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When Things Don’t Go Your Way: Sketching Animals (at the Fair, or Anywhere)

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Above: Chicken sketches made during the Minnesota State Fair Sketch Out. I started with the sketch at the left but when that chicken became totally frantic over what was happening in the next crate I moved on down the line. On the right I did a quick sketch of a large rooster to get a feel for the shape and proportions. I then took some notes and left space for my admissions ticket—which I glued in place that night. Faber-Castell Albrecht Dürer Watercolor Pencils used dry on 9 x 7 inch piece of Fabriano Artistico 300 lb. HP watercolor paper. Click on the image to view an enlargement.

One of the exciting things about sketching animals, whether or not you’re at the Fair or a Zoo or at home or at a dog park, is that animals do the unexpected.

You can let this frustrate you and end your sketching session, or you can keep working and learn something. You all know which I favor.

I want to encourage you all to give in to the moment and really look at the animal before you, hear and smell its breath (unless it is of the large predator variety and then get the hell out of there) and settle into its rhythms.

Don’t try to sketch right away. Watch. Watch. Watch. Then when you do start to sketch you’ll have a sense of how the animal is moving. I've written about sketching at zoos where the animals often follow a pattern of movement. This allows you to start several sketches in rotation on your page, and work on each for a few seconds as the animal passes that position again. In enclosed spaces like barns or animal pens animals will also repeat positions and behaviors in a smaller area.

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