Welcome to Drawn to Animals
This blog is about animals and art, particularly when the art relates to animals.
I will be explaining how some of the drawings, etchings and watercolours in my book Drawn to Animals were made (see About Susan Poole), as well as talking about the animals themselves. I will also look at other artists and writers whose subjects have been animals.
This video shows four stages of my watercolour painting of the sleeping lion I saw in Tanzania that appears on the front cover of my new book.
The posture of the sleeping lion appealed to me because I was surprised how gentle it made him appear. With his paw resting under his muzzle he was an enormous, if awesome, cat at rest. He lay so still that flies rested undisturbed on his face.
I looked at the many colours I could see in the lion’s body and surrounding background and mixed up (or diluted them straight from the tubes) small quantities of liquid paint in my indented palette. These were colours to match those I saw. I like to use washes freely and quickly, especially during the early stages of a painting, often enjoying seeing unexpected blends of one tone or hue into another. I like to avoid running out of any colours at a crucial moment. I don’t want to be hastily diluting additional paint when in full flow of painting an image. So I always have a range of colours made up ready before I begin a watercolour painting. This process takes a little time but is also valuable because it makes me analyse the animal itself very closely before I begin painting.
Then I looked for key points in the pose. I liked this lion’s mane, which sticks out like a worn brush, and I loved the curve of his lower limb resting diagonally across his body, especially the crook where the paw bends.
Lions are good subjects to draw because they spend a great deal of time snoozing or basking in the sun and and they may rest up to 20 hours a day. I saw many of these carnivores, often at quite close quarters, in both Tanzania and Botswana. They live on grassland, scrub or open woodlands where they can more easily see and catch their prey, the large grass eating animals like zebra and wildebeest. But lions hunt mostly at night and so spend daylight hours resting, sometimes not far from, and very visible to, animals who they will later catch when they are hungry again.
Lions have long been used as symbols of courage and strength and have been the subject of many artists. Most notably Sir Edwin Landseer, a prominent and talented British animal artist of the 19th century, whose work is now rarely seen, was fascinated by them. He designed and carved the large lions that were cast in bronze and sit around Trafalgar Square in London. John Ballantyne painted Landseer working on one of the lions (below), which also shows a preliminary Landseer drawings in the bottom right of this painting and on the far wall behind the completed lions. Ballantyne’s painting now hangs in the National Portrait Gallery, London.
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