The aim of this exercise is to start with a found image but then build on it to createsomething more personal. Find scientific and biological sources for animal anatomy in libraries and online; look for images that clearly show the mechanics of different animals’ bodies. Copy interesting images loosely, but make them into something more than a replica of someone else’s work by adding your own touches. Think about the parts that make up the whole, and about movement and stillness, emotion and detachment.
I used as my source material a picture of a Storm Petrel skeleton from a fabulously beautiful book called The Unfeathered Bird by Katrina van Grouw: wilsons_storm_petrel-unfeathered_bird.jpg (see link for book review http://www.birderslibrary.com/reviews/books/biology_behavior/unfeathered_bird.htm)
I did a few sketches to explore the anatomy of the skeleton within a bird’s wind and to explore the shape of the wing when clothed in feathers. I played around a little with coloured pencils to see if I could represent the texture of a feather but was a little disappointed. I think my pencils needed to be sharper and I needed more patience to render the small details of the feather.
Wilson’s Storm Petrel- Sepia charcoal pencil and coloured pencils on recycled cartridge paper (A3). I enjoyed making the sketch of the skeleton, but got quite frustrated trying to put the feathers on the wing. I just wanted to “clothe” the skeleton in one or two places, but having struggled with the wing I didn’t pursue this any further. I had expected to enjoy this exercise but I found it frustrating and uninspiring. This is probably reflected in the finished drawing- I had also intended to spend time making the water look beautifully still and lush!
As you work, think about some of the things you’ve already learned about – positive and negative spaces, measuring, gestural and expressive line, etc. – to help you create more interesting drawings.
Assessment criteria points
- Demonstration of technical and visual skills – materials, techniques, observational skills, visual awareness, design and compositional skills (35%). I did not use any devices to scale up the picture onto the A2 paper, I just drew by eye and the result was pretty accurate. I struggled with the colour pencils- maybe it was because I wasn’t inspired by the subject matter? Its a chicken or egg question- maybe I wasn’t inspired because I couldn’t get the effect I wanted out of my media? The final drawing lacks life and is rather childish.
- Quality of outcome – content, application of knowledge, presentation of work in a coherent manner, discernment, conceptualisation of thoughts, communication of ideas (20%). I think I had ideas- in my head this was going to be amazing, but it never got off the ground. I enjoy looking at anatomical pictures (I studied Biology!) and am frustrated that I did not make more of this.
- Demonstration of creativity – imagination, experimentation, invention, development of a personal voice (25%). Maybe I chose the wrong picture? It was difficult to make it my own because it was already drawn as if the bird were living and in action. In the event I didn’t feel very creative and the picture reflects this. I wish I had experimented more with media and concepts- I came at it with a strong idea of what I was going to achieve and when it didn’t work I was very deflated.
Using both line and tone can create a sense of volume and movement through space. For this exercise, you’re free to work in any combination of media. You can make a study that is monochrome or use colour to render tonal value or add visual interest. Using coloured sugar paper or Ingres paper will give you a mid-tonal ground and you can then use your drawing materials to establish lighter and darker tonal areas. Allow the paper’s ground colour to work in your drawing by leaving some areas clear or by shading lightly so that it shows through. Work on large paper so that you can explore tonal values freely. Remember to vary the pressure and speed of your lines to create a sense of dynamism or stillness, enhancing the stance, gestural posture and strength of the animal.
I started off by visiting a field of horses and making some sketches. I was trying to be fairly loose and not to get bogged down with detail. I couldn’t resist adding more detail than I wanted, but was pleased that with each drawing I became more relaxed and found I could concentrate more on the tomes and shading than the lines.
I took home my sketches and had a go at transferring the essence of the sketch onto A3 pastel paper using charcoal and soft pastels. I was trying very hard to focus on shading and highlights to give a sense of form. I think I achieved that, but was a bit disappointed that the resulting picture looked a bit stilted and “safe”.
I made a second attempt at speed trying to be very loose with both my drawing and the shading, which i was very happy with.
In the end I was happy with both pictures I produced for this exercise. Both captured the essence of the animal and gave a sense of form using shading. I was particularly pleased with the looseness of the sketching on the horses head- i wish I could be freer in a lot of my work. It doesn’t detract from the subject and lends it a sense of movement. I enjoy using pastels and charcoal because it forces me to be less finicky about details. There is no particular background on either picture, but using shading and colour smudges suggests that something is going on there. In both cases I successfully used the colour of the paper to shine through and lift the image.
Find your subject and decide on the best media for conveying its characteristics. Would the subject lend itself to a strong tonal handling or a more delicate visual statement? Or try both approaches. Try to ensure fairly constant light. How can you convey the volume and solidity of the object?
This is a complex subject with a lot of tiny bones, structures and details within the skull. It is also quite a small object (about 4inches long) so I decided to attempt the drawing on larger paper to encourage myself to make it larger. In spite of this it still turned out fairly small -relative to the paper!
Mallard skull- graphite pencil on Extra Smooth 250gsm Winsor & Newton Bristol Board.
I spent a lot of time observing and following the tonal shading with my pencils. I worked from the very lightest areas to the darkest. The light was behind the skull, slightly to the right, so my problem was whether to draw absolutely what I saw. Since the light was coming from behind, much of the internal structure was lighter than the front parts, which brought them forwards, rather than making it obvious they were behind the front surface of the skull. My Husband couldn’t make out what it was, because he was confused by the misleading sense of form this produced.
When I looked at other pictures of bird skulls, the eye socket for example, tended to be slightly darker than the front surface, making it look as if it were receding into the background… For example http://www.unfeatheredbird.com/gallery.html
- Demonstration of technical and visual skills I observed and worked accurately, marking in the fine detail using graphite pencils. I might have created more of a composition, but did not feel that the exercise demanded this. I treated it more as a study/ anatomical drawing.
- Regarding outcome and creativity, this exercise was more about practicing using the media and using it accurately and appropriately than using imagination and developing thoughts.
Select your animal. Keep your sketchbook with you and seize any opportunity as it arises. Look for the basic shapes that make up the animal’s form. Do a series of small and fast line sketches of different poses. Experiment with different media – thick and thin, soft and hard. Do as many studies as you can, trying to capture the essence of the animal through intense scrutiny of form, colour, texture, character, scale, stance, movement and so on.
My very obliging model was our whippet, Banjo. I started off with some studies drawn while he was asleep or resting in a relatively still pose. I enjoyed using sepia charcoal pencil the most which felt looser and more spontaneous.
Then I switched to charcoal for some quicker gestural sketches of Banjo in motion. I had to go over these a couple of times, firstly to grab a sense of his shape and then to capture motion- I was trying to see which body shapes defined his action. For one or two I used a quick photo to capture a pose that passed particularly quickly, to support what i had captured in my mind’s eye.
Having sketched and studied banjo over a few days and in as many poses as I could I went on to make a large drawing. I started with a very quick gestural sketch trying to capture his essence with a few strokes as possible.
This time I drew him asleep on the sofa so I would have time to study him. I was a bit disappointed that the picture came out a bit flat, particularly before I added the black painted lines. It was fairly accurate but not very alive. I think I have represented his form but as he was so still I wasn’t motivated to vary pressure, speed and line length. I decided to make the cushion red, as a contrast to his fawn coloured coat and to echo the colour of his collar.
Here is the model- he had turned around by the time I took this picture!
"Drawing is putting a line round an idea." Henri Matisse (1869-1954)