Tuesday, February 23, 2021


Last year I wrote about the great English illustrator of wildlife, Raymond Sheppard, who spent years haunting the public zoos in London, studying and drawing animals up close.  Despite the fact that his life was tragically cut short by cancer, he had astonishing patience when it came to capturing the details of nature, as if his time was unlimited.  His great devotion earned him a level of understanding that few artists shared.

You can't appreciate the magnitude of his accomplishment until you experience his drawing up close.  The above study from one of his sketchbooks is not very large...

... but it is large enough for  Sheppard to learn the different directions, lengths and characters of the fur, which he expertly records to reveal the structure of the face.  

Compare the long, soft fur on the ears and throat with the short, bristly hair around the snout or the fur above the eyelids.  In this compact space he even teaches us about the sandpaper texture of the nose or the liquid smoothness of the eye.   Note how Sheppard uses dark accents sparingly, to create essential forms such as that mouth.

In this second attempt on the same page, see how Sheppard takes pains to capture the structure beneath the fur, rather than relying on the fur to camouflage the muscle and sinew, the way lazier artists might.  Sheppard's admiration for this creature radiates from his drawing.

Look especially at the place where fur meets antler, and see how Sheppard's pencil understands the different texture of each.

This is one preliminary drawing that really lives up to the term, "study."  There is so much honest observation and work here, it truly qualifies as one lovely drawing.


Robert Cosgrove said...

I have not much to say about this interesting post, beyond noting that your powers of critical observation of the artwork are fully worthy of the artist's graphic observations of his subject. Thanks for making us stop and look more carefully at a piece that well repays careful attention.

kev ferrara said...

His hit rate for accuracy is impressive as usual. I think I only see two places where he disagreed with his initial recording. And he smartly ignored those two spots, de-emphasizing them.

David Apatoff said...

Robert Cosgrove-- There is so much rich talent out there, unheralded but lovely across time and culture. For me these drawings in the "one lovely drawing" series just sing out. No one was paying Sheppard to spend his weekends at the zoo drawing so assiduously. After he was diagnosed with cancer he could easily have gone looking for some vice to titillate his remaining years. The fact that he chose to devote his precious last years to doing this is a measure of its importance to him, and a measure of how we should receive it.

Kev Ferrara-- Good point. The fact that you were able to spot those places in the details vindicates reproducing them at this size. I think Sheppard became expert over the years at assessing what he could reliably capture and what he couldn't with restless live animals. He did several drawings where an animal turned its back to him, but he stayed and captured a reverse 3/4 profile with the same care that he captured this full frontal image. A rhinoceros. A hog. A hippopotamus. Perhaps a subject for another post down the road.

kev ferrara said...

I think Sheppard became expert over the years at assessing what he could reliably capture and what he couldn't with restless live animals.

That may be true, but I'm assuming this study page was done from a stuffed and mounted animal, given just exactly how much is included in both drawings, the low angle at which he is viewing the creature in both drawings, and the identical nature of both poses. From long experience with deer, I can safely say that nobody can study them in this pose. If you're lucky, you might get a five second viewing of them in one state, usually as a prelude to them bolting away.

David Apatoff said...

Kev Ferrara-- It's quite possible; your description of the marks seems right, although Sheppard did many studies of deer on the same type of paper that seem more clearly to be from life, reflecting different turns of the head and positions of ears.. I've spoken with Sheppard's daughter who recalls many long dull afternoons at the zoo waiting for her father to complete his drawings from life, but there were far too many drawings for her to weigh in on this particular one.

kev ferrara said...

Agreed. That resting deer study you've hyperlinked suggests a living model: A pose that a deer might keep when zoo-kept, a probable angle of view and distance from the subject, more energy in the outlines, less attention to individual hairs, full body in view, different turns of the head.