Monday, 12 March 2012

Zoo Sketching, Painting & Amphib Talk

A few weeks ago I visited Paignton Zoo, it was a beautifully sunny day, and the reptile house was boiling. Perfect conditions to simulate Borneo (although I figure that I'll adjust to the heat in Borneo before I actually get down to field sketching.)

This is all part of preparation for field sketching. Because I will be working in field, sometimes whilst on transect (wandering in the jungle looking for creatures) I needed to test out my new field kit.

 Watercolour Moleskine (A4) 
Gives a nice amount of space to create well composed spreads, though can be large and slightly unwieldy to hold. I will most likely be taking an A4 size moleskine (watercolour) and an A5 watercolour moleskine. I find that using moleskines are far easier, as most of the watercolour pads I find are either ring bound, or come in gummed format, so you are far more likely to lose sheaths of paper. This is far more preferable as you can keep them all together, and I prefer it because it ends up looking like a proper travelers journal.

Plus a watercolour block pad for more detailed work to be done in camp.

Field watercolour kit by Winsor & Newton
I have changed the colours in the set, and bought colours I use more. I am still in the process of trying out different combinations to get the widest array of colours needed in field. (For instance, I thought that I would probably not need white in my field kit, but having taken it out for a test run, realised that i most certainly did for a few things. However, this can be quite rare, so its worth weighing up whether you really will use it a lot, or whether the space in your set would be better with a different colour.) The rest of the colours that I use but don't need in field will go in my bigger enamel Winsor & Newton watercolour set, along with brushes. 
Sadly, this field set doesn't hold any brushes at all, and I will have to carry them separately. I will most likely be taking a bum bag to carry the watercolours, brushes, and sketching materials in. 
Water (must be sterilized, as if using contaminated water, spores may grow and liquify your watercolours... I speak through experience!) If on jungle expeditions you will most likely have a camelback or some form of water pouch with long tube and valve for consumption on the go... this is perfect for filling the water tray seen in the image above. The watercolour set has a built in water flask, but it doesn't hold much water, and it can be quite hard to get out... and if you want to keep refilling the water tray, you have to fiddle about with everything, taking the tray and cap off, filling it up, replacing it... all whilst you have the sketchbook in your hands (still wet from painting)... not an entertaining juggling act at all.
So use your camelback... far far easier.

A watch is always helpful, as you can keep pencils and brushes that you use frequently, pinned under the strap. This stops you from having to constantly forage in your bag, and leaves your hands free for the important stuff.

So, now that the kit is sorted, lets see what you can achieve in a day at the zoo!

Cercosaura argulus
(non zoo sketch) 
Preliminary sketches for a high detail painting of the same lizard.

The Reptile/Amphibian Hot House
(far steamier than I remembered!)

 Blue tongued skinks, vine snake and a yellow footed tortoise

I discovered that I like the marks a brushpen makes, but not the harsh tones of the black, so I have since invested in a grey and sepia version of the pens, and they seem to fit in more nicely without being too harsh.

Crododile Swamp
A really good place to get some more detailed sketching done, as most of the crocs and alligators are basking under their heat lamps during the day. The keepers have even bumped up the temperature to mimic their natural habitat, so the crocs now exhibit mouth gaping behaviour to cool off, when previously the temperature was just right for them, and they just lay there looking like logs, no mouth gaping, no moving, no nothing. Not that they moved at all when I was there. 
I also managed to time my visit perfectly with an evening tour and talk of the amphib/reptile hot house and croc swamp, plus the amphibian ark (where they keep endangered or specialist frog species. Paignton Zoo is the only zoo in the UK that has a collection of Madagascan frog species, and they are fiercely proud of this.) 
When we went into the croc swamp at night it felt a little bit more like how it should feel... a bit more unsettling. The crocs had cooled down, and were in the water, waiting under the bridge, as they knew that this was their feeding time. Sadly, we didn't get to see any feeding, but we were warned to keep our arms inside the bridge, as the big salty could leap out of the water, and tail walk... meaning that even though we were probably more than 6 or 7ft above the where the croc was, he could probably still grab our hands and have a tasty snack. 
It was very interesting to see them on the move, and watching us with all the curiosity in the world. It was like being in jurassic park... or at least it felt a bit more like it. 
They are such beautiful creatures, if you get the chance to watch Ben Fogle go diving with them (BBCiplayer) you should. Its a fantastic watch.

Amphib and Reptile Hatchery


Spider Monkeys

Possibly more of a problem in the jungle... (a bird of some roaming... decided to give a lovely addition to this page of the sketchbook. Hence the smear marks.)

A compilation of the best sketches 

So... thats the first lot of zoo sketches, hopefully a few more to come... this time visiting Newquay Zoo! 
I'm also hoping to head to the Natural History Museum in London, behind the scenes to do some more detailed work, working from preserved specimens.

Fun times ahead, hope this has been a bit useful!

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