Saturday, June 05, 2010

Sketching morning

Now that I have got over the initial flurry of work at the zoo, I can now start up my 'training' sessions again. The zoo is keen on staff developement, but it is quite tricky for me to train at art specific to my job at the zoo... I can think of quite a few workshops etc that I could do to improve my art, but that is not related strictly with my zoo job... alas! So my boss and I came up with the notion of my training being free sketching mornings once a fortnight. This is so that I can go sketch what ever I want, rather than what I need to do for an upcoming job. The freedom of this is wonderful.

This week I decided.. as my primate drawing skills have always been a little rough.. that I'd go sit in the Lemur Walk-through enclosure and try and get something done in there.. it helped that it was a lovely warm day.
So I sat for just under 3 hours in the delightful setting of the enclosure watching mongoose lemurs and ring-tailed lemurs... and, of course, sketching. I was pleased that despite a long gap on my sketching mornings, I did a lot better than I had expected.

When I know I have a few hours for sketching.. I pick on one animal subject and concentrate my focus there. Flitting between several species rarely makes me feel like I've achieved what I want from the process of a sketch. I want to try and learn/understand how they move, sit etc and it takes a good few hours of observation and sketching for me to feel as though I've given myself that chance to achieve my goal.

Once I've got myself settled in front of my subject I start with some time spent purely observing.. taking in mental notes of their form, behaviour and where they like to be doing certain
activities. Then I usually start with quick thumbnails of just a few lines to get the feel of body shape and how limbs, head and tail relate to it. Then I start adding more - I rarely go into great detail 'til much later in the session, if at all. Then I might pick on a feature (such as hands and feet) and concentrate on trying to understand the form of that.

Here's a couple of pages from that morning's session with the lemurs.

Two of my latest zoo paintings

Thought I'd do a couple of updates about what I've been up to at the zoo since April, when I started back after my 3 months off.

As usual there was the checking and replacing of faded and damaged ID signs as my first priority and then it was to set about the rather large pile of ID requests waiting for me on the desk!

First one to be done was a painted colour image of an orange headed thrush, then a detailed pencil drawing of a yellow mongoose head which was particularly enjoyable to do.

And then a series of fish were painted... Flier cichlid, white striped catfish, tinfoil barb and I'm almost finished on a kissing gourami.

This is the white striped catfish.. I'm really pleased with this one as it started out quite badly but I dug my heels in and persevered. The difficulty of this fish was to make it look shiny.... I'm told I have achieved this but I'll leave you to make your mind up.
This is a closer view of the fish, many times bigger than the original... look closely at the body and you'll see the range of colours that I have used on this shiny silvery grey/white fish to try an achieve the glistening shine.

I paint a heavyweight watercolour paper with a black... a black that does not come staright out of the tube. I find tube blacks tend to look a little 'dead' so I liven a lamp black up with Alizarin Crimson and Ultramarine. I then transfer the outline of the finished fish drawing onto the black and use a series of thin base coats to start building up the body of the fish. I leave all the fins including the tail til after I have finished the body.

In the case of this fish I used a bluish grey overlaying with thin coats of greenish grey, yellowish white, and washes of darker blues and greens. The patterning is a dark purple/mauve intermixed with a more 'foggy' dark blue.
With dry brush strokes I brush pinks, yellows, pale greens, mauves, light blues across the body.. this is to try and replicate fractions of light hitting the smooth body of this particular fish. As a finish to the body I use a small amount of white, knocked back a bit with yellow, to apply in dry brush strokes to create the highlights and with a thin bluey white wash I paint over the fish to 'round' the body, in particular its head and underside.
Once I'm satisfied I have the body as good as I can get it, I put on the fins. This is generally done with a thin wash of a pale blue and stroked in in the direction of the rays and structure of the fin. I add lighter colours to accentuate the rays and more 'fleshy' areas of the leading edge and base.

The copyright on these images belongs to Bristol Zoo Gardens.