Research Points for Drawing Animals: Renaissance Artists, George Stubbs

This exercise directed us to examine drawings by Renaissance masters of animals, and as I’d mentioned earlier in this blog that I’ve long admired Dürer’s capability and skill as an artist, it’s probably no surprise that I’m returning to him here for the purpose of this exercise. While working on this research point, I came across this drawing by Dürer of a parrot.

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As I’ve mentioned before, one thing I really admire in Dürer’s work is his capability to depict a range of tone without losing his characteristic eye for detail. Interestingly enough here, it seems that even a hint of the texture of feathers in part of the lighter areas is enough to suffice and ‘read’ as feathers elsewhere. I also like how it seems as if the parrot has a personality–like the viewer has interrupted the parrot from something, and it’s giving its attention to you, begrudgingly.

Feeling inspired, I decided to attempt some sketches of my own of my mother-in-law’s budgie over the holidays, to see if I couldn’t capture a bit of their family pet on paper. I’d had fun drawing Gus and Confetti while on vacation in the US, and didn’t want to pass up the opportunity to draw another animal. Much like the commuters I’ve been sketching, animals present me with the same challenge of working quickly and decisively, which is something I’ve struggled with. I was actually quite pleased with the results, and decided to experiment a bit with using the pattern of graphical hatching as tone, as well.

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I haven’t yet attempted to render fur in color yet, and to date have shied away even from rendering hair on commuters, because I’ve not really felt sure where to start. However, looking at Dürer’s Mouth of an Ox and Head of A Stag has given me some clues to consider, I think. As with the parrot, the key is not to render every individual strand of hair or fur, but rather to balance that suggestion of texture with a wide range of tone. As has been the case throughout this course so far, by squinting my eyes, I realized the areas of light and dark were not quite as complex or intimidating as I’d anticipated. I’d like to try and do a study of these two drawings at some point, actually.

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Meanwhile, I actually DID go and draw a study of the piece by George Stubbs in the text. As The Anatomy of the Horse is in the public domain, I also found a free pdf of it here. I was very drawn to how the different sections of musculature each had distinct tones, and enjoyed trying to replicate that with my own hatching skills. I think it’ll be a worthwhile exercise to return to! I really enjoyed working on this study in particular, as it presented the horse from a very foreshortened angle, and it was a fun challenge.

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I found myself wondering how I would translate this drawing to that a horse with its skin still on–perhaps there would be less drastic changes in tone, more blending. Stubbs’ certainly had mastered it, as many of the horses in his finished pieces are captured in very active poses, which demand a thorough understanding of anatomy. I read up on his methods for getting to grips with equine anatomy–talk about dedication!

Truthfully, I found myself wishing I had been required to take an anatomy lab at some point, as I imagine it would have helped me immensely, at least when it comes to drawing people and animals. Knowing how something is ‘put together’, how it works and functions as a living machine, goes a long long way towards understanding its whole. Or at least that’s how it works for me. I find that my drawing process is actually a very analytical process–I see whatever I’m drawing as several components of light and shadow put together, and sometimes understanding the relationship between those components involves learning about what I’m drawing away from the drawing board, as well.

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