HOW TO DRAW A STALKING LEOPARD: USING X-RAY VISION!
One amazing feat that leopards do on a daily basis is to transform themselves into something more similar to a snake than a cat, then crawl away and disappear in the bush right in front of your eyes. That magic trick is something truly wonderful to behold, but really tricky to draw. The limbs of the leopard almost appear to have been reabsorbed into the body as it moves along with its belly touching the ground, and the pattern of spots makes it even harder to tell apart the different parts of the cat’s body, as the loose skin wraps around the whole thing.
In order to capture the essence of this action with our pencil and remain true to the animal´s anatomy and proportion, I find it useful to project a mental image of the cat´s skeleton inside the apparently chaotic external shape. The leopard may appear endlessly flexible, but each of its bones is a rigid unit, and they are there, inside the body, giving it shape.
We had the opportunity to see a female leopard doing that trick right in front of us a couple of years ago in Botswana during our “Drawing the Big Cats” safari, and that encounter allows me to analyze the anatomy and action of the cat with pencil and paper.
Once I have a clearer idea of the position and shape of the limbs flexing inside the wraps of skin, I proceed to draw the leopard without paying attention to the spots, just as if I were drawing a lioness or a puma.
When the cat is already taking shape in the paper I try to put in place some of the most distinctive spots, those that stand out and seem to create a pattern around which other spots arrange themselves.
I always find it fascinating to perceive the anatomical machinery at work under the wonderful skin of a big cat. Just like our tracker’s mission while on safari is to find a cat that is so damned good at not being seen, I feel that one of the missions of the artist is to rejoice in those structures that appearances would tend to hide from us.
I am looking forward to share more big cat encounters like this with fellow explorers next august, in the 2015 edition of “Drawing the Big Cats”. To have the privilege of learning first-hand from these magnificent animals in their habitat is a miracle to which I never really get used -and I can never have enough of it!