Friday, April 7, 2017

Drawing Animals: Advice from 1907

"The only materials needed for sketching from live animals in the field are two pencils, one soft and blunt, and one fairly hard and well sharpened; a sketch-book, preferably of the loose leaf kind, of small size; and a soft eraser."

So begins a 1907 article on animal drawing in the children's magazine St. Nicholas Illustrated Magazine for Boys and Girls.

The authors admit that a highly finished drawing of a live animal is very difficult to achieve in the field. Instead they recommend making a series of quick sketches that concentrate on the main outlines of the pose.

After drawing the main outline, the observer should make notes about key markings or coloration.

If you get nothing else, "first get the slant of the figure and the angles formed by the head and neck, legs, wings and tail, and then, if the bird is still before you, proceed with the smaller details."

Don't waste time on details that you could get from a mounted specimen.

The authors recommend that when the young artist returns home, he or she should fill scrapbooks of assorted outline sketches by cutting out the best examples of each species and putting them together with other similar poses.

Later, when you want to produce a finished picture, you can choose from the quick silhouettes and develop them into a more complete painting or drawing.
St. Nicholas: A Children's Magazine


Elena Jardiniz said...

Interesting. I used to sketch a lot at the zoo and found that getting an idea of the skeleton of the animal, starting at the ribcage and scribbling outward, worked well to get the gesture and to remember the general proportions of the animal. Then detailing from one or more as the opportunity presented itself as they moved around.

I don't think I'd get as accurate a drawing, nor would I be near as pleased with one of these outline things. It reminds me far too much of a gimmick prone "instructor" I had years ago.

David Webb said...

Eric Ennion (1900-1981) was a British bird artist who continually sketched from life, and also taught his methods. He was very keen on getting the character of the subject through direct observation, rather than rely on photographs for reference. This ethos is very evident in his beautiful drawings and watercolours.

James Gurney said...

Thanks, David. I wasn't aware of Eric Ennion. Very nice work.

Elena, you're right: it helps a lot to get a line of action or a sense of the bones first and to be able to build out. It's also so important to mark the key landmarks and breaks inside the form.

Glenn Tait said...

I sketch a lot of birds on location and I find getting that the large, overall silhouette and angle relationships works better for me in terms of accuracy and speed. It may be the influence of sight size in my drawing approach but I found that gestures never helped with accuracy.

Brian said...

David Webb: I had to go look up Ennion's work; it's great stuff.

Another wildlife artist of note, who did great animal drawings, was Wilhelm Kuhnert (1865-1926). As far as I can work out, he also worked from live animals. Some examples: