I Don’t Look at Rodents—Usually

February 17, 2017

This post was originally published on February 13, 2017 during my site transition.

Above: Several quick sketches of Cilla, the Chinchilla, owned by a friend. I was looking at body shape and outlines, and also at the eye. The first quick contour sketch, bottom left, made me think Cilla looked a lot like Master Sifu in “Kung Fu Panda.” (Notes on the lefthand page were from a mat-cutting sales demo I attended the night before. I didn’t purchase one.)

I don’t look at rodents—usually.

I know there was the time many winters ago where I walked outside and there was a dead mouse curled in the driveway. I went back inside and got my journal and sketched him.

But there was also the time that our friend Chris came to pick up Dick for a Sunday morning swim and walked in and asked, “what’s that in the yard by the handicap ramp?” (We have a handicap ramp leading to our doorway.)

I went outside and peered over the edge of the railing to see a muskrat grooming himself on the lawn.

Well I would have seen a muskrat if I had not looked away the moment I saw that triangular, naked tail. (We figured that with all the recent flooding at that time the animal had made its way up through a storm drain and then into the “rural” safety of our yard.)

We all have our Achilles’ Heel. I can treat a gaping wound without a second of upchuck or worry, and in a zombie apocalypse I’m your girl— but naked, triangular tails, not so much.

So I don’t look at rodents as a rule. In pet stores, I walk right by the rats, mice, and whatever else is on offer—I make straight for the birds. (For the record I also don’t look in aquariums that are housing spiders!)

But last fall I was dropping off some papers and fabrics at a friend’s house and they had just acquired a chinchilla. They provided her with a wire “house” that rose up about four feet from its two-foot tall platform. There were various levels within the dwelling where the chinchilla could wander, take a dust bath, and exercise on a wheel. As she moved about her cage I sat on a low, wide window ledge and watched and sketched. I did get to touch her and she was very, very soft. Really, very, very soft.

After a very short sketching session (less than 10 minutes) we were busy with other activities, but I see these sketches as a valuable first step in looking at chinchillas. I have an invitation to come and sketch any time, but most important I’ve started to define for myself what to look for in angles, proportion, and even eye detail.

I haven’t had time to return, and don’t think I’ll get back for sometime still because of some demands with work. But I’m also that much closer to looking at all rodents more closely.

Recently I had to pick something up at the pet store and I walked by the rats and guinea pigs. I looked right at them without hesitation. No worries.

I love all the benefits drawing brings into my life.

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