Sketching At The Santa Barbara Zoo


I returned home on Monday from attending the Explorers Club Lowell Thomas Annual Dinner in Santa Barbara, California. I spent a productive afternoon the day before the Saturday event sketching at the Santa Barbara Zoo, keeping it really simple: a 7×5″ Pentalic Nature Sketchbook and a Sakura Micron .01 black pen.

Sketching live animals can be quite challenging and is great exercise for one’s visual memory. None of these took more than about five minutes. Sometimes I only did the contour and filled in the bodies a bit later, like with the condors above. I did take photos but learned long ago that drawing animals is a very different experience than shooting photos in that you have to really LOOK and SEE to get anything down. In the end it’s as much about process as result, but I’m pretty happy with these.



New iPad Sketches From The Oakland Zoo

I was down in the San Francisco Bay Area this past weekend and got a chance to spend a couple of hours at the Oakland Zoo with family. This was my first chance to use the iPad for drawing live, wild animals. It was sunny and warm. In fact, I believe San Francisco hit a new record high, 80F.

The only drawback I found to using the iPad is that I still just have a basic folder cover, so it wasn’t very secure. And I found it a distraction to have to worry about it falling into the tiger enclosure or being jostled and dropping it. I’ve got some ideas about what kind of carrier would solve those problems, though.

In the meantime, here’s the results. I really liked being able to quickly change colors, line width, etc. without fumbling around in my pockets. These were all done very quickly, one to three minutes or so. The granddaughters were along, so I needed to be ready to move on. Good practice.

I started with the flamingos because they weren't moving much
There were also a couple of spoonbills
It was fun doing them in pink
Thought I'd try to capture the bird in shadow with rim light against the dark background
Macaw and gibbon ape
American alligator; when there was time, I added a second color
I love bats! It was such a treat to sketch them
Just hangin' around
I had about 30 seconds to have a go at this pot-bellied pig

I used the Ten Design Pogo Sketch stylus for all the drawings. It worked fine, but the foam is starting to fray a little. Definitely will be experimenting with DIY options.

My “first look” at the iPad is here.

Latest Quick Sketches…Yaks And Horses and Ducks, Oh My, Plus One Camel

But first, here’s the link to the blog of fellow Society of Animal Artist member and great sculptor, Simon Gudgeon, who resides in the UK. His latest post is an excellent discussion of wildlife art and its place in the larger world of “fine art”. Here’s one bit that I particularly like: “…too many artists use photographs rather than their minds and let the photograph dictate the finished artwork. An artist should observe their subject and decide how they want to portray it, or take a theme or emotion and work out how they can use a wildlife subject matter to illustrate it.” Truer words….

In the meantime, I’m having fun in the evenings, while we watch the San Francisco Giants possibly close in on their first Division pennant since 2003 (tonight might be the night!), doing more quick sketches with a gel tip pen in a Strathmore Universal Recycled sketchbook. Once again, these don’t take more than a few minutes each.

If you decide to try this at home, and I hope you do, look for photos of animals with distinct light and shadow sides, using that to emphasize form and structure where possible. I think you can see below that the most successful sketches have interesting shadow shapes. I also keep each most of the sketches to two values, light side/shadow side. There’s a couple where I added a third, intermediate value because it was a black animal or a black and white animal and I wanted to show the black part in light and shadow. The all-white yaks were actually….black yaks, in flat light.

Domestic Mongol yaks
Yaks, horses and a domestic bactrian camel
Horses and yaks
Yaks, horses and common shelducks

Field Sketches/I’ll Be At Pastels On The Plaza Tomorrow

I’m going back to my two-a-week posts. Mongolia Monday will start up again on, um, Monday, along with my eBay auction listing. Fridays and whenever the spirits moves me will be everything else: paintings in progress, etc.

Here are some recent pages from my sketchbook. They are done with whatever fine point liquid gel pen Staples had last time I needed some new ones. No preliminary pencil work, I just dive in with the pen and hope for the best. These were done at the Rolling Hills Wildlife Adventure’s zoo:





I finally sucked it up and sketched people for the first time in years on my way to the AFC “Art of Conservation” show opening weekend. Got to practice my furtive glance at San Francisco International Airport Gate 74. (ignore the date).



I’ll be at PASTELS ON THE PLAZA in Arcata, California tomorrow morning from between 8 and 9am until probably around 11am. This now-traditional October event is a benefit for Northcoast Children’s Services and brings out well over one hundred Humboldt County artists who will fill the sidewalks around the Arcata Plaza with creative, fun and amazing pastel drawings, all for a great cause. Each artist has either found a sponsor or has been assigned one by NCS. The sponsor “buys” a single or double space and the artists donate their time. The Saturday Farmer’s Market happens at the same time, so it’s a big day-long street party. The pastels usually are visible for a couple of weeks or until the first winter rains hit.

Animal Rhythm

One of the things that makes me a little crazy is animal artists who present their subject in an awkward and sometimes even ugly pose. There seem to be a number of reasons for this, among them lack of drawing skill, not knowing the anatomy of the species,  getting too caught up in copying a photograph or simply not seeing the inherent grace and rhythm of living things. Just because it “looked that way in the photograph” is NO excuse. Be intentional. Don’t be lazy and settle for what’s in front of you. Now is the time to pull out the old National Geographic or hit Google Images. Not to use someone else’s images, but to fill in the information that is missing in your reference.

It is a matter of training your eye to evaluate what’s in front of you. Someone once said that drawing is seeing. Exactly right. As an example, here are two images of a cougar. Which pose do you think has the better rhythm?

andy1andy2The only real difference is the position of the head, but the 3/4 view really changes the flow of the top line and actually stops the sense of movement.

Here’s one of two horses I photographed in Mongolia last year. If you saw them separately as paintings on a wall, which one would draw your eye and pull you over to it?


My own eye has been influenced by looking at the work of Alphonse Mucha, the great Art Nouveau graphic artist. Notice how the hair is designed in deliberate, rhythmic shapes.

Think about how that might apply to a horse’s tail or a lion’s mane. It could save you a lot of time, and end with a far more interesting result, by seeing and painting hair and fur as larger shapes instead of individual strands. Fur rendered in excruciating hair by hair detail is definitely another of my pet peeves. There is a better way. Really.


Finally, here are some quick drawings (2 minutes or so) that I did this morning. Notice that I didn’t worry about the spots on the cheetah or the pattern of markings on the giraffe. All I wanted was to catch the gesture and rhythm of the pose. These quick sketches are also a way to find out if a pose “draws well”. Something that looks fine it a photo can look really weird in a drawing. Odd, but true. Why notice it when you’re halfway through painting all those spots?





“The true artist does not paint to please the public – but he holds the interest of all who think,  for a work of art expresses the mind of its workman. In it are clearly reflected his vices and his weaknesses, as well as his virtues. He may deceive men, perhaps, but not inspiration, which will not be duped by hypocrisy.”

William Wendt (1865-1946) (as recently quoted in the California Art Club newsletter)