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Working from different sources

Ruth Buchanan discusses strategies for drawing animals that include sketching from life, working from memory and from photographs, with tips on avoiding pitfalls and obtaining successful outcomes
Sea Grey, watercolour study painted from life, 11x15in (28x38cm)

My sources of inspiration and reference are drawing (and painting if I have the opportunity) from life, supplemented by photography and my memory. I find that working from multiple sources keeps energy in my work that might otherwise be lost.

Working from life – observational drawing

If I have looked, worked out what I am looking at, and drawn it, I remember more. This process helps to build a visual library and teaches you how to look – to see what, and what not, to include. Improvement comes with practice and repetition.

Animals move around so it is imperative to be able to get marks down quickly. However, they tend to move in sequences, returning to the same positions. I tend to have a few drawings on the go, working on each as the animal returns to that pose.

I start with long lines of movement or lines of weight. I don’t have time to select an approach or technique – these are stored in my ‘back-brain’, so what I need at the time just comes through. The techniques I use are explained in my article in the January 2018 issue, or by clicking here: As I sketch I often make notations about the light, colours, atmosphere or ‘the story’. It is not about taking home a finished picture, but impression and inspiration. Realising and accepting that location studies are not the same as studio paintings has helped with my confidence enormously. When I go on to paint the piece I often find myself reliving sounds, smells, feelings that I experienced while referencing and that helps me to access the inspiration I felt at the time.

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About The Artist

Welcome to the June issue of The Artist. As we look forward to the UK summer Martin Taylor demonstrates how to paint a seasonal bluebell wood, whilst cover artist, Haidee-Jo Summers, invites us to join her in painting our gardens and focus on capturing light and colour. Learn how to control your watercolour brushwork with Hazel Soan, try sketching on the go with James Willis, bring your waves to life in your coastal scenes with Jenny Aitken, and know when and how to varnish your oil paintings with guidance from Graham Webber. Our top artist-contributors also offer advice, step-by-step demonstrations and inspirational practical features on working from different source material, painting characterful faces, how to select a core palette of colours for landscape painting, the benefits of working with water-mixable oils, the value of a positive wish list, and much more. Enter our various competitions with fantastic prizes up for grabs and understand how to use regular e-newsletters to promote your work with some great tips from our regular gallerist Mark David Hatwood. Enjoy developing your skills in all media with The Artist this month!