There is a saying that home is where the heart is. For me, the studio is where the heart is. My art happens wherever I am, whenever I’m there.
The zoo has it all: people of all ages; some sitting, some standing, some walking, some running. Some people are watching animals, some are watching other people, some are eating, some are lost or confused, picnicking, reading maps, waiting in lines, yelling at kids, holding hands, pushing strollers—the list goes on and on. The zoo has myriad and varied botanical and floral subjects, often ignored by all the other zoo-goers who are just interested in the animals. The zoo has numerous landscape types and formats for each animal’s enclosure and there are even limited examples of architecture. Finally, the zoo has animals, and lots of them.
When going to the zoo or taking a similar sketch safari, I find it important to have a plan. I’m usually in one of two modes: Spend a long time drawing or painting one or two animals or SKETCH ALL THE ANIMALS EVER! For those longer type sessions, I might want to have the tools and materials to spend more time and get more involved with producing something finished and refined. For the latter (SKETCHING ALL THE ANIMALS), I prefer to have as few tools as possible that still allow me to capture what it is I’m looking for out of these images or subjects.
For this trip, I wanted to sketch them all, so I packed light. In addition to plenty of water and my pith helmet, I took a small sumi-style accordion book (This book uses the sprinkle gold paper for its pages. The gold flecks resist ink leaving beautiful, sparkly gold ‘noise’ within ink washes.), a few DANIEL SMITH watercolor sticks (for rare color punches), a jar of Dr. P H Martin’s Bleedproof White (for highlights) and a set of ink brush pens from Pentel.
The brush set includes four brush pens: one filled with black ink, one filled with gray ink, one filled with dark brown ink and one empty (which I filled with 50% DANIEL SMITH Walnut Ink and 50% water). These work great on the absorbent paper in the sumi accordion book. The paper sucks the ink straight in forcing the artist to work economically and decisively—there is little room for error. The watercolor sticks are a very portable and convenient way for me to drop a touch of color here or there (sketching a flamingo without pink just feels wrong). The Bleedproof white works for adding highlights over already dry dark ink, works as an eraser so I can cover over any ink-bleed area to try again, and works to gouache-ify the watercolor sticks if I want to add some opaque color over something.
Since my goal for the day was to draw all of the animals ever, I used the same approach and techniques for each drawing. I began by laying in a light gesture of the subject or scene with either the light brown walnut ink or the gray ink brush. Next, I added in darks where they belong with the black, dark brown and gray brush pens. All the while, my animal subjects were on the move, so I’d add parts of them as the opportunities arose and added background / scenery details while the animals roamed about. As my color choices were severely limited, I was able to allow the brown inks to serve as my warm colors and the black and gray inks as my cools. I did not work too quickly, spending about 3-10 minutes per drawing but I did force myself to work decisively, only touching brush to paper when and where I really meant it.
If you like the zoo, it is really easy to spend 8 hours wandering and looking, with no drawings to show, if you go in without a plan. When you go out to sketch, anywhere, know what animals, buildings, sculptures or poses you’d like to tackle before you go out. Then, plan your supplies around how you want to tackle these subjects. Things will rarely end up going according to plan, but if you start with a plan you start with focus. You start with goals. And your trip will be more productive for it.
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