I wasn’t particularly looking forward to this exercise it but in the end it was great fun, and exhilarating too. After much deliberation I opted to visit Banham Zoo in Norfolk. I thought I might try to draw the tigers but they were determined to hide behind foliage… after attempting (and failing) with spoonbills and cheetahs I found myself in the company of giraffes.
They were pacing impatiently around their paddock, swinging their long necks while the zoo keepers were preparing their food. They were incredibly difficult to draw and because I didn’t have a giant sketch book, I’ve got a lot of headless bodies and decapitated heads! I persevered and got some better sketches as a I progressed and became familiar with giraffe characteristics – big bulbous chest, hump at the base of the neck, ears that move continuously at all kinds of funny angles, skinny legs with knobbly joints, big black eyes and long eyelashes to protect from dust storms, swishing tails and stubby horns. Their faces are very mobile and each giraffe looks different. The youngsters are almost unbelievably cute. Every now and then I got a sense of something prehistoric as their long flexible necks make them look almost like dinosaurs at times. At other times they curl their necks in a very delicate way and look like seahorses.
When the zookeepers let them inside their enclosure, they became easier to draw. They were still on the move, weaving in and around each other, but, with their focus on supper, they did at least stay still for a few seconds at a time.
After having their fill, they started to become aware of me. Giraffes have the most disconcerting stare and this is what I’ve tried to capture in my final drawings.
Back home I watched some videos of giraffes in the wild on You Tube and did some more sketches with the help of the pause button. From the commentary I learned that when giraffes see a predator they stand still and stare at it as a means of telling their ‘family’ to watch out.
Photographing my individual sketches and putting them into a collage using Photoshop helped me to look at them together and consider how I might use them.
In Drawing 1 (Conte crayons) I had a go at a full length male giraffe (nearly 5 metres tall in life). Even using A2 I had trouble fitting him on the paper and the neck is a little short. Also there is a slightly unhappy relationship between the neck and the body. You can see that I struggled with the legs which look a bit wooden (as if you could attach wheels and pull him along with a string!)
Elements of the picture work – the head and neck and parts of the body and the ‘crazy paving’ markings which are the hallmark of the reticulated giraffe.The sketchy bush background seems to work but the light is all over the place.
I’ve discovered that drawing an animal with disruptive camouflage is extremely difficult because you cannot easily pick out the lines of the muscles. I captured the overall shape better in my quick sketch. Anyway, I’m pleased that I had a go. Attempting this picture took me way out of my comfort zone.
In Drawing 2, I’ve combined one ‘childlike’ outline of a baby giraffe with a more detailed / finished picture as a bit of a laugh at my own inconsistency and also because I enjoy the contrast and the ‘dirty look’ that the badly drawn giraffe is giving the other.
I experimented with a different background in Drawing 3 and tried to make it more surreal with the giraffes almost but not quite part of a picture on the breeze block walls of their enclosure.
The result is a bit ‘Disney cute’ (not my usual style and certainly not the point of the exercise!) but I found it interesting that my sketches provided material for a both a serious study and a more illustrative, light-hearted approach.