add the head, and I found trying to keep everything in proportion incredibly difficult. My visual memory just wasn’t good enough to be able to fix shape, posture, and proportion in my head so I was tending to draw parts rather than the whole and then joining them together. I would look as carefully as I could but fixing that overall shape in my head, when it was moving and changing all the time, I found extremely difficult. A5 sketchbook pages 88-91 (please see figures 2 -5). But trying was quite liberating. I think that I was so bad at it that it meant that I didn’t worry about the drawings, I just really enjoyed trying them and thoroughly enjoyed really looking at the animals. I didn’t come away with a huge number of drawings but I felt very pleased to have tried them and felt it was a start.
I saw a horse in a field, when I was on my way back from an appointment and took the opportunity to have a go at drawing it. It was moving and grazing constantly and I really struggled to get the proportions right and again concentrated too much on trying to capture the shape as an outline and therefore didn’t show volume. It was then joined by a small ? Dartford kind of pony who I managed to make look more like a cow, poor thing, but I did manage a bit more volume with him. I enjoyed attempting these but they demonstrated very well how important it is to have an awareness of what it going on beneath the skin anatomy wise and also visualising basic 3D shapes (something I find very hard) to give a framework for visualising volume. Small square sketchbook pages 55-57 (please see figures 6-8)
On the next visit to the wildlife park, the following week, I mainly concentrated on drawing the flamingos as the park was very busy and they were in one of the quieter corners and meant that though quite a few people passed through I wasn’t in anyone’s way. I spent 2½ hours watching these. I tried a variety of media, watersoluble graphite, 2B graphite pencil, fibre tips and colour pencil in combination, white gel pen on black paper, and finally combined 2B and 4B graphite pencils but still only managed small sketches as I was finding it difficult to enlarge what I was seeing. A5 sketchbook pages 94-96 (please see figures 9-11 ). When I first started drawing them they were pretty active. Again, I struggled to capture proportions. They were fascinating birds with extremely flexible necks and a bill shape that I found very difficult to capture accurately, particularly as it was either never still or tucked into the birds plummage. One of the birds was preening and I tried drawing multiple positions of its head. A flamingo settled towards the end and I attempted to show how its body shape changed as it turned while resting. As it started belting down with rain I moved under cover. There were some mice and I attempted to draw a couple but they were so active and I got somewhat lost with both shape and attempting to show the fur. I think they must have realised just what a bad job I was making of it as they promptly disappeared. I moved onto the Chipmunks who were absolutely gorgeous. The only time they were reasonably still was if they were eating something. I enjoyed watching and attempting to draw these and the stripes were interesting to try and capture, A5 sketchbook p.97 (please see figure 12). On looking at the sketches I had done, when I got home, I felt that, on the whole, the sketches of the moving flamingos were very stiff and wooden and with the side on view of the birds I had completely failed to give any indication of volume and form. This I think was due to concentrating too much on trying to capture the shape of the moving birds and failing to show any three dimensional form. In the sketches of the resting birds the small amount of shading I had done seemed to give a better impression of volume to the body but they still lacked believable depth and form. The Chipmunk drawings had a little more volume to them, but this tended to be more down to the stripes. I think that I captured character a little better with these but there are loads of inaccuracies.
Before the next visit I tried some drawings of flamingos from some of the photographs that I had taken. I hoped that this would help me to understand the structure and form better of the birds. I used 2B, 3B and 4B graphite pencils for these. I enjoyed trying to draw them and I think that it helped me, having watched and sketched them from life, to try and give the sketches of the birds some life. I seemed to achieve a better sense of volume with these and this demonstrated the importance of tone in helping to achieve that.
I wanted to try and do the larger drawing for the next visit. I took A3 cartridge paper, pastel paper (which was between A3 and A4 in size), drawing board and pastel pencils, as it would give me a chance to try these for sketching. I found it harder using larger paper as I immediately became more obvious to everyone and I felt extremely self conscious. People also seemed to assume that if you had a big piece of paper you could draw and I had a lot more people stop to look and then not quite know what to say when they realised how bad I was. The nicest comment I had was from a little girl who said “I like your birds” and the worst, which wasn’t strictly a comment, was from a chap who every time I put pencil to paper fell about laughing, the only good thing, I guess, being that at least I made his day. And I really couldn’t blame him as the drawings really were pretty bad, a large sheet of paper with lots of stiff, flat and stilted drawings (please see figure 14). Not a great success.
I decided to press on with the pastel pencil drawing as time was getting on. I used pastel pencils in the hopes that I would be more inclined to draw larger with those. I think, however, that it is safe to say that they are not my forte. Mind you, I am increasingly realising that drawing isn’t either! I tried to make a large sketch of a flamingo but after multiple attempts this was the largest that I could manage. It was unfortunately bang smack in the middle of the paper, I couldn’t have got it more central if I had tried and by the time I had finished it, it looked incredibly stuffed and lifeless. As this drawing clearly didn’t fulfill the criteria of a larger drawing for the exercise I thought that I may as well just try see what I could learn from it and then plan to do the larger drawing for this exercise another time. To try and improve things I tried sketching some of the other birds in round it but with them all constantly moving around I found it extremely hard to keep them all in proportion to each other and I got very muddled with viewpoint. I was sitting on a low chair but even so the viewpoint looks completely wrong. Having sketched in all of the birds I next tried to add detail to them by waiting until a bird got into a similar position and then working on the appropriate sketch. For the bird with its wings open I sketched the rough shape and then the next time one opened its wings I managed to get a photo so that I could check feather placement as I could not manage to capture enough detail visually. Gradually I managed to build the drawing up by keep working from various birds and then simplified foreground and background. I was having trouble defining feather areas on the birds so used a 2B graphite pencil and a white gel pen which helped to make areas a little clearer. On reaching the point where I could hardly move I decided to call it a day. At home I worked on finishing the drawing using photos I had taken at the wildlife park to help me. I added more colour using soft pastels and then put the drawing on one side and looked at it the next day. It appeared quite insipid so I used some soft pastels to increase strength of colour (please see figure 15) as I couldn’t get enough punch with the pastel pencils. Tonally, however, it still looked quite insipid. In all of my drawings I am finding it difficult to get enough tonal contrast and it was clear that yet again I had done the same thing with this drawing. I worked on increasing tonal contrast and I think that I have improved on what I had but probably could have taken it further. I also realised that I was beginning to rely more on the photos than my original drawing and had added some detail to feathers that had not been in my original drawing at the wildlife park. It was definitely time to stop fiddling (please see figure 16). It was an interesting challenge to try and do and though it is not a successful drawing it has helped to give practice at using pastels pencils and soft pastels, something I have very little experience of and it has been good to keep working at the drawing to see what I could come up with.
I did pay another short visit the following week but this time I just tried to do a series of rapid sketches, trying more to capture the gesture, life and movement than anything else. I had a lot of fun trying these and I think that it helped that I didn’t feel as unwell as I had when trying the larger drawing. The sketches still show problems with proportions but I do feel that some of them have more life to them.
I will need to return to this exercise to try and repeat the larger drawing but as I am behind with the course at the moment I am going to press on to the next exercise. When I do get the chance to return to this I want to work on trying to capture texture, volume and character more.
Health issues are making it quite difficult to keep up with the course at present and I have fallen a long way behind. I am pleased that I have been able to complete this exercise and feel that though the drawings overall are quite poor it has been a really useful learning experience.
Things that I feel went well: This exercise has helped me to draw faster, to try and simplify and press on regardless. Some drawings work, some don’t but they all help to build a picture of the creature and its character. I thoroughly enjoyed working on these. The exercise also helped me to try and carry on drawing regardless of how many people were around and however badly I was doing and that will certainly stand me in good stead for the next part of the course which involves more work outdoors. Once I started really concentrating on what I was doing I found that people being around became much less important.
Things that did not go so well: I struggled to draw the right proportions, I still have a distinct lack of visual memory and I continue to find it very difficult to be able to enlarge what I was seeing. In many of the sketches I got too caught up in drawing an outline shape and didn’t capture volume, texture and tone effectively. I also often failed to capture character but I do feel that as I become more familiar with drawing animals hopefully that aspect will improve.
How would I like my practice to change following this exercise: This exercise has helped me to have the courage to just grab the chance and give the drawing a go, however bad I thought I would be at it, and I hope to continue to build on that with all the types of drawing and sketchbook work that I do. This exercise and the research point has also emphasised how important capturing character, movement and life is. It is those aspects that I want to try and keep in mind as I move forward with my drawing, I can get so caught up in trying to make something look like it should that I can lose sight of how important these elements are. I also want to work on getting better at showing volume and form and at utilising tone better. I want to work at becoming less hesitant with my mark making.
4/12/12 I have added this to this post as I was lucky enough to get another chance to draw my friends cat. I decided to use charcoal and A3 paper as I wanted to try and draw larger than the A5 sketch I did last time. I thought that the charcoal would encourage me to draw larger and to try and be bold with the drawing. All three drawings (please see figures 22, 23 and 24 were drawn quite quickly before Rusty moved too much. I only managed to get part way through one before he completely changed position, so I left that in the hopes that he would return to a similar position. Unfortunately as I finished the third drawing he obviously decided I’d done quite enough damage and went for an explore outside and didn’t return before I went. I was really pleased to have got a chance to draw him in charcoal and I felt quite pleased with the overall effect. He is a beautiful cat and though I haven’t done him justice I think that the charcoal was a good medium to use to try and capture an impression of Rusty and I thoroughly enjoyed using it, and I think that they do capture some of his stance.
A book that I found very helpful during this exercise was Draw and Sketch Animals, sketch with confidence in 6 steps or less by David Boys, North Light Books.