Zoo Time: Touching Wonder

February 1, 2010

How I started the New Year.

Above: The first page spread in my first journal of 2010. Puffins at the Como Zoo. I made this 6.75 x 11 inch journal (so tall because I didn't want to waste any of this paper) out of Lion's Cover from Barcham Green (a now defunct paper). I left the edge of the paper in my scan, so that you could see the lovely deckle edge on this paper. Also peeking out on the left side of the image is the metalic paste paper I made to cover the book.

Whenever possible I like to start a new journal on the first day of the new year. It makes my numbering system for indexing so much easier. I also like to treat myself to one of the journals I've made with discontinued paper. This January it was a book made with Barcham Green's Lion's Cover. It is a lightweight paper with a nubby texture that because of the hard surface actually works as if it were a smooth paper—writing and sketching on it, even dip pen, is easy and effortless with no catching of the nib. It takes watercolors and gouache beautifully. The thinness of the sheet does allow for buckling (as seen on the verso page, but it just adds to the charm for me. And yes the paper also smells really good.

I have a few books of it left and I try to savor it when I use one of the books. I also end up with a lot of collaged pages, or work note pages with photos of paintings in progress, that sort of thing. This doesn't bother me any more. But when I first made books from this paper I used them only for dedicated nature journals, thus ensuring I would only paint on the pages.

You can see pages from the first book I made with Lion's Cover beginning with an image of an ostrich. (Click through the following entries to see 3 more zoo sketches in that journal.) I started this book just 4 days after Dottie's death, in an effort to find a replacement for my Daily Dot drawings. 

This lion sketch is also in that journal. I used a sanguine Nexus pen for sketching before adding watercolor washes. You can see an additional gallery of pages from this dedicated nature journal on my website. 

I liked the paper so much that I returned to Wet Paint and purchased their remaining stock (which wasn't a lot of sheets) and then bound them all up into books. In 2003, in part because of work in these dedicated nature journals, I folded my visual journals into one book and stopped having a separate nature journal. There were a lot of reasons for this change in working method, the main one was that I wanted to only carry one book around with me, oh, yeah, and I love chronological order.

When sketching at the zoo I recommend, as you'll see in these sketches, letting go of trying to capture a perfect sketch of an individual. Instead start many images across your page spread. Animals in captivity tend to take walks (or swims) around their enclosures which are repetitive. Start a sketch for four or five positions on this route. Spend most of your time watching the animal. When it gets to one of the points you're trying to capture find one new element of information in that few seconds and draw. In this way, over time, rotating from sketch to sketch as the animal moves, you'll develop several sketches on your page spread, and be able to notice many things that, if you don't have the time to sketch you can jot down. (You'll also be developing your visual memory.)

It's all useful information. Sometimes it's as simple as focusing on the negative space between a puffin's legs and feet. Sometimes a fish you might not have looked at twice, like the black bullhead, becomes impressive because you stop to really look at it.

The journal is the place where we can reconnect with our sense of wonder. The great thing about wonder is that unlike paper, it doesn't get discontinued.

  1. Reply

    what timing Roz – I just joined the zoo in Sydney for a year and went on Saturday for a hour and half to start – felt so much out of my comfort zone (as an architect I like hard edged stationery man made objects!) but that is the whole idea to push myself. Thanks so much for the tips – I realised on Saturday I needed to spend a lot of time observing first.

    • Roz
    • February 1, 2010

    Liz, I’m so glad you got to the zoo. You will find it easier each time you go. And the more you visit the more you’ll learn the rhythm of the place. I forgot to mention that it is also good to learn the feeding schedule of the various animals so that they are either on hand being fed like the penguins here, and so available to sketch, or taken in to feed somewhere off view and then you know not to count on seeing them.

    And discovering their nap times are also key! For obvious reasons. I hope you have many happy and productive visits to the zoo!

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