Today I went to my favourite library with my sketchbook and looked for a book with a lot ot pictures of mammals, as I wanted to put into practice a few tips from John Muir Laws’ lesson. Here are the results:
I observed attentively before starting with the drawing, and then drew the outline very fast (1 or 2 minutes maximum). I didn’t use the eraser, just drew more lines. I tried to notice proportions, so that few pencil strokes could suggest the species, without the help of colour or surrounding habitat.
I am quite happy with the result, given that it’s the first time I draw most of these species in a realistic way (I have drew some in cartoon style before). My next step is to work on the outline, adding details (fur texture, eyes, precise shapes of legs/head/body/tail, 3D suggestion through line width). Stay tuned for next posts!
I enjoyed experimenting with watercolour. I was initially worried of doing mistakes that I could not correct, but instead felt a lightness in filling large areas so fast, with a light touch of the brush, and see how I could move paint around thanks to water. I added pencil details after the paint had dried a bit, so in some areas the wet paint diluted the pencil and made very rich colours.
I’m happy with the right side of the drawing, I consider the colors right and the pencil addition quite balanced; the left side was too lightly painted and I used a lot of pencil, a bit too much. The proportions of dark and light areas on the left side are also not so similar to the picture, maybe because I started painting when I had observed the picture too quickly (especially that part).
Overall I am satisfied with this painting, it gives me a positive sensation and it motivates me to try again! I liked the speed of the paint part and the combination with pencil. The video and slides give a lot more information and techniques, so I’ll consult them in the future to pick new tips and improve. I hope I inspired you to grab a pencil and try this yourself! I’d love to hear your feedback on the post and hopefully see your own paintings 🙂
A few days ago I went to Berlin aquarium with my sketchbook, I ended up staying in for 4 hours, one of which by the Arapaimas:
They are huge freshwater fish, growing up to 2m long (exceptionally 3 or 4) and weighing over 100kg. They moved around with little or no movements of their fins, like living submarines. Many people looked at them for a minute or two, fascinated by their size, but then walked away. I decided to stay and draw them, as they moved so slowly. I was therefore able to see them interact with each other and with other fish in the pool, and had a lot of fun when they flocked to observe people who sat next to their glass for longer than a minute – it was a very slow (5min? more?) alteration in their swimming patterns, from random to focused, so that in five or more passes near the person they finally stood with their head oriented to them, in a group of six and more. One guy leaning on the glass, busy on his phone, didn’t notice the slow formation of that fish crowd until other people pointed them to him, and he turned around to see the curious arapaimas then disperse with a powerful move of their caudal fins. One fish came to me to check my drawing kit, I showed it every piece closer to the glass, it observed everything and then swam slowly away.
I tried to draw and note as much as I could (in Italian – it goes faster for me!) and, as John Muir Laws suggests, to describe details, even if they seem obvious, and note questions. For example I observed the pattern of pink spots of several fishes and imagined if it could be a pattern that changes with age. I was not able to draw the texture of fins and head, so I described it in the notes. I liked spending that time immersed in observation. It felt a way of respecting these animals, even if they are living in unnatural conditions, hopefully pleasant for them anyway.
Today I started reading a new novel that I picked from the French section of my local library – “Ni d’Ève ni d’Adam“, by Amélie Nothomb. After reading several books in English and Italian, mostly in the efficient and clean, almost steel-like prose of technical explanations, I met a rich, singing, poetic French first-person narrative. It gave me more joy than usual, as if I came back home – and I attempted to find out why.
In general, I particularly like reading novels in French because I find that this language can convey so many nuances of expression, it seems to possess such a vast colour palette. When I read in Italian, I can’t find the same depth, not because Italian doesn’t allow it, but because I don’t feel that Italian and French (nor German or English) are completely interchangeable on all topics. I consider them like musical instruments, with their own structure and voice, that makes them especially able to convey the sense and emotions of a piece of music written specifically for them, or their equivalents. You can spot that when you compare Paganini’s Caprices with their piano “translation” written by Franz Liszt:
It also made me compare the musicality of a language in a given text with the movement of an animal. There are texts who move around swiftly and graciously like leopards, without any noise from their steps. Some texts sound exact and articulate like insect legs, moved with precision, almost mechanical in their appearance. Some other texts move around with the cute awkwardness of a foal, that tries hard not to trip, but that shows the seed of its future elegance. I like to pick up a random book from the library and discover, page after page, which kind of movement it has chosen to embody. The topic doesn’t matter much, because I am reading to discover how other people decided to express their thoughts, and this alone fulfills my curiosity.
To finish, here is the step-by-step (literally!) analysis of horse walk, because it matches with how I sometimes feel when I read a book: it is not about the destination of that walk, nor about the context, but it is my analysis of its components one by one, even if they don’t make sense alone – but when I get out of this “analysis mode” and I go back to the full picture, at the expected reading speed, I spot so many more details. Enjoy!
Today I lead a reflection about hippos. When I think about these huge animals, I visualise them when they walk around on the ground, feeding, trotting on their short legs, their big, round bodies wobbling gently around. They are commonly seen as clumsy, ugly, inelegant and even ridiculous. I drew one, trying to render its mass, its roundness, its disproportions, its sheer force.
When hippos enter water, they transform. Water is able to support their bodies so that the small legs don’t bend anymore under the weight, and become small flippers. Their round bellies appear even rounder, and are gently kneaded by waves as if they were grey, breathing bread dough. Swimming hippos appear more like whales. I imagine how a hippo could find time and fun just playing in water, swirling around, enjoying these moments and bubbling from his big nostrils.
I don’t know if there is any positive thinking lesson around it. I am not able to tell myself: no matter how clumsy you feel in some situations, you can be a wonderful mermaid in others; but if this helps you, that makes me smile 🙂
( Higher resolution pictures are available on my Flickr – and if you would like me to further work on these sketches, just drop me a note! )
It is natural to work on the non-dominant hand (the left hand for a right-handed, and vice versa) on the drumset, where it is required that both hands develop equal strength and precision. It is not considered when drawing, but as my recent studies focused more on observing than on technique, why not letting my non-dominant hand draw too?
I felt that the observation step was as accurate as by right-hand drawings. The difference came when I had to draw – my left hand has very seldom held a pencil, so there is no muscular memory of a pencil grip. I somehow grouped my fingers together and started with the mare’s head. You can see the hesitations and trembling. There was sometimes too much opposition from the paper, that my left hand had to try hard to move the pencil. Another difficulty that arose half-way was that I started drawing, as usual, from the left – not taking into account that my hand would cover the drawing, therefore I went on holding the hand and arm above the drawing, like left-handers do when they write.
The drawing took maybe ten minutes to be done. It is of course very sketchy and by no matters finished, but the point is made: a good observation matters more to me that technique. Even from an unschooled hand, the subject is recognisable and with acceptable proportions.
That made me also think how adults can forget how hard it was to learn to write and draw when they were children. It is a good refresher for my teacher’s future.
I hope this is of encouragement for you! Let me know in the comments or on your blogs about your drawing experiments.