Sunday, March 30, 2008

Visit to Marwell

Last week we made the 500 mile round trip to Marwell Zoo near Southampton. Although I love that Zoo, the main purpose of the visit was to0 see if I could photograph Kiska, the female Amur Leopard cub who was born last November.
The weather was fine but really cold, that was an advantage as there were not that many visitors at any one enclosure. There were several parties of local school children though, who all looked to be having a marvelous time.

There was no sign of Kiska or her mum in the morning, although the male leopard was pacing around his adjoining enclosure.
We carried on walking round the Zoo for another couple of hours and then went back to the Leopards. There she was sitting among the rocks, one of fewer than 100 remaining Amur Leopards. She was briefly joined by her mum, and I got some lovely photographs for future paintings.
I really wish I lived closer to Marwell so that i could watch her growing up.
I have been working on a cat in French Grey coloured pencils with acrylic washed over the top in some places. He's now almost finished, and maybe I'll move onto an Amur Leopard next.

Sunday, March 09, 2008

Obtaining Wildlife Reference Photographs-Part 2

Once I'm at my chosen Zoo or Wildlife Park the first thing I will do is find out when the feeding time of my chosen animal(s) is. If I've gone to photograph one of the big cats then they are usually fed 6 days of the week and on the 7th they fast. So check that out, you can give the facility a ring, they will usually be happy to give you that sort of information.

If the feeding time is advertised then you need to be in place at least half an hour before, because:-

  • The animals tend to be moving about in anticipation

  • It will get really busy around the enclosure and you need to have selected your place.

  • After feeding the animals usually retire for a sleep
You do need to have a look at the position of the sun (I know to see it is a rare occurence) and try to have it behind or to the side of you for the best lighting.
If the cage has a glass viewing panel as well as mesh then I sometimes choose to shoot through the glass if the mesh is double or triple and quite small.

If it is a fairly large mesh I will shoot so that the links do not obscure an important part of the animal such as the eye or ear setting. I will also kneel or bend so that I shoot on eye level with the animal to reduce distortion.
I shot this cheetah through mesh, it isn't a good photograph but plenty good enough for me to use as a reference. His face was at a slightly odd angle which I have straightened a little.

If I choose to photograph through the glass, the first thing is to pick a spot which is reasonably clean, I usually use a tissue to give it a quick rub.Then put the lens right up against the glass, this will reduce glare and reflection. Again try and take the photograph at eye level for the animal unless you want to paint a different viewpoint.

Wherever you choose to stand, you will have to be patient and take an awful lot of photographs. Most of them will not be that useful, but patience usually pays off if you watch the animal to see which area of its enclosure it prefers. You can sometimes see a path worn in the grass where the animal often walks.

If you are photographing an animal which is either allowed to roam free or has no mesh then patience is the only requisite.

I sat and watched the Meerkats at Edinburgh Zoo for an hour before this one came and sat right in front of me.

I live reasonably near the Wildlife Park in the Lake District which has several species of free roaming lemurs, wallabies, ostrich, etc. The photographs can be taken with any size of camera, my son takes excellent photographs with a small digital that cost less than £100. Do not be put off by thinking your camera is not good enough.

In the last post I will consider what to do with the photographs once you get home.

Just to show that you can take good underwater shots putting the lens against the glass. I took this photograph in the Aquarium in Stanley Park, Vancouver, Canada.

Friday, March 07, 2008

Obtaining Wildlife Reference Photographs for Artists: Part 1

After all the discussion that have taken place following the announcement by the UKCPS on their conditions of entry to their Annual Exhibition, I thought it might be useful to offer some advice on obtaining your own wildlife photographs.

At this point I would like to stess that I am only an amateur photographer and I am only offering advice about things I have found useful.
Over the last few years I have built up a nice collection of lenses, but I started with a point and shoot Fuji digital camera and was still able to obtain useful photographs.
I now use a Canon EOS 30D SLR camera, and the following lenses: a Canon EF 28-300mm L IS USM (which is my pride and joy), a Canon 28-135mm IS USM and a huge Sigma 500mm zoom.
I also sometimes add a Kenco 2x teleconverter.
Most of the advice however applies equally to lower end equipment.
Both the following photographs are of wild animals, in both cases I got close enough to use a small camera.
The next time I see the mouse I have my sons small Fuji ready so that you can see there is really little difference as long as you are close to the animal. Always remember I am talking about using photographs as reference for your artwork, not producing a photograph which would win an award.

So first things first, you have decided you need some reference photographs to help with painting an animal(s), what do you need to think about.

  • What species of animal do you want to paint
  • How far are you able to travel
  • How much time and money do you want to spend.

So I decide I want to photograph a tiger. I'll then use the internet to come up with a list of Zoo's or Wildlife Parks within the area I am willing to visit. I will look at the list of animals each facility keeps and make a short list of which ones have tigers. At this point I might look at which subspecies are kept or how far away each place is.

I might find that the best choice is a photographic day which several facilities offer, these are obviously much more expensive than a visit to the Zoo or Wildlife Park.

So now I know where I'm going I need to decide when I'm going. I would avoid:-

  • School Holidays/Weekends if possible
  • The middle of the day as I find the animals are most active early morning or late afternoon.
  • Very cold or very warm weather (this depends on the species to some extent)

I'm now ready for my trip, packed the camera and put on some comfortable shoes, and clothing suitable for standing still for long periods of time.

In the next part I will discuss what to do when faced with your model, especially if it is a speck on the horizon.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Changes to the Conditions of Entry for the 2008 UKCPS Exhibition

I received my entry form for the Annual Coloured Pencil Society Open International Exhibition 2008 yesterday.

There have been two changes which have caused much discussion amongst prospective entrants.
The first is that the artist must have taken any photographs used for source material. Now obviously copyright laws must be respected, but this means that even if you have permission to use someone else's photograph, your entry would be ineligible. I have no problem with this being a condition of entry, but it has caused some artists serious problems with work already partly completed.

I have used photographs taken by other people, always with permission, but have been working hard at taking my own. Meet my latest film star, Harry Mouse. I'm wanting to paint some cat and mouse pieces and spotted a little mouse living under the waterfall in my garden.So I've been feeding him in orders that I can obtain my own refernece material. Please all keep your fingers crossed that my neighbours cats don't spot him.

The second condition which is more concerning to me, is that, work is excluded which has been displayed as a 'step by step' exercise over the internet, on forums where other artists comment and make suggestions.

This may well stop a lot of artists putting work on art forums, or at the very least asking that no one make suggestions. This will then have a detrimental effect on the usefulness of such posts for people wanting to learn from them. I find this to be hugely different from making work ineligible which has been completed in a learning environment and I cannot see how it can be enforced. Even if it is not displayed on the internet, would a comment from family or friends which is acted on render it ineligible?

I rgreatly espect the UKCPS Executive, but I think they will have to resolve the huge confusion that has been created in some way.

For a much more thorough discussion see Katherine Tyrrell's blog and for a slightly different perspective see the post by Nicole Caulfield.

Saturday, March 01, 2008

How to Draw and Paint Cats:My Squidoo Lens

As I seem to have mainly worked on feline art over the last few months, I decided it would be useful to have all my related links together and share them with other artists.
So I have set up a squidoo lens 'How to Draw and Paint Cats'. I will be adding to my lens on a regular basis as I find links of interest to feline artists.

It is Roxie's big day next Saturday, Crufts dog show, which is the biggest show in the UK dog show calendar. I'm sure she is aware she is being prepared for something special because she is already acting like a prima donna. She has decided it is her right to have the prime spot in the lounge when we sit down in the evening. Her right to own all the toys and have all the petting, and share everybody's meals. The other dogs are not quite so willing to go along with her and today Juno sat on her, Roma her mum nipped her and Rio hid her toys. All I can say is roll on next Sunday.

I'm experimenting at the moment with various media, pure graphite, French Grey Coloured pencils and acrylic and Sepia coloured pencils. I'm not sure which I prefer, possibly for my work the coloured pencils have more impact.
The cat is the French Grey and acrylic, the Cheetah is Sepia and Nougat coloured pencil.