Monthly Archives: August 2014

Sketches and changing minds: the case of Batallones

Working with digital media makes it easier for an artist to go straight for final art withouth bothering too much with preliminary sketches. After all (and compared with, say, oil painting) it is now so much simpler to make things up as you go along… But nothing equals the flexibility of the good old pencil-and-paper when it comes to quickly visualize a complex scene and turn it around in our mind.
One nice example of this was the series of sketches I made for the Batallones Miocene scene that appears in page 53 of my book “Sabertooth”. Originally created for an exhibit at the Museo Nacional de Ciencias Naturales in Madrid, the painting had to depict most of the relevant species of mammals found at the fossil site, and that is A LOT of creatures!
When you have to fit so many species in one single scene, it is almost impossible to include any violent action, but I could not resist to show the sabertooth Machairodus doing business!. So even in my earliest sketches I depicted a couple of the large sabertooths in the act of catching a rhino. One felid was on the hapless prey while the second one was approaching cautiously as the cats will do. Other rhinos were escaping towards the right margin of the frame.

Here is one of the earliest sketches. Second cat approaching, rhinos escaping to the right
version 1

The arrangement seemed to work, but in a later version I started to incorporate more of the species that I needed to include, and found a problem: having one cat approaching took too much space in the scene, so I had to find a way to concentrate all the action in a smaller space.

Here is another version, with more creatures in the frame, and the cats occupying more than their fair share of room!
version 2

It is not only a matter of the animals occupying too much room; it is also the fact that their activity reverberates and seems to ask for breathing room around them, a luxury I could not afford in this project! So I decided to show both cats engaged with the prey, one delivering the killing bite while the other added its weight to the fight.

Here is a sketch of the two cats on top of the hapless rhino
version 3

I will spare you the profusion of sketches that followed, suffice it to say that I decided to turn around the cats and rhinos scene so that they look away from us, which fits better with the direction the rest of the herd are escaping. By the way, I made the herd run to the left so that their action went into the frame rather than out, a device that keeps more “energy” within the composition.

Here is one much later version, where most of the elements are already in their definitive positions
version 4

Even with the flexibility of the digital media, there is no way I could have made all these changes as I worked on the final piece of art. But more importantly, changing elements around in an already ellaborated digital painting can be such a painful process that you often end up leaving things much as they were, just to spare yourself the agony of adding modifications. On the other hand, exploring different alternatives with lightning-quick pencil sketches is not only a much more practical way to shape your composition: it is so much more fun!

And here is the final version of the painting:
cerro-batallones-scene baja

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Safari “hangover”: returning from an African Eden

We are back from another amazing edition of the “Drawing the Big Cats Safari” to Botswana. In fact we have been back for more than a week, and yet the process of adapting once more to everyday life feels a bit like a diver’s decompression.
The safari experience has something primeval about it, as if we were returning to the natural state of humankind in its childhood. For days on end our senses are continously soaked with the sights, sounds and smells of nature, and our brain is suddenly doing what it was designed to do -in fact it feels happy and at home, like a puppy allowed to run in the park, or like a dolphin splashing in the waves. Each night you collapse in your tent’s bed with your mind full of images to process, and yet utterly at peace.
Such a routine is in stark contrast with our daily life back in the “civilization”, and we have to come to terms with the implications, because a trip of this sort is much more than a vacation. We have fed our mind with the kind of high-quality food that will keep our creativity fuelled for months and years to come. But we know we are transiting between contrasting worlds. Each time I experience the pristine wilderness of Africa I am reminded that countries like Botswana are preserving such natural treasures at a cost. A lot of effort and sacrifice are neccesary if our shared heritage has to endure, and ecotourism is one way we can all contribute to make it sustainable in the long term. I never tire of repeating it, a safari to the African wilderness is an experience that will improve your life. Stop just dreaming about it and start planning for it. You will not repent -and you will return!

This majestic lion from Savuti pauses for a moment in front of the marsh. In the background are the hills where we first met this impressive individual a year ago. Not the only feline re-encounter we had!
botswana 2014 lion savuti marsh sitting

Heading for Botswana!

Today we leave for Botswana, where we will meet a fresh group of enthusiastic artists, plus the fabulous team at Elephant Trails Safaris, and hopefully…the big cats!

Looking at our pictures from last year’s trip, like this alert leopard from Chobe Natonal Park, we think we can´t beat those encounters…but, who knows?
leopard crawl chobe

We will be chronicling on this second edition of “Drawing the Big Cats” upon our return, so stay tuned!