Practicing at the Zoo

August 3, 2012

120728_01PuffinLeft: first page of the day at Como, Puffins of course. Vine Charcoal on Stonehenge. My first sketch didn't get developed before he hopped to a higher perch so I worked over it and rubbed out the lines a bit with my finger—one of the fun things about charcoal. If I were spending more time I might have laid in a whole dark background of charcoal and smudged it—because that would have made the light crest of feathers pop on his head. All these scans have a bit of a shadow on them. The wire binding prevented me from shutting the scanner cover and I didn't throw a cloth over the machine, but the paper is a creamy white.

Last Friday I went with my friend Bill to sketch at the Como Zoo. Bill wanted to practice sketching in public, specifically crowds. I wanted to practice sketching with some different media so that I could make a decision about which materials I'd use at the upcoming Paws on Grand (where we sketch pet portraits with an optional donation to charity).

Set to arrive at 11 a.m. Bill called me on my cell as I was circling the parking areas. We confirmed we were both going to have a long walk and hung up. Thirty minutes later Bill walked in the Como entrance.


Right: Next page. I'm only working on the right-hand pages because of the smeary mess that charcoal makes!

B: Whose idea was this? 
[He asked in reference to the hordes of people!]

R: I was going to tell you that you picked a great day for the weather. [Roz said in reference to the still below 80 degree temperature, the first such day in weeks].

B: So did everyone else.

We chatted for about 30 minutes while sitting on the bench. We looked over materials that we were each going to use. But time was awasting and I don't chat much when I'm sketching, so off we went to the Aquatic building to start with the puffins.


Left: Puffin resting on the top of a rock. This is my third page and my favorite sketch of the day.

(Bill was a very pleasant sketch partner as he was happy to go pretty much any where I wanted to go, and I do have my somewhat superstitous route!)

I don't have any photos or scans of what Bill did, but they were all great. We stood relatively close to each other (the crowds pretty much forced us to if we were going to get any view at all) and it was fun to see how someone else saw the same animal.


Right: I did a number of quick sketches on this page. I was interested in getting the shape down quickly.

Bill also used a variety of materials; sometimes pen, sometimes pencil. He had a couple different sketchbooks to work in. I was working in a small square Stonehenge sketchbook because I knew I would be working on Stonehenge paper on the day.


Left: A moulting penguin.

I found that even though the vine charcoal was "dirty" and I was using my fingers to smudge it, it wasn't as messy as I had thought it would be. I wouldn't work in my regular visual journal with charcoal. I don't like the way it smears all over the opposite page and I wouldn't want to put tons of glassine separators in my journals. I don't use fixatives so that's not a possibility (and even then they would still smudge a bit). I will definitely take charcoal to the zoo again for a sketching session if I'm not interested in working in my regular journal. I found however that my impulse to take notes was frustrated by the use of charcoal. And my desire to get in really close and fussy with pen and ink was also frustrated—but that desire to be fussy is sometimes good to frustrate.


Right: For this next Penguin sketch I switched to a Stabilo All. I started on the left of the page thinking that I would do another sketch on the page, but decided to switch to colored pencil on a new page. After the smoothness of the charcoal I was disappointed with the lack of precision of line or smudge-ability of the Stabilo All. I ruled it out quickly.

120728_07PenguinHeadLeft: My first sketch using Faber Castell Albrecht Dürer Watersoluble colored pencils dry. I was using a couple blue pencils and a red pencil. Then then mold-a-form machine smell got too strong and we left the building.

The day wasn't all good—I discovered that Bill likes to lie to people! People would come up and engage him in conversation (I guess I didn't explain the whole ninja cloak of invisibility thing clearly enough to Bill) and he would simply fib:

At the Penguins—

Woman: Is he posing for you?

Bill: Yes, Charlie always poses for me.


Moments later when I busted Bill for fibbing and told her a real, true, science fact, she didn't believe me. ARGH. I give up. 

120728_08CraneRight: Memory sketch of a crane. Bill stopped to sketch a zebra while I was testing a new camera. After putting my camera away I turned and saw two of these cranes walking back to the building and did a quick diagramatic sketch with the three colored pencils in my pocket.

I like sketching with colored pencils on Stonehenge, especially if I'm working with just a couple colors. So I continued to do this for the rest of our zoo visit. 

120728_09GiraffeLeft: Giraffe sitting in its enclosure.

Bill and I both sketched the same giraffe. I don't usually like to stand and sketch the giraffes outside because there is no shade around their enclosure, and by this time the temperature was inching up above 80 and the sun was out. But was a pleasing view. And Bill obviously wanted to stop. He did afterall put up with a lot of bird sketching.


Right: Snow Leopard sleeping, head tilted back, bottom of chin visible, top front leg slouched over across the body and tucked down near the rising paw of the other front leg; belly exposed as the body twists, rear leg propped against the enclosure's rock wall and tail dropping down, down, down at the left. (They have really long tails.) Top portion of page you can see an aborted head sketch of a giraffe and the quick sketch of the other rear/side view of the seated giraffe.

When we finished our sketches and walked a bit further we saw that the other side of the giraffe was really a fantastic composition, with leg out. We both took photos and I made a little quick sketch on my final page—but neither of us were interested in standing in the sun any longer.

Inside the cat building the crowd moved quickly. Most of the cats were outside. But the snow leopard was napping near the wall of its enclosure. I wasn't going to sketch it at all because it was in a pose that was difficult to read, and you had to stand pressed up against the glass, turning your body at the same time. But then I thought, what the heck, that fur sure looks interesting, and the paw is massive. So I started to sketch (sometimes it's best to just jump in and not second guess things). Bill stood closer to the animal, but also had to press. He had to twist less. Because he was closer he also had to deal with lots of little kids who wanted to press in close in front of him. That's always good training (for both artist and kid).

I actually propped myself against a large window divider. It protected me from bumps from the back and because the view was obstructed by it, no one wanted to stand back there so they stood well in front of me.

Bill also sketched a female lion while we were in the cat building. I had started the day trying to work as fast as possible (6 minutes, 7 minutes) per sketch, but the heat with the giraffes slowed me down. When I finished the cat sketch I knew I was through. Bill had had enough too. We'd only been sketching for about 2 hours. Bill like me didn't relish going into the crowded zoo restaurant, full of sticky kids. We walked back to our cars and reconvened at Cafe Latte.

It was Bill's first visit to Cafe Latte, and he didn't have cake. It's one of the most amazing things that happened all day! I had a bowl of chili and took my cake home—still too hot to feel hungry enough to eat it, but I wasn't going to miss out on cake.

Do I know what I'm going to use at Paws on Grand? Nope, but I'm thankful there will be an awning!

  1. Reply

    Love the sketches – hard to choose a favorite, but it may be the giraffe.

    • Miss T
    • August 9, 2012

    Wow. Roz, you’ve just reminded me how much fun charcoal is. I haven’t used it in many years, and I think I owe it to myself to revisit it.

  2. Reply

    Miss T. Charcoal is definitely worth a “revisit” though only if you have some water and a paper towel on standby to clean your hands afterwards—and don’t care about getting the dust on yourself.

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