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Sunday, 19 July 2015





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Painting 101:

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 whenever possible.

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.

Start 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 derived.

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 and Hurulu.

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.


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