Exercise 33: Grabbing the chance
This exercise asked for a series of small sketches of animals. As we no longer have a pet of our own, I made use of some friends cats for several of the sketches, and worked from photographs for the others.
I began by filling a page in my A4 sketchbook with a series of quick cat sketches done in 2B pencil. Having had little experience of drawing animals, I was a bit apprehensive about this exercise – but I needn’t have worried. From the outset, I thoroughly enjoyed it. Although the drawings I made weren’t necessarily my best, I felt freer and more able to relax than at any time since I began the course. Apart from making a few very simple measurements (largely by eye), I decided to approach this exercise with as few restrictions as possible. The contrast between this and the rest of Part 2 of the course was marked. Having decided to work more loosely and more quickly, this exercise suited the way I was thinking.
Cats are the animals with which I’m most familiar. Even so, they were by no means easy to draw. The eyes were the hardest thing – the differing shapes, and the positioning on the head. However, I was determined to take a tolerant approach here. I knew it was unlikely that I would ‘ get it right’ first time, so I resolved to observe, to try my best, and to accept and learn from the results.
For the second page (see above), I used two different pens – a Rotring ArtPen (with water-soluble ink) and a Pentel Brush Pen. The ArtPen was quite scratchy to draw with, and didn’t offer the most variable line. However, I liked the effect of using a water brush to move the ink around. The brush pen was quite a revelation. I’d only used it once or twice previously, and not been that taken with it. For some reason though, it worked really well here. The possibility of making both broad brush strokes and fine lines with one pen seemed particularly suitable for drawing animals. Although the little sketch here, of a sleeping cat seen from behind, is very small, I think the shapes are really interesting.
Next, I used a water-soluble graphite pencil to draw another sleeping cat. Again, I used the water brush here and there, adding more marks once the paper was dry. The two sketches on the lower half of the page were both done in pencil. I really like them. The one of the cat looking out of the window is such a simple outline, and yet seems quintessentially ‘cat’. It was interesting to note that the eye doesn’t always need masses of information to make an image ‘readable’. The sketch on the lower right-hand part of the page was done very quickly, and yet it’s one of my favourites. The twist of the body and the upward tilt of the head are a pleasing combination.
For the next page (see above), I picked up the brush pen again. The sketch itself is quite rough, but it was such a lovely pose. I particularly liked the indented space between the back of the head and the arched part of the body. It was certainly more successful than the sketch on the bottom half of the page, which I did using a blue ballpoint pen. The general outline isn’t so bad, but my attempt to add the facial features was based largely on guesswork – not entirely successfully! Guesswork, or imagination, might be better employed once I’ve a little more experience of drawing animals.
Another page, and two more pencil sketches of cats (see above). The angle of the face of the top cat was a bit tricky, and I felt unsure where to site the facial features. That aside, I like the outline and the rough scribbled marks indicating creases in the fur. The cat on the bottom was drawn very quickly, and once again the face was largely guesswork (again, not entirely successful). Even so, I relished the freedom of making such loose and erratic marks to describe the fluffy fur of the chest and belly.
A change of scene on the next page (see above) – a set of sketches of geese from Dartmoor, done using water-soluble graphite pencil. These turned out better than I expected them to. Geese seem to be all about the outline, as their pale plumage offers little in the way of shadow. However, I noticed that the skin on the front of their necks is often slightly crinkled, and so I tried to show this using a variety of different lines. I studied their beaks too, and realised that it was possible to indicate the angle of the head by how much of them was visible (and what shapes they formed).
Still on Dartmoor, the next page features an assortment of different animal sketches (see above). First, there are a few small drawings of sheep, some with more detail than others. The face of the first sheep seemed a little piglike to me – which wasn’t intentional. The sheep on the right worked slightly better, and the series of squiggly lines seem to work well to describe its coat. Also, I’d never noticed how near sheep’s eyes are to their ears, and how far apart they’re set on their heads. Next, I made a quick sketch of a bird of prey (a falcon, I think), from the little centre at Becky Falls. I think I made the upper body a little too wide, but my main focus was on the facial expression and profile. The last sketch on this page was another goose, once again done using water-soluble graphite pencil and a water brush. Again, the angle of the head was the main challenge here, but I think it worked reasonably well.
I filled the next page with yet another goose drawing (see above). This gave me a little more room to show the texture of some of the plumage, which I did using squiggles and broken line.
I decided to try the goose again, this time using Derwent Graphitint coloured pencils, which are water-soluble. The range of colours in the tin seemed quite limited, and all fairly muted. So I chose a brown shade for the beak and feet, as it seemed the nearest to the actual colour. I was surprised, therefore, when I used the water brush on it and it magically transformed into the colour I wanted! I also used a black Graphitint pencil for the main outline, and a mid-grey for the shadows on the lower body.
The picture above was drawn from a photograph. It shows a baby magpie, whose beak is gaping for food. This was taken by a friend who cares for sick and injured birds. The photograph showed a chaotic little feathery figure. The only really discernible features were the open beak and the beady eye. The rest was simply a jumble of feathers. I struggled to make the top part of the beak the right shape, as the dark tip was slightly lost against the black background of the face.
Having made a number of small sketches, I decided to try a larger drawing. Working on A3, using pastels and charcoal, I drew the dog above – Chudleigh. He’s a fascinating looking animal – really quite sculptural. His differently coloured eyes are very striking, too. The main thing I wanted to capture here was his character, and somewhat noble expression. To my surprise, I think it worked! Perhaps even more surprisingly, I was aware that I felt very relaxed whilst making this drawing – and I couldn’t remember the last time I’d felt that way. This drawing took me the best part of a couple of hours, but seemed to fly by in no time at all. Again, this drawing was done from a photograph. I found negative space was very useful in dealing with the foreshortened face – looking at elements such as the shape of the ear on the left (as you look at the photograph) and the gap between the other ear and the side of his head proved very helpful. I tried to keep the line as loose as possible, and was partially successful – although I think it could be looser still.
I decided to make another larger drawing (A3 again), this time of a cat peering around the edge of a curtain.This one proved very frustrating, as no matter what I did, or how well I measured distances, widths and lengths, it just didn’t look right. I tried making the eyes bigger, but that didn’t work. Finally, I took a photograph of my drawing and split it from top to bottom and left to right, studying each of the segments to see if my error was more obvious that way – and it worked. I spotted almost immediately that I had drawn the eyes too high up, which was giving the face quite an intimidating expression – and this is not an intimidating animal! Although I feel I could do better in trying to capture this particular cat, I was pleased that I had at least managed to find a way to resolve what seemed to be an inexplicable problem. Also on this drawing, I used the putty rubber to pick out certain details, such as the whiskers and some of the paler strands of fur.
Going back to my sketchbook, I made a series of small sketches of some pigeons (see above) – very quick little drawings, done in pencil. These aren’t all very successful in terms of accuracy, but they do feel pigeon-y… the slightly gestural quality, I think.
The next page (see above) shows a couple of cat sketches – one sleeping, and one seen from above. The sleeping cat was curled up on a settee, so I wanted to convey that very contained almost-oval shape. I used a selection of graded pencils, from 2B to 6B, to create directional marks for the fur. In the lower drawing, the view was very fore-shortened, making the head look almost as large as the body. I purposely drew the face without looking at it the right way up, as I wanted to see how convincing it would look once drawn if the page was tilted. It worked reasonably well. As I said above, I wanted this exercise to be more about expression and energy than accuracy.
On the next page of my sketchbook, I did a charcoal drawing using smudging and erasing techniques, as well as broken line. I find that this kind of line has a lively feel, one that I would like to explore further.
The next couple of sketches (see above) saw a return to pencil. I really liked the inquisitive stance of the jackdaw (one of my favourite birds). They strike such characterful poses. Similarly, in the drawing below that, the yawning cat could have made a great pose. However, the eyes and nose seem a little too compressed. It was hard to distinguish them, as they were black details on a background of black fur. Despite that, I liked the blocky shapes of the body (particularly the legs).
Finally, I made one last drawing, using ink dropped into water (which had been given a few seconds to dry slightly on the page). I hadn’t started with the intention of drawing a silhouette, but sometimes drawings surprise you and take you in unexpected directions.
This section has been the biggest surprise of the course to date. Although I feel I have been learning up to now, there hasn’t been a great deal of enjoyment so far. But this exercise changed all that. This could be due, in part, to deliberately working more loosely and faster. However, I believe that the greatest difference was encountering character. It actually felt difficult to stop drawing animals! My hope now is that I can apply some of my experience here to the upcoming assignment. I’ve made sure to leave myself as much time as possible to work on preparatory sketches for it, which will hopefully allow me to work in a more relaxed fashion, as I have with the drawings above.