Drawing Animals….. Grabbing the Chance

I had intended to draw deer for this assignment as there are several deer enclosures in the Bonn region, including one right beside our school. However, the sub-freezing temperatures meant that I put this exercise off for as long as possible. When I ventured out two weeks ago to the Kottenforst above Bonn, the deer were sitting in the first patch of sunlight they had seen for weeks – as far from the fence as it was possible to be…. I gave up and walked on, eventually attempting to sketch the more obliging, if uncuddly, wild boar in the next pen….

Uncuddly wild boar

Penned wild boar are very inquisitive and interested in new visitors but become quickly bored if you don’t have food. I focused at first on trying to capture their overall outline quickly…

Boars' body shape

As they periodically ran away and returned to the fence, I tried to capture their head shape and facial features. Mature boars have a lump, or tuft of hair, on the tops of their heads, which is absent from the young boar. I took some photos for later reference.

Initial sketches of boar's head
More sketches of boars' heads...

I found this exercise frustrating, partly because it was cold and I had to stand while sketching with half-fingered gloves, but mainly because of the boars’ vigorous activity which proved very difficult to capture on paper.

It helps to have done some research about the skeleton; overall body shape and how an animal sits, stands and moves, in order to have an internal reference point against which to measure the animal in front of you. I had not done this and, just as I was warming up, they disappeared into the woodland at the back of the enclosure, and that was that.

Due to lack of decent weather and, I have to admit, lack of enthusiasm for the wild boar, I decided to look for other animals to draw and got the opportunity to draw a lop-eared rabbit called Rosie. Rosie belongs to the children of a friend and I was able to spend a couple of hours trying to capture Rosie on paper. This proved no easier than the boar… Rosie is a domesticated rabbit who lives indoors and occasionally has the run of the living room. She can jump and move very fast and is only really “drawable” while getting her breath back.

Below are some sketchbook pages of sketches made “live” but later annotated. Some were developed in situ and others were developed afterwards.

1 Initial sketches of rabbit's overall outline
2 In situ sketches

I found it very difficult to get the position of her eye in relation to her nose and ears. Her ears flop down and she can change their position so that sometimes, particularly when startled, they semi-stick out…

3 Facial sketches
4 Sketches begun in-situ

I applied a wash later to one sketch, using a photo reference. I found it a challenge to realistically convey her fluffiness, the flatness of her head, as well as the relative flatness of her facial features. I used a photo reference of another lop-eared rabbit (because my photos of Rosie are not really close-up) to try to block out the main facial planes. However, Rosie’s face seems to be flatter than that of most other rabbits!
The sketch on the right in the fourth sketchbook page (below) conveys the flatness of the face and position of the eyes and ears but the ears should be larger. The final stage of preparation was to try to emulate the fluffy fur texture. I tried using Inktense pencils, brushing in one direction using a wet fan brush. This was partly successful. A fine liner gave an impression of much coarser hair.

5 Exploring fur texture

Finally, I decided to use charcoal, brushing the coat with a wet fan brush to give fluffy edges. I also researched the rabbit’s skeleton in the sitting and standing positions. However, Rosie tends to lie down when she rests, with her legs protruding at the back, and she flattens herself against the floor. I decided to use charcoal for my drawing. I used the outline sketches that I had in order to get her shape but also checked overall proportions against a photo reference.

Rosie, lying on the floor


Close-up of head
Close-up of her head

Using a wet fan brush in the charcoal, I was able to produce a slightly fluffy outline, which is visible in the close-up of her head. I had not used charcoal since the first assignment and enjoyed using it again. It is a very forgiving medium and it allowed me to adjust the rabbit’s proportions several times. Given that she is pale in colour (cream / light tan), it might be better to draw her using a putty eraser into a charcoal ground. Finally, I tried to introduce a context and colour. She is sitting on a red and blue carpet in one photo that I have of her so I used Neocolor II crayons and a wash to recreate this. On reflection, I did this a bit too quickly and, in particular, the livid purple shadow is overdone! It would have been better to stick with charcoal.

Charcoal image of Rosie, with wash

I need to find ways to represent animals’ movement quickly and this will come with more practice. I will be off to the zoo when the weather is warmer and perhaps I should go back and try to get a drawing done of the wild boar.

Finally, last autumn I visited an exhibition at the Rheinisches Landesmuseum here in Bonn about archaeological excavations that took place near Halle in Germany in recent years. While mining Braunkohle (lignite) in open-cast mines, the remains of 200,000 year old elephants, which used to roam around Europe, came to light and this exhibition focused on the findings. In the foyer of the museum, they reconstructed a marvellous elephant. I drew him from the first floor gallery, which brought me almost level with his head. I used a fineliner in an A4 sketchbook.

Sketch of reconstructed elephant
Sketch of reconstructed elephant

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