Concentrating on the Native

The grey squirrel and the red squirrel

Time to start planning new projects. I am concentrating on the native for a bit!

While projects with an international wildlife theme are extremely good to do, it is important not to neglect what is local. Unfortunately people can sometimes be more familiar with the issues facing lions, tigers, giraffes, wolves and rhinos and be totally unaware of the issues that affect their local wildlife.

An example of such an issue relates to squirrels. Locally there is a very healthy population of American Grey Squirrels but unfortunately where I live in Scotland, they are not native. The native squirrel is the red squirrel. This is smaller and has been under immense pressure ever since the introduction of the bigger grey squirrel. Currently red squirrels are now only confined to a handful of areas.

The grey squirrel and the red squirrel
The grey squirrel and the red squirrel

While grey squirrels can be fun to watch out in the local woods, I have to confess I would rather see our native red squirrels. Therefore it is vitally important to raise awareness of how the introduction of the grey  has had such a negative impact on our native red populations.

Another issue that I think is quite sad is how remarkably unobservant many people are.  I remember while out walking the dog,  watching people make their way along a path to get to work…  just a short distance up the hill stood three roe deer quietly munching away.

Portrait of Roe Deer- work in progress
Portrait of Roe Deer- work in progress

The deer just seemed to know that the chances of people seeing them was very low.

I always wondered what the reaction of those people would have been if they had just turned their head to the left and saw how close the deer were!

Maybe you would argue that it is a good thing that most people are oblivious! After all, it  could lead to the deer facing greater disturbance.

While that is certainly a risk… I think it is one that is worth taking.  Being the optimistic person that I am, my view is that the more people who are aware of the presence of the deer the more likely they are to value  and care for that area.

Going back to the point I made earlier about people not recognizing  the animals that live in their own country… here is one example… this is the Pine Marten. Well Pine Marten under construction!

Portrait of a Pine Marten- Work in progress
Portrait of a Pine Marten- Work in progress

I wonder if people would recognize this animal as being native to Scotland.

It is a forest dweller that is unfortunately confined to the North of the Country. This gorgeous member of the weasel family has been in decline but thankfully numbers are now rising.

These new drawings of a Pine Marten and a Roe Deer once finished will be added to my gallery of local wildlife. My intention will be to make prints from the originals and use the illustrations as a means of provoking discussion about wildlife issues.

This concentration on local  wildlife will not be to the neglect of international issues.

It is my view that by by raising  awareness of what is happening locally  on the doorstep, it can not only foster an interest… but also provoke a call to action . As people become more involved with the local…  hopefully they will start to identify the connections with the global.

Migrating birds demonstrate this perfectly. People tend to like birds and welcome the return of swallows and swifts. But, for these birds to survive they need to have good habitat not only at both ends of the journey but also on the stop over areas in between. Migrating birds would be a good subject to draw in the future.

All too often people are sympathetic to international causes but their distance creates a remoteness and a feeling of powerlessness. By valuing the local hopefully they will make the connection and support the global too!

Choosing Size for Impact

In recent times all my drawings have been around the size of an A3 piece of paper. I now very rarely draw anything smaller as I feel that details could be lost.

For many of the subjects I wished to draw, this A3 size seems to be the optimum size. Not too big and not too small.

In early January I decided that more impact was needed for a story that I wished to tell. To achieve that I not only went with drawing the piece on black paper but also scaled it up to a bigger size. The initial sketching was started and that seemed to go well… then I never touched it again.

Now I have argued that there was a clash of schedules and l had taken on more projects than I had intended and… yes there is an element of truth in this.

But, if I was being entirely honest with myself there was also an element of fear and perhaps regret at attempting something so big particularly as I regard myself as being at the start of my artistic journey.

Now I could of course have gone the other way and gone smaller. There is no doubt that small, even the miniature can have a wow factor.

I have seen some incredibly detailed pieces of artwork such as watercolor paintings only 2 inches square that are beautiful.

They are exquisite and the skill involved in getting so much detail into such a small space can only be admired.

However, putting to one side the fact that I do not have the necessary skill to achieve so much detail in such a small piece, I am not sure the subtle approach is appropriate for the type of message that I want to put across.

My purpose is to raise awareness of wildlife issues and I want to shout as loudly as possible which is why I took the decision to go big and bold with the Orangutan and baby. The message of loss of their habitat to make way for oil palm plantations is one that should not be ignored.

Family Portrait of an Orangutan and Baby
Family Portrait of an Orangutan and Baby First work in progress

However what is the point of aspiring to shout a message when I am fearful of doing so!

It was time to confront the fear!

The whole of last week was spent confronting that fear

second work in progress of Orangutan and Baby
Family Portrait of an Orangutan and Baby 2nd Work in Progress

This drawing of an Orangutan and her baby measures 70 cm x 50 cm and is the biggest drawing I have ever attempted.

To overcome the fear, I ignored the subject and just took small areas at a time mapping out the different shapes. Now I am slowly building up the layers. Approaching it this way has made it less daunting. There is also the opportunity to really focus in on the details of different elements such as the hairy hand, the nose, the mouth and the the arrangement of the hair in the mother as well as striving to capture that close relationship between mother and baby.

It is important to get this right and I won’t rush it. I will do a little bit at a time and carefully work out the best way to interpret each part of the drawing as I continue to rotate between other drawings.

Unfortunately it will take some time before I am ready to shout about this but it is better to get it right!

Technique and Substance

Portrait of a Red Squirrel

I came across these terms in an article on contemporary art. There the observation was made that a lot of artists have great technique but very little substance .

It made me think!

Up until now, the focus for me had been on improving my technique but what is meant by substance? Does my art have substance and how is it measured?

My art does have a theme which is wildlife. It is what I am interested in and… it is what I enjoy drawing. But my assumption is that the writer of the article on contemporary art would regard that in itself as insufficient to give the art substance. So, should I be placing more emphasis on the substance of a drawing?

On reviewing the drawings that I have completed, most are head portraits where the challenge had been to improve my technique particularly in the rendering of the eyes. It is important to me that my subjects have well drawn eyes. In my view, this is what brings life to a subject. But what motivated me in the first place to choose a particular subject to draw?

Take this drawing of a red squirrel, it does radiate “cuteness” , but that was not the attraction. My interest was more to do with the way this particular animal seemed to have suddenly stopped on that branch with a direct look of inquisitiveness. I imagine the squirrel to be asking the question:

Portrait of a red squirrel
Portrait of a red squirrel

Is there an opportunity for food here?

If the squirrel was not inquisitive, it would struggle to find enough food.

On the other hand, this Hare that I have still to finish is not as cute as the squirrel.

Portrait of a Hare_Work in Progress

Surviving in open fields and on mountain tops constantly exposed to the elements and predators particularly those that may fly in from above, must result in the animal living constantly on its nerves. To me that wide eyed alert look suggests fear and I imagine it to be constantly asking the question:

Are you going to eat me?

Would giving more emphasis to such concepts improve the substance of my art? Who decides what substance is?

Another drawing worth considering is the cheetah.

Portrait of a Cheetah
Portrait of a Cheetah

It is an animal built for speed and to reflect that, there are a lot of what I would describe as loose strokes but in this context, hopefully, it conveys motion and therefore I am relaxed about that.

As for another piece that I am currently working on which is an Orangutan and her baby… this is a piece that I did consider in a bit more detail.

Family Portrait of an Orangutan and Baby
Family Portrait of an Orangutan and Baby_Work in Progress

It is on a dark surface. I did that deliberately as the fiery orange and reds of the animal against the black background in my view inject an element of fear into the piece. This is particularly relevant when you consider that the motivation behind the piece was to raise awareness of the indiscriminate destruction of their rain forest habitat. The fear experienced by these animals when the destruction begins can only be imagined!

However, I do accept that these interpretations of my art are mine and I guess they may not necessarily be shared by the viewer. Should that differing view be considered a problem?

Through discussion with my partner, we both agreed that every picture does have a story. But, how that story is interpreted will be up to the viewer. I may draw a squirrel with the intention of interpreting the inquisitive nature of a squirrel so vital for it’s survival but for others, they may be happy to admire it for its cuteness. The fact that I used loose strokes to convey the speed that a cheetah can achieve may be criticized by some but for others the choice of stroke is irrelevant. What matters to them is the entirety of the piece and whether they like it or not. Does that difference in opinion of the technique matter?

For me what matters the most is that I am happy with the piece and that it has meaning to at least someone! Now, I do acknowledge that my art may not be regarded by many as deep and meaningful. But then, I don’t think it matters how academic or how simple that meaning is as long as it is accessible. Differences in the opinion of the interpretation of a drawing and the technique and style of a piece creates the opportunity for discussion. That is what makes art interesting and I would suggest is what gives it substance. As for the measurement of that substance surely that can be measured by how much discussion a particular piece of art generates!

In conclusion :
I will keep drawing what I draw, strive to improve my technique and will think a bit more about the story my art is trying to convey. What I will not do is get too hung up about substance!

On Track… sort of!

From trying to work on six projects at once, I am now down to a more manageable three.

Portrait of a Fox

The fox is now complete but the butterfly will, unfortunately, have to stay as a demonstration piece.    While explaining to others what to do and what not to do with regard to the use of watercolour pencils, I have shown too many examples of what not to do. I now think it would be difficult to retrieve the piece.

But, all is not lost as using the experience I will then go on at some point to do the butterfly again. It will be part of a series of drawings and I have references that are my own. It is always satisfying to use your own references. The artwork is then truly yours.

Small Tortoiseshell Butterfly
Small Tortoiseshell Butterfly

The Wolf is virtually complete but  I am struggling to decide when I should call it finished. Every time I stand back and take a look… something catches my eye that could do with further work. If I am not careful I am going to overwork this piece. That would be unfortunate as I am really pleased with how it looks, particularly as it was a challenge to use only a limited number of pencils. Five watercolour pencils were used along with a Derwent Chinese white pencil for the fur while the eyes were completed using two polychromous oil based pencils.

Snoozing Wolf completed in Watercolor pencils

Watercolour pencils I feel should offer more possibilities but I guess the problem is that it takes time to get to know them… something that can be a struggle to find.

With the butterfly being put to one side to be redone at a later date, the Hare and the Squirrel have had more work done on them than was expected. Both should be completed within the next week.

There has been no further progress on the Orangutan.

Family Portrait of an Orangutan and Baby
Family Portrait of an Orangutan and Baby

After the completion of the Squirrel and the Hare, I really need to crack on with this piece therefore until then it’s no more new projects.

It gets Frustrating when you are not Completing Projects.

Normally, I don’t like having more than three or four projects on the go at any one time! But, I currently find myself with six projects and only the fox nearing completion.

So, why take on so many?

As the completion of a project nears, an eagerness to get onto the next project starts to take over. By going ahead and making a start on another project the pressure to simply rush the current project eases.

Also, pausing that initial project allows the following question to be considered:

Is the project progressing in the way that was intended?

After plotting out the second drawing I then go back and continue with the main project.

If the first project is particularly big then I may start a third project. Usually, by this time the first project is near completion and it is very rare to start a fourth. That only happens if there is a theme that involves a series of four artworks.

The reason I have found myself in this predicament is down to a clash of commitments, timescales and not planning properly.

Volunteering to undertake a demonstration on watercolour pencils required some preparation. It was a good opportunity to further explore their potential using the Albrecht  Durer range. The butterfly was the planned demonstration piece with the wings being split into sections to show how watercolour pencils can be used both wet and dry.

What I had not planned for was the undertaking of a wolf project.

The wolf was started as I fancied trying pencils that had been bought some time ago and not been used. These were from the Caran d’ Ache Museum Aquarelle Watercolour range. They are considered by many to be the best. Apart from the use of Polychromous oil based pencils for the eyes, the rest of the work will be undertaken by only using the five watercolour pencils that I have from the Museum Aquarelle range. Unfortunately, they are expensive but nevertheless lovely pencils to use.

I am looking forward to finishing the wolf even though he was an unplanned project.

Then along came a deadline to focus more on local wildlife. That required the starting of two more projects which were the Hare and the Red Squirrel.

Suddenly, I had lots of uncompleted artworks.

If I want the artwork to be completed on time, a more disciplined approach is required

In the short term, I will be prioritising on the completion of the fox and then the butterfly. After that, I will concentrate on the wolf.

Unfortunately, the  Orangutan which was started way back in early January will need to be put on hold while I concentrate on the local wildlife theme which will continue with the Hare and the Red Squirrel.

By next week I hope to be back on track!

An Orange Phase

I recently watched an artist painting a landscape with shades of purple to give emphasis to a dramatic sky. He suggested that this was his purple phase!

It made me think about the tiger I had recently finished with its strong vibrant shades of orange and how I had enjoyed using these colours to build up the fur texture.

I have decided to go through an orange phase!

Anyone who knows me would not associate me with the colour orange!

They would associate me with blues, greys, and blacks which are cool colours.

Orange, on the other hand, is regarded as an energetic colour. It is associated with sunshine, heat, warmth, joy, enthusiasm and stimulation. Therefore I have decided to embrace the colour Orange, well… for a while at least.

Here are some of my current works in progress that use shades of Orange.

The Red Fox Work in progress

Portrait of a Red Fox
Portrait of a Red Fox

The Small Tortoiseshell Butterfly Work in progress

Small Tortoiseshell Butterfly
Small Tortoiseshell Butterfly

The Orangutan and her baby Work in progress

Family Portrait of an Orangutan and Baby
Family Portrait of an Orangutan and Baby

Please note the dark background for the above portrait was chosen and the work started before I had fully embraced this Orange phase. The inspiration behind the decision to draw the Orangutan and her baby came from the campaign to raise awareness of the devastating impact that growing  Palm oil has on the habitats of the beautiful animals.

Big Cats from Charcoal to Color

My latest project involved taking four sketches of big cats that were drawn using charcoal: a tiger. a lion, a leopard, and a cheetah and redoing them in color. Here are the charcoal cats and here are the cats in color.

Do I have a favorite?

The answer is no as they all have different expressions and characteristics. The tiger looks chilled, the lioness looks as if it is thinking about something important, the cheetah is clearly on a mission and the leopard still looks as though he is startled!

I really enjoyed drawing them!

But what next!

As using shades of orange for the tiger was new to me in contrast to the usual of using browns, blacks, and greys, I think I will now go and explore the color orange.

Progress on Startled Leopard and Friends

Progress continued on drawing four big cats.

I completed the lioness and I am very happy with the way she turned out.

Progress then turned to the other three cats. I began with the leopard that had a startled expression. Having continued to layer up the fur and refine the detail I thought the expression would soften. It hasn’t… it still has a startled look. At first, I admit I was a bit unsure. But now I am now OK with it. It is good to capture emotion within a drawing rather than always portraying a perceived perfection.  The expression did provoke discussion which is always welcome.

After good progress, I then did some more work on the tiger.

Thankfully with the inclusion of the eyes, it is now looking a lot less ghoulish. Usually, I am building up the texture of brown, black or grey fur and therefore combining all the different oranges, yellows, and reds with cinnamon and terracotta to build a plush tiger coat has been quite a challenge.

Being so engrossed in this, I did not do my usual of rotating between drawings. I find rotating between different drawings worthwhile as it lets you figure out where to go and what to do next. Not taking that time to consider a drawing can lead to mistakes. This nearly happened with the tiger as the area around the mouth was in danger of looking like he was recovering from an anesthetic after a trip to the dentist!

As well as that near miss, the result of not rotating between drawings is that no further progress has been made on the cheetah.

I will now give the tiger some space and will continue with the cheetah and the Leopard.

Hopefully, all three will be completed next week

 

Big Cats Under Construction!

My current project involves big cats. I started with four individual charcoal drawings of a lioness, a leopard, a cheetah, and a tiger.   The next stage was then to develop each cat into a color drawing using color pencil and pan pastel.

I started with the lioness.  Here is the work in progress.

Four images of the drawing of a lioness
Four images showing the different stages of drawing a lioness

Reference: Wildlife Reference Photos 

She is not quite finished as there is a bit of refinement still required, particularly down the right side. I really enjoyed drawing her as the warm glow of the yellows, browns, and ochres contrasted with the cool greys and blues of the wolf that was the subject of my previous project. Drawing her has made me think of summer!

I have also made a start on the other three cats.

The reference image for the leopard was one that I was initially not too sure of as I felt it lacked detail, but I decided to go ahead anyway. Despite a wobbly start, I persevered and I am now happy with the way this cat is turning out.

leopard work in progress
leopard work in progress

Take a look at the first picture in the work in progress, it reflects how I often feel at the start of a new project, one of slight panic wondering how it will turn out.

Thankfully through perseverance, this leopard is now developing to the point that I can give a sigh of relief.

Reference: Jason Morgan

The next one up is the cheetah, a slightly different type of reference shot as it shows her clearly on a mission. I decided to fill the pastel mat to gain maximum impact. It will be interesting to see how this turn out.

Two images showing the early stages of drawing a cheetah
Two images showing the early stages of drawing a cheetah

Reference: Pixabay

The Tiger was the last to be started and it is still at the pan pastel foundation layer. The lack of eyes makes it a bit ghoulish.

Tiger work in progress showing the initial pan pastel application.
Tiger work in progress showing the initial pan pastel application.

Reference: Jason Morgan

Having now made a start on all four cats, I will rotate between them until I am finished.