Monday, September 20, 2010

Life drawing class revisited

There are very few places in Howarth Park that you can't find a family of California ground squirrels (Spermophilus beecheyi). They're quite tolerant of humans, adapting easily to our ways. Those that live in the areas most used by humans have come to depend on us for a steady diet of junk food, often fed by toddlers getting their first introduction to what can loosely be called wildlife. Deeper into the park, the squirrels are wary of humans but still much more tolerant of our presence than other wildlife.

I've only begun sketching wildlife this past year. After several years of drawing fungi and plants, I found that I had no clue how to draw something that wasn't sitting still and posing for me or rooted to the ground. Birds were what drew me to wildlife but sketching the ground squirrels of Howarth Park has given me the best practice so far. Beginning with those that are well accustomed to humans invading their area, I've been able to learn a great deal about sketching small animals that are in nearly constant motion. On days when it was just too hard for me to follow them with my pen or pencil, I could usually find some basking in the sun for long stretches of time, giving me the chance to do some figure drawing the way I learned it long ago, with a stationary model.

In the process of observing, I've found myself fascinated by creatures that I once took very little notice of. They, in turn, seem to be fascinated with the woman and dog who sit quietly and watch them. The first-year squirrels greatly enjoy tormenting Chloe by creeping closer and closer, causing the poor dog to lose control and lunge at the last minute, only to be brought up short by the leash as the devilish squirrel easily escapes. In one spot we like to sit there's a burrow opening about 2 feet in front of my feet where at least one of the young squirrels likes to poke her face out and watch us intently, with her nose going the whole time.

If you're looking for help sketching any kind of creature that moves you might find Drawing Birds by John Busby to be a great place to begin. Although the focus is on birds, the techniques he discusses are as much help with ground squirrels as birds and the artwork by several different wildlife artists is truly inspiring.


  1. It is fun watching yhour growth as a sketcher of squirrels. These look much more fluid than the first one .... much more alive. The little imps make for great models to practice on, don't they.

  2. Drawing a moving target is very challenging, but also quite satisfying - especially when you capture that one pose that describes your subject perfectly.

    I find that starting with quick gesture drawings helps me a lot, and somewhere in there my left brain tries to grab a few details to note. I don't do this enough, though, and quickly get rusty. Thanks for the book recommendation.

    I loved your story as well as your sketches!

  3. Great sketches and post, Deb! I too have always found the John Busby book inspirational and in fact was just looking through it again yesterday for about the umpteenth time. I keep looking for some sort of animal, other than our cats, that will sit still for a bit the way models are supposed to.

    My online friend Tim Wootton, who is a great follower of people like Busby and Eric Ennion, has a new book on drawing and painting birds that will be out in England in November. I'm not sure when it will be available here. But based on all the useful thoughts and encouragement he gives to people on birdforum, and based on his own tremendous work, I'd be willing to bet it also will be a very inspirational work. Not really trying to plug the book because I don't think it will need it but just to alert people to its coming publication.

  4. I just discovered your blog and enjoyed reading about your experience drawing squirrels. You have me inspired to do the same since I need to work on my drawing skills and have a ton of squirrels in my backyard. Very nice drawings by the way! Will be coming back to check the rest of your drawings when I have time.