Drawing animals has always been difficult for me. When I first began learning to draw — back in 2015 — I bemoaned the fact that I could not draw wolves. I tried dogs and the results weren’t much better. I struggled with the right body proportions, had no idea how to create life-like eyes, and simply didn’t have enough experience to succeed in drawing animals.
Over the years, I have learned more drawing techniques, and I’ve been able to draw a few animals that actually look like animals. I’ve done a giraffe, a water buffalo, a zebra. And, of course, I’ve done a lot of cats, some good, some awful.
Today I turned my attention again to cats, only this time, I’m drawing BIG cats, as in lions. Or, actually, I should say that I’m sketching these big cats and doing it very quickly, at that. Of the sketches I’ve made this morning, this one most closely resembles an actual lion, I think.
Maybe you can tell that I had problems getting the placement of the nose just right. Maybe you can even tell that this lion is lying down. I did try to indicate lights and shadows on the face, although this was a bit tricky. I was, you see, working not from life itself, but from videos of lions. In doing this, I was following in the footsteps of French artist Eugene Delacroix, who often visited the Jardin des Plantes in Paris to study and sketch the animals there.
Here is a page from his sketchbook:
And another page from Delacroix:
The drawings shown here by Delacroix were done in graphite. I chose to make my quick sketch using a Derwent Tinted Charcoal pencil. I made that choice only because the pencil was on my desk very close at hand. Although I couldn’t get thin, fine lines with the charcoal pencil, I think it was overall a good choice. This was, you see, an exercise on understanding free hand versus controlled hand drawing. For me right now, focusing more on the free hand sketching — staying loose — is important. I can work on detail later. Using the charcoal pencil helped me keep that looseness I wanted.
Now, here’s the fun part of the exercise. I should point out that this is another of Bert Dodson’s lessons from Keys to Drawing.
Take your pencil and, without touching the page, trace over portions of this drawing in the air. Try to draw at the same speed that you imagine Delacroix used — fast for the free-flowing lines, a bit slower in the focused areas. Connect the same contours that he connects, break where he breaks, make the same restatements.
Doing this was exhilarating! Imagine not just following in the footsteps of Delacroix but actually following his lines on the page. I loved doing this, feeling the same movements he must have felt, and feeling, too, I think, the excitement of sketching these powerful lions.
When I first looked at my “full-face” lion, I thought — as usual — my sketch looked a bit “wonky”, almost a bit comical. But as I browsed online a bit and studied more of Delacroix’s lion sketches, I noticed that he, too, had an occasional “wonky-looking” lion. This fellow in the lower right almost looks like something I might have drawn!
In looking back at my very quick charcoal sketch, I can sense a bit of the majesty and grandeur of the magnificent beast on the page. I like the drawing I did, and I loved the process of doing it. I enjoyed the sense of movement, just quickly putting my pencil to the paper and dashing off lines here and there, watching the lions as they sauntered about, now and then turning to look toward the camera, now and then turning away.
As I’m exploring art and drawing this year, I’m learning so much about imperfection, about quick studies, about just making marks and making mistakes. It’s reassuring to look at quick sketches like these by Delacroix and see that it’s not all about making perfect drawings. It’s about quickly capturing ideas, putting lines down, seeing how shapes fit together, getting a feel for lights and shadows.
I’m actually rather proud of my quick sketch. Even more, I’m happy to have this look into Delacroix’s own sketchbooks, to see his studies, and to understand the importance of sketching quickly and loosely. This might seem like a small aspect of art education, but for me, this is a major discovery, one that is opening new doors for me. It’s allowing me to be braver and bolder, to make more marks, and to more fully enjoy the drawing process.