|Eventually, we will get to the vole point, I promise.|
About 80% of what I draw comes directly from my own imagination. I'm used enough to my own style to know exactly what I want my subject to look like before I start, and I just refer back to my own mental image if I feel I'm getting off track.
|The World's Happiest Bat - Clearly not in the 'hyper realistic' category|
Sometimes, though, if I want to draw something very realistic, or something I'm not that familiar with, I need a photograph for reference. It would be extremely rare that I copy the photo religiously - only really if someone has commissioned a pet portrait and wants that exact image, or as a personal challenge to myself to see how photo-realistic I can make something.
However, it's common for me to use these photos to check details I'm not sure of - for example, the exact colouring of a bird's plumage, or the exact position of a bear's ears on it's head. Sometimes all the details are already fine in my head, but I just need an outline to study to make sure I have the posture right.
As a student, I spent hours copying images out of books and magazines. This was immeasurable help when it came to practising and learning drawing and painting skills, and finding my own style. However, practising at home in my sketchbook, and selling my work commercially are two very different things. If some extremely resilient wildlife photographer has risked life and limb in order to take a picture of a lion's face just as it decides it fancies cameraman for dinner, then I have no right to sit here in my English cottage and sell that image as my own. The most dangerous feline round here is The Cat, and although rather large, he's never threatened a food source that doesn't come processed and pre packaged.
So... How to find photos to use as studies?
1. My own photos. Easy peasy. I always take my camera/(phone) wherever I go, and take a ridiculous number of photos of anything that looks like it might come in useful later. (Especially in wildlife parks etc - whilst the wildlife of Hertfordshire is charming, it doesn't tend towards the wildly exotic).
2. 'Down the back of the internet'... Or more specifically, sites full of public domain photos, like morguefile or pixabay. There are thousands of photos on there, of just about anything. I started off just trying to find a couple of images of specific animals, but it's turned into a bit of a rabbit hole. Partly because you do have to rummage quite a bit, the stuff that comes up is fascinating. A weird mix of professional stock photo images, unused images from local newspapers, shots from amateur photographers, photos that look like they were part of student art projects... All kindly made public domain and free to use! I've spent hours just putting in random keywords like 'eye' just to see what comes up.
It's been a great source of 'reverse inspiration' - rather than just having an idea and then finding a matching image, I've found so many images that have then led to new ideas...
|Exhibit A. (Or - 'Study with Scarf and Shadows')|
3. Vintage vintage vintage. One day that will stop being a buzzword, you know. Until then, I do actually mean vintage. As in, so old that they are now out of copyright and have become public domain.
A few years ago, I was luckily enough to stumble upon a two volume 'Encyclopaedia of Living Animals' in a second hand book shop. Opening it up to a random page, I was very excited to see a photo of a Tasmanian Tiger - an animal which is, sadly, very much NOT a 'living animal'. (Well, to be fair, I don't think any of the animals pictured are living any more - except maybe the giant tortoise. However, I mean not living in terms of now very extinct as a species).
I bought the books on the spot, and they have given me many hours of pleasure, horror and sheer confusion ever since.
|The caption reads: "'The Hon. Walter Rothschild's Team of Zebras" - Mr. Rothschild was practically the first Englishman to break in zebras to harness. At one time these animals were thought to be quite untameable'.|
(I love how he was practically the first...)
This book is horrifying in that nearly every animal is accompanied by a cheerful note saying how best to cook it, wear it, or keep it as a pet. It is a rare animal that escapes a comment such as 'makes delightful trimmings for ladies hats' or 'used to make carriage rugs'.
If the animal in question is kept as a pet, they are invariably photographed in the grounds of a stately home, or even with their aristocratic owner. Walter Rothschild seems to be the most prolific of the exotic pets club. When I bought these books I was still living up North, and wasn't aware how many weekends I would end up spending in various Rothschild properties that are now National Trust. We've now spent many happy days at Waddesdon Manor, including one evening watching an open air showing of 'Skyfall' on the great lawns, whilst it poured with rain. Stately home, James Bond and rain. Possibly the most English event ever.
Apparently Rothschild used to throw epic parties there. Can you imagine a huge glittering Edwardian party in an enormous country house with a man who has a zebra carriage and rides giant tortoises in his spare time?
I do feel cheated by history sometimes.
Anyway... yay for lots of reference photos. I knew I had a point in there somewhere.
AND NOW WE ARE FINALLY AT THE WATER VOLES! HUZZAH FOR THE WHOLE PURPOSE OF THE POST!
You see, I was asked to draw a pen and ink illustration of a water vole. Woohoo for a commission! Very good. Happy Wren. Except... After much effort with points 1, 2 and 3, I realised that I could not find any water vole photos that did the job. They were one of those animals where I had a good idea what one looked like, but not as specific as someone who likes water voles so much that they commission an original drawing of one.
Then, on Flickr, I found the work of Peter Trimming, hereby known in this household as 'King of the Water Voles'. This man has clearly spent hours lying around the soggy English countryside waiting for water voles to pose for him, and has then been kind enough to release them on a creative commons license.
For work like this I tend to take several studies from the photos, and then draw my final pieces from the studies. So the finished drawings may not look that much like the original photos, but as they were so helpful, I wanted to make sure that Mr Trimming got his full attribution. All hail Peter Trimming, King of the Water Voles!
The commission has gone off to it's new home, but as I also made so many supplementary drawings I've put my two favourites (the ones pictured here) up for sale as prints on Etsy... HERE
|Wesley close up|