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.
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.
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!
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!
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:
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.
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.
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.
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!
From trying to work on six projects at once, I am now down to a more manageable three.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Portrait of a Red Fox WIP
Small Tortoiseshell Butterfly WIP
Red Squirrel WIP
Family Portrait of an Orangutan and Baby First work in progress
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.
Squirrels are very common where I live. Now that the leaves are off the trees you can easily spot them running along branches and jumping from tree to tree. As well as squirrel watching, I spent a good part of last week finishing off the drawing of a grey squirrel.
I am really pleased with the way this piece has turned out and consider it to be one of my better drawings. The previous exercise in drawing charcoal squirrels was really useful in focusing on values and has brought more depth to the drawing.
As well as drawing a squirrel, I found a Gorilla image that I liked at Wildlife Reference Photos that had a good tonal value. This I considered would be another good subject through which to explore contour through shading.
My initial sketch was done on recently bought Canson C a grain paper, a paper that is relatively smooth and not too textured and Conte Noire pencils. These are materials that are new to me but unfortunately, I became preoccupied with exploring their properties. Therefore exploring contour did not quite go as intended but the final result although quite sketchy is nevertheless interesting for its texture.
Now more familiar with the Gorilla, I drew him again on Clairefontaine Pastelmat paper using pan pastel to map out the variation in values in lights and darks.
Then using color pencils, I selected a variety of different whites, greys, and blacks to build up the detail.
Interesting how different pencil manufacturers can have different types of whites and blacks.
The second drawing of the Gorilla is not quite finished yet!
Looking at both drawings, it is interesting how the expressions are slightly different! Although the Gorilla below is more accurate to the reference, I prefer the expression on the Pierre Noire pencil sketch.
It will be interesting to see if that is still my preference when the second drawing is completed.