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Chris McClellandChris David McClelland   AFC, SAA, WASA, QWASI, AGRA Chris McClelland
Wildlife drawings African/Australian animals with intricate detail
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A Cautious Approach
Many trips to Africa inflamed a belated passion for observing and drawing wildlife, awakening a natural ability, which had been observed during my childhood by my peers. In this work I have used pencil which is my favourite medium and one which, although ‘old hat’ when I was a child in the forties and fifties, doesn’t get the kudos and popularity today that it deserves. Pencil gives the artist greater control in expressing softness, tonal quality and fine detail which is more difficult to achieve with other mediums. Finger smudging with pencil for effect is a popular technique but one I never use as it tends to look just that – a smudge. I would rather use a putty rubber to spread and lift pencil from the artwork.

Storm Over Broken Stripes
“STORM OVER BROKEN STRIPES” – A drawing by Chris McClelland

African wildlife presents to the artist a huge pallet of very visible subjects to draw or paint. Moreover, the study can be enhanced by using ideas relating to the understanding of animal behaviour and interactions between species. Fortunately this can be obtained by close observation in the wild with the guidance of many qualified people. As with all life there is a dependency on rainfall for survival and the stress and anxiety of both man and animal is very apparent during drought. The late arrival of the short rains in Kruger NP was one of these moments.

Obviously the main subject and focus of attention are the two female plains zebra and their foals. Their merging but stark black and white stripes run together and contrast sharply if not dramatically with the brown ochre background of parched grass broken only by a hint of green from scattered evergreen trees and thornbush. The approaching angry and threatening helioblue of a typical African thunderstorm dominates the scenery and dust filled atmosphere like nowhere on earth except Australia.

Importantly, this is a drawing of wildlife and the powerful contrast of the elements compliments rather than challenges the main subject. The zebras are centrally placed in a balanced group (the artist’s license) to be part of an ongoing story of survival from predator attack and pending drought, and the timely arrival of seasonal relief. Notably, zebras always appear fat due to their evolved metabolism and ability to efficiently handle roughage, even during very dry periods.

As with all my work a rough drawing of the mind’s proposal is first made separately and sketched subjects are cut out, re-arranged for balance and perspective then finally pasted in. An arrow is marked in to indicate the direction from which you want the light to come from and shadows are drawn in accordingly, sometimes to provide a very strong contrast between the main subjects. Pencil colour mixes are perfected at this time. Pertinent notes are listed as reminders. Once happy with the rough form it is then copied in its entirety using a 2B graphite pencil outline and enlarged on the final quality smooth 250gm drawing paper. Very minor changes are made now according to afterthought notes but often later as the drawing progresses and the need for a stronger balance becomes obvious – perhaps in the scenery. As this is a coloured pencil drawing, the graphite outline is partly removed with a putty rubber as the work progresses - starting with the zebras - so as not to adulterate any colour edge or surface put down. Colours like those used in the storm sky are laid down in varying intensities over each other eg. helioblue and indianthrene blue, and then after a tint of delft blue they are blended together using a colourless blender pencil (or pure white). The addition of warm grey in shadow and hair on the zebras, is given form with darker greys (or van dyke brown and burnt ochre where the younger animals are still carrying a rough foal coat or where an adult have not begun to clean up after the dry season) and softened with the blending pencil. I have not made the shadows strong because of the presence of a lot of reflected light from the dry grass.

The study of the zebras was configured and brought to life by ideas gained from safari travel all over central and southern Africa observing and drawing wildlife. Numerous photographs selected from thousands taken by my wife over the years and filed under each animal species are always used as reference to achieve the accuracy needed for a fine detailed drawing such as this. I find that working with the fine points of graphite or coloured pencil achieves this better for me. Rough drawings made from within the comfort of our tent while a spectacular thunderstorm developed had been filed away for future reference as were sketches of other animal species that passed by to visit a nearby permanent waterhole during many weeks in the wilderness of Kruger.

One of the most important challenges in wildlife drawing is achieving anatomical correctness of the subject or subjects you draw or paint. This includes knowledge of physical changes due to unnatural feeding, nutrition and confinement of the normally more accessible zoo reared subjects compared with the same animal in the wild; and the often subtle anatomical and behavioural differences between the sexes, juveniles and adults within species. Familiarity with the typical habitat or setting for chosen animal subjects is also essential and the inclusion of associated species eg. oxpeckers, cattle egrets, and interactions between predators or predator and prey relationships makes for more interesting artwork. This may take years of observation and information gathering and is one of the elements of a never ending learning curve that makes wildlife such a pure and fascinating subject for some artists. I have placed the group of zebras in close social contact - a comforting pose due to the slight apprehension of the thunder crashes of the approaching storm. The often seen inclusion of the huge healed claw laceration on the hindquarters of one of the mares makes the scene more real and gives the drawing the title of ‘storm over broken stripes’.

Medium - Coloured pencil

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Chris McClelland
c/o Chris McClelland Fine Art
P.O. Box 56
Hay, NSW
Australia 2711
Tel: 61-(0)2-6993-4264
  Worldwide Nature Artists Group
Email: wildprints@bigpond.com
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