Project 5 Exercise 1 Animal line study

The aim

Select an animal. Do a series of small and fast line sketches of different poses. Experiment with different media. Repeat a couple of days later. Make a large drawing (A1 or A2). Concentrate on expressive and gestural line and use variations of pressure, speed and line lengths to give the animal a sense of weight and vitality. Position your subject within an atmospheric and realistic environment

The process

I chose the dog: a 2 year old black, hairy springer-spaniel cross poodle called Alys.

Day 1.

My first attempts at sketching her were with a fine black drawing pen and then a black felt-tip.

I found the thinner pen better at capturing the directional movement of her head hair, which does tend to stand in a characteristic way. It was extremely hard to sketch Alys though for 3 reasons. Firstly on a normal day Alys is either rushing around madly at silly speeds or she crashes rather inelegantly on to the floor in a heap of black fur in what can only be described as the most boring set of poses I have ever seen a dog take up. The blackness of her coat seems to make her rather two-dimensional and the curliness of her coat hides any muscle or limb definition. Secondly when I actually came to draw her she really didn’t like the intense scrutiny that I was giving her and my ‘continued observation’ cowed her a little and no sooner would I pick up my pen and sketchbook than she would scoot off into a different room. Normally she is very bouncy and energetic and follows me about. She was having none of that on this day. Thirdly she chose dark places to hide, for instance under the table and then lay flat on the floor. Trying to draw a black dog in the dark (on a dark floor) was rather a hard task – she looked like an amorphous blob!! Apart from the sketch of her rolling on her back and having a scratch these line drawings do not really capture the essence of either her likeness or her personality!

Day 2

This time I tried using charcoal to try to capture the hairiness of Alys. She has thick curly which I have trimmed to a manageable length. It is very soft, like fine wool (the poodle in her) and tends to clump into short wavy curls. I though charcoal may capture the luxuriousness of her coat – but no.

I chose my moment when Alys was quiet in her basket and concentrated on her head. She was becoming a bit more used to me looking for long periods at her as she mostly ignored me this time, but tended to tuck her head away. Again she became a shapeless fluffy thing that was hard to depict. I did however come to the conclusion that part of the problem in trying to draw her was that I was using a black drawing medium on a white background. What I was in fact seeing was white light reflecting off parts of her black coat.

Day 3.

In order to try to rectify the black/white problem I used a white fine Graphix line painter on black paper. I also stopped trying to draw an outline and concentrate on looking at the direction of the hair on her head. By the second half of the session I feel I was getting to grips with capturing Alys (I still hadn’t managed any movement!!). The second set of images not only look like her, but also capture some of her poses. The bottom sketch of Alys with her head on her paws is particularly successful because the curliness of her coat comes across. I had more success as well in depicting her eyes which being dark brown get lost amongst the dark of her coat and much of the time you can’t see them!!

Day 4

Today I tried to capture movement using an HB pencil. Alys was much more tolerant of me looking at her but I only had a couple of seconds to get an idea of each pose down.

As the course work suggested i worked on three at once, one standing, one collecting a ball and one trotting image. I am quite pleased with these, they are definitely Alys.

Whilst doing all these sketches I hadn’t really any ideas about how I was going to tackle the final study for the exercise. I did however want to get another project underway. One bit of advice I was given by my tutor after my first assignment was to consider using accidental marks to create ideas for images. I read the suggested article on ‘The deliberate accident in art’ by Turner (2011)  and thought I would have a play about with making ink blots and converting them to pictures. More about the outcomes of the rest of that project at a later date, but one of the blots that I made using this technique really stood out. In this splodge of ink I could see the dog running out towards me.

Ink blot
Ink blot

My idea for the final picture thus came together. I could  combine the success of using white line painter on a black ground whilst at the same time experiment with using a random ink stain to create the main image. I opened up the paper so that I was working on A2 (when I made the blots I used A2 lightweight cartridge paper folded in half to stop the ink seeping through onto the table) and marked out the main points of interest (nose, raised paw and ears) with the fine line painter, adding wavy lines to depict the limbs and body form. The ink stain didn’t quite extend far enough forward to get the dog trotting out of the picture with her tail behind so I blacked in some fur for her legs and tail using compressed charcoal. This also enabled me to deepen the shadows of her eye and mouth areas. I allowed larger dribbles of the white paint to drip providing more accentuated highlights for key areas of her brow, nose and forelegs. FInally I added a bit of foreground interest with swirls of compressed charcoal. In my final image I have kept the paper the full A2 size, including further accidental smudges and ink smears in the foreground.

The result

Alys, mixed media
Alys, mixed media


This is most definitely Alys and captures her cheeky enthusiasm for life. However I am more pleased with the fact that I did something a little bit different here. This may be a line drawing of an animal but I haven’t really stuck to the coursework guidance beyond that. I haven’t put Alys in a realistic environment although it may be described as atmospheric. I have however used my imagination (something I am not particularly comfortable with), taken mark making beyond anything I have done before as well as used an accidental ink blot as a starting block to achieve something dynamic and expressive. There are things that haven’t worked: the ink blot went right to the top of the paper which wasn’t ideal, the hind legs are not quite the right proportions for a trotting dog and I made a bit of a mess of the shadow area. In addition I had trouble getting the line painter to flow in places (it objected to drawing over compressed charcoal, I think it got a bit blocked).

I am not entirely sure what the image of a small dog bounding out of a black mess signifies but it was fun to do!!


Project 5 Exercise 1 Animal line study

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