If you want to draw portraits of great apes, you have to approach them in the proper way. You can’t just march up to a great ape enclosure and start staring at them, or they’ll get all shy and disgusted and turn their back on you, because staring is a threat to them.
Yesterday we went to the North Carolina Zoo, the third largest zoo in the U.S.A. We got there early in the day when the gorillas were just waking up.
I remembered something I learned in my primate social behavior class. I approached the glass with a submissive posture, looking down at the ground and backing up with my hand out.
The gorilla loved it. She had never seen a human act like a polite ape before. She came right up to the glass and posed for me while I did this half-hour portrait from just two feet away. It was like sketching someone on a subway. I tried to just glance at her discreetly out of the corner of my eye.
I tried the same approach on the chimpanzee, an wild-born 33-year-old male named “H.N.”
He watched me draw with tremendous interest.
Every ten minutes or so he wanted me to show him how I was coming along on the sketch.