Welcome to Drawn to Animals

blog of Dr Susan Poole VPSGFA UKCPS

Zebras grazing, Tanzania. Pencil, by Susan Poole.
Preliminary stages of zebra head drawing, pencil

This blog is about animals and art, particularly when the art relates to animals.

Video showing stages of my watercolour painting, Sleeping Lion.

It appears on the front cover of my new book Drawn to Animals, an artist’s encounters, ISBN 9781838398804. Available from Waterstones, Foyles, or Reader’s Empire. Published 31.3.21.

This book is a collection of my drawings, watercolours, etchings and sketchbook studies showing an artistic journey that has taken me across many continents to observe animals first-hand. It includes fascinating facts about each animal .

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.

Here’s how I made the painting:

  • Using pencil sketches, and my photos, I looked at the many colours I could see in the lion’s body and surrounding background. 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.

Check out the stages in the video.

Image 1.

  • I first drew the shape of the foreleg using a pale line of Payne’s grey (all colours in this painting were Winsor & Newton Artist’s watercolour). Then, as well as delineating his mouth, I used the same colour to wash in the shadow under the lion’s paw, and the other dark shadows where the chin and nose touch the ground. I also painted some on the mane’s dark area with Payne’s grey. I then used Cadmium yellow, Naples yellow, and yellow ochre (sometimes mixed with a touch of Indian red) to map in more of the mane, especially where it joined the head; this gave me a frame to the face. The main tonal areas were then established.

Image 2.

  • I continued to build up the tones to develop the lion’s shape and shadows. I could see this was going to be a predominantly ‘warm’ painting, comprising mainly reds, oranges and yellows, but it was important to retain a minority of cool colours to act as a counterbalance. Lemon yellow provided a cooler yellow for some of the body tones. Cobalt blue was added to give some brighter cool tones to the foreleg, and belly, and more sepia was laid on the shadows under his paw.

Image 3.

  • Mixtures of the colours used in Stage 2, forming blues and greens were introduced as washes of increasing colour strength around the edges of the focal areas of the lion to suggest the grassy background. A Payne’s grey and yellow ochre wash outlined the lion’s curved flank. I also drew round the outer edges of the lion’s ragged mane with two paler green washes, carefully leaving some fine white lines of paper exposed to suggest individual hairs both here and around the paw; I always aim to give attention to the edge of an animal’s skin, fur or hair which can contribute a great deal to the overall sense of his or her surface texture.

Image 4.

  • More washes were laid, often the underlayers drying before others were added because I was constantly moving around the image. But if they didn’t dry and the colours bled into each other that was fine too, and added painterly interest. Some cobalt blue was added to the face near the mane edge and, combining it with yellow ochre, was also used on the lion’s paw to help bring it more forward in the picture as a central focus. Some dry-brush streaks of a varying mixture of sepia and Payne’s grey were added to the mane to increase the hair-like texture, and the same colour mix was used in greater intensity to enhance some of the darker shadows.
  • Most of the finer details were painted at this stage. A touch of diluted rose madder, ideal for animal noses (especially young ones), was washed onto the lion’s nose, but then toned down with some Indian red. Finally, some tiny streaks of white paint were applied to suggest more hairs on the lion’s chin, where it had been difficult to leave blank paper without breaking the flow of the line on the upper edge of the paw. Some white paint was also used to mark a few blade of grass in the foreground.
My travelling paint box

Lions are good subjects to draw

because they spend a great deal of time lying still, snoozing or basking in the sun. 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.

Lion Facts:

  • Lions 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. Lionesses do the hunting for the pride. They 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. Most wild lions live in Africa, though a few Asian lions are still present in India. In the last 25 years the number of lions in Africa has halved. They are now classified as vulnerable to extinction.

Lions have have been the subject of many artists.

Sir Edwin Landseer, a prominent and talented British animal artist of the 19th century, whose work is now rarely seen, was fascinated by them.

Sketch of a lion’s head by Sir Edwin Landseer

Landseer also designed and carved the large lions that were cast in bronze and sit around Nelson’s column in Trafalgar Square, 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.

2B7MHX9 Edward Landseer, John Ballantyne, circa 1865,
  • Lions have long been used as symbols of courage and strength and fiction writers have personified them, often often focusing on these qualities. Walt Disney’s the Lion King, is an obvious example, where the lion occupies a much associated role of King of the Jungle. A lion is endowed with a god-like status and defeater of evil in the form of the White Witch in one of my favourite books as a child was The Lion, Witch and the Wardrobe by C. S. Lewis, first published in 1950. In the Wizard of Oz, staring Judy Garland in the film, the traditional courage of the lion is turned on its head, until he meets the ‘wizard’.

How I drew the Langar monkey I saw in India – video of stages

Video showing stages in making the coloured pencil drawing of a Langur monkey and young a number of which I saw in India.
One of the initial sketchbook studies used to draw the Langur Monkey

Langur Monkey facts

  • Langur monkeys are Old World monkeys native to the Indian sub-continent. According to National Geographic they are are trained in New Delhi to scare off aggressive rhesus monkeys and other wild animals that might roam into public spaces and cause mischief and are highly valued. Hindus revere them as a symbol of the monkey deity Hanuman – the Langurs’ black faces and extremities are said to call to mind the burns that Hanuman suffered in the course of his heroism.
  • Grey Langurs are herbivorous, feeding on a wide range of plants from leaves, fruit, shoots, roots, grass, bamboo, ferns, coniferous needles and cones, mosses and lichen. They also develop mutualistic relationships with ground-dwelling herbivores such as cattle and deer, who can feed underneath groups of foraging langurs to eat food dropped or dislodged by the monkeys.

Wildlife in Britain

Wildlife seen in my garden in March.

  • Hedgehogs, distant relatives of shrews, are widespread in Britain and Europe. They inhabit mainly woodland, hedgerows, fields, parks, town and country gardens and live off slugs, snails, caterpillars, beetles, earthworms and birds’ eggs. They have a distinctive spiny coat, and long coarse hair on their face and underbelly. They are primarily nocturnal, sleeping by day under shrubs or in hedgerows. They can live up to six years.
  • Hedgehogs are one of the few mammals that are true hibernators. During hibernation they are not really asleep, instead they drop their body temperature to match their surroundings and enter a state of torpor, slowing down their bodily functions and preserving energy.
  • Hedgehogs have changed little in the past 15 million years, but are now considered to be a vulnerable species in the UK, steadily disappearing from the wild. Old names for them have been ‘urchins’ and ‘hedgepigs’.


This ladybird is a seven spot one, measuring up to 8mm it is the larger of the two most common ladybirds (the other being a smaller two spot measuring up to 5mm). Surprisingly, 40 other species of ladybird can be found in the British Isles.
  • Ladybirds don’t usually emerge from winter hibernation until April (when they emerge to look for a mate) so, in this slightly warmer climate of Devon, it is out earlier here in March, albeit late March. The RSPB tells us that the bright colour of ladybirds warms off predators like birds, ants and people because they have a bitter taste (who thought of eating ladybirds!).
  • They are good to have in the garden as they eat aphids and small insects, thus a natural insecticide. The larvae which hatch from the ladybirds eggs, steely blue with creamy-yellow spots do not resemble the adults, but eat aphids voraciously. 


Portrait of a horse – coloured pencil

The Horse in Art

The horse has fascinated artists throughout history.

Two paintings in the National Gallery London that fascinated me as a child, long before horses came into my life, were Horse Frightened by Lightening, by Theodore Gericault, and Lion Attacking a Horse, by George Stubbs. Neither particularly nice for the horse! But both with a sense of drama.

Horse frightened by lightning, Gericault.
Lion attacking a horse, Stubbs.

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Grey carriage horses, detail of a larger pencil drawing by Susan Poole.


Susan is an award winning international artist. She has an MA in Fine Art and a PhD in Archaeology from University College London, with work published on art from the prehistoric Aegean.

She has shown at many national and international exhibitions, including at the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition, The Mall Galleries, The Bankside Gallery and the Westminster Gallery in London. She is Vice President of the Society of Graphic Fine Art (who will have their 100th annual Open show at the Mall Galleries, London, July 2021). She is also a Silver Signature member of the UK Coloured Pencil Society, a member of the Association of Animal Artists, a member of the Fine Art Trade Guild and of the Association of Art Historians .

She has a particular interest in animal subjects and her work is held in collections at home and abroad.