Drawing and painting animals in watercolour
Whatever medium is intended for carrying out a painting, it must
start with drawing. After years of experience, an artist may base his
picture on a sketch so apparently slight that it seems almost as if the
drawing is being bypassed. For this to be done successfully, careful
study and observation must have been carried out in the past, over many
years, so that the artist's stored knowledge of the subject enables him
to sum up very quickly the essential facts of the model before him, and
to add these to what is already in his memory, to produce a true and
completely understood presentation of what is there. Until this study
has been done, it is as well to spend as much time as you can on
drawing. Even if you have no immediate intention of doing a painting, no
time spent on drawing is wasted; carry a sketch-book with you, and draw
Observing and drawing
Practice in drawing, on any subject, so that even if the result
appears to be of little significance, it has a beneficial effect on your
general ability. By tilling sketch books with drawing of many different
animals you are building up your knowledge of their structure and habits
and also a useful record to refer to for later work. Do not be
disheartened at the apparent impossibility of completing any one drawing
even the smallest sketch can be useful.
another drawing if your subject moves, as you may well have a chance
later to go back to the first one. Collect all your drawings and make
written notes about colours, behaviour, and sex of animals, the age and
anything else that contributes to your knowledge. Try to draw from
different view points, and pay attention to the structure of eyes, feet
and years. These will help you to make a really well observed and
thoroughly worked out painting. The route to drawing and painting an
animal well is through the careful study of its form leading to the
perception of its physical entity.
Group of animals
The whole class of animals can be divided into various groups. The
orders are divided into families, which are themselves subdivided, into
subfamilies, which are themselves subdivided, into subfamilies, genera,
species and subspecies.
Even within these, there are still variations, and the range of
difference is extraordinary. There is a large group comprising much of
what we eat - beef, mutton, pork and buffaloes. It all includes the wild
cattle, sheep, pigs, goats and horses from which our farm animals are
Using photography and television
It is difficult always to work directly from nature, with wild-life
subjects. I often work from zoo specimens, then the question of the
background still remains, and it is necessary to seek more information
about the details of an animal's appearance. Although it is better to
draw from life as far as possible, photographs, television, and video
films can be used quite legitimately as an extra source of information.
I draw a great deal from nature films. The drawings have a liveliness
that comes only from watching the movement of an animal going about its
normal business. Photograph studies are done from closer quarters of
pictures taken on sight.
Video films can be of great help, particularly to slow down movement.
It is important not to work from a still image alone.
In Sri Lanka, Habarana is believed to be a high elephant density
being in the centre of three national parks namely Minneriya, Kawdulla
The painting, shown here 'elephant looking for water' is taken from a
photograph taken while I was on an elephant safari. Observe the lakeside
scene with the wild elephant figured in the centre. The image is more
striking, as it gives the greatest amount of detail in the foreground
and simplified the background. Our attention is now focused on the
elephant and the water, which register clearly against the dark patches
of olive green and tones used for the background.
The surroundings gives a dramatic impression of the sheer scale and
the grandeur of the natural world. See how the contrast between the
sharp-focus foreground (the elephant) and the hazy background helps
create the illusion of depth and space in the landscape.
One of the most attractive qualities about watercolour is its ability
to suggest even the most transient effects of light, colour and
atmosphere found in nature.
The appeal of this painting lies in the delicate transition from
strong colour and detail (sharp focus) in the centre of the picture to
pale delicate light tones depicting water.
It also lends a touch of poetry to the painting, and prevents the
objects within it from looking unnaturally hard and brittle.