From Sketch to Painting: Simplifying

While preparing the illustrations for the “National Geographic Book of Prehistoric Mammals” with Alan Turner we agreed that we needed a double page spread image showing the sabertooth cat Smilodon populator in pursuit of its prey.

The core image was a couple of sabertooths leaping from behind a fallen tree on an unsuspecting Macrauchenia.

From that central image I ellaborated on the concept of a mixed herd of grazers including several macrauchenias an some South American horses. I played with the impression of a diversity of animals exploding in different directions as their peaceful grazing was interrupted by the predators.

But looking at the sketch I felt I had somehow overdone it, and I decided more simplicity was needed.
So, off went the horses (although one of them “mutated” into a Macrauchenia…), and the remaining elements got spread out a bit to fill the double-page spread format. Now the animals had more room to breath and the whole thing was more relaxing to look at. This third sketch went to the canvas with hardly any modification.

Looking at the final painting and the sketches all these years after, I get the impression that the more “crowded” alternative could have worked as well after all, if only I had had more time… but the practical fact was that to paint that version in oils would have been too time-consuming given the tight deadlines for the whole book project!


Sometimes you cannot separate too clearly the creative needs from the more mundane circumstances of your work, but often, in spite of the frustrations, the results improve thanks to those limitations… often, but not always, and not neccessarily!


Posted on 27/07/2017, in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.

  1. Sheila Collins

    I learn something new from every one of your blog posts. Thank you.

  2. i just stumbled here from some paleo art. I think this is such a valuable post, not just applied to drawing scenes with animals but really any kind of art really. Im still in college and i’ve seen plenty of friends AND including myself just wanting to put things within a composition because it’ll look cool or because crowding it makes it seem complex that it took alot of work to do.

    But i can definitely appreciate your take on this topic that not many of my lecturers really talk about, they lay the ‘rules’ out but here’s a great example of implementing limitations while accounting for deadlines it helps me understand the ‘why’ part when it comes to chasing ambitious works and keeping yourself close to the ground at times. Bit of a rambling here but i felt the need to commend this haha.

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