Happy Labor Day! Today’s Monday Art post arrives a little later than usual, as Erik and I have been away all weekend on a road trip to southern Oregon. You’ll hear more about the trip tomorrow on Artist Date Tuesday, but for now, I have a little drawing to share.
When we left for our trip on Saturday morning, I packed my watercolors, pencils, and drawing pads, hoping we’d get a chance to stop along the road. The drive from the Bay Area to Oregon along I-5 boasts majestic sights (Mount Shasta) and sweeping views, cute historic towns (Yreka) and plenty of little creeks and trails. But as it turned out, Saturday was so hot that exploring these sights gave little pleasure. Even just walking around made us tired, and the thought of sitting someplace and drawing was not to be entertained!
The next day, however, the weather cooled, and after a good night’s rest we felt inspired to look around. In Ashland, Oregon, we discovered the epically beautiful Lithia Park, a 93-acre jewel of grand old trees and lush greenery surrounding Ashland Creek. The park alone almost made me want to move to Ashland (and the fact that the home prices there seem to be half what we’d pay in the Bay Area didn’t hurt either!). We had an enjoyable ramble around the trails and the Japanese garden, and though we didn’t expect to stay out long, I brought my trusty backpack full of my usual paraphernalia.
When we emerged from the little Japanese garden, we came out onto a big grassy clearing surrounded by gigantic trees, and there, on the grass, were five young deer. Now I’m not such an urbanite that I’ve never seen the creatures before — in fact we saw one near our house just before our trip — but these were three young adults and two fawns, and though they were ringed by awestruck people, they showed no fear as we watched them and crept closer. There’s something about the air and the sunshine in Oregon that makes everything look crystal-pure and sparkling, and the sight of these delicate young animals in this idyllic setting, bathed in that pristine light, filled me with reverent curiosity.
As quietly as I could, I moved to a shady spot on the path unblocked by trees, opened my backpack, and extracted my sketchbook and a pencil. Even the last time I sketched deer, at Spirit Rock Meditation Center in Marin, I didn’t get this close to them, and the lighting wasn’t as clear for observation. But this time, conditions were practically perfect.
Animals are hard to draw, because they’re always moving around. (This is why you never see me doing life drawings of our cats!) Even though these deer were just standing around eating, they moved around constantly: taking steps, twisting their bodies and necks to reach new spots of grass, flicking their ears as people and cars passed in and out of the area. I don’t know how people ever get those classic photos of deer standing straight up and looking you in the eye! When these deer lifted their heads, they did so for mere moments, and then they were back to chewing. I guess a patient photographer might manage to get a shot, but for a sketcher or painter, it’s hopeless. (And that’s why we use photos for reference!)
When I take figure drawing classes and the models hold poses for 20 minutes, it’s possible to make a decent drawing. In quick field sketches like this, I can’t worry about whether my pictures look good; it’s all about studying the subject and capturing what I can with my pencil. What I love most about doing these sketches is that they help me see things I wouldn’t see otherwise. If I hadn’t been trying to express the shape of the deer’s legs, I would never have observed just how impossibly thin they are — how little they seem capable of supporting such a fleet animal! I would never have noticed the darker spots of shading on their foreheads, or the hugeness of the fawns’ ears, and I would never have thought to compare the shapes of their heads to those of horses. This is one of the greatest gifts of art: to prompt not just the viewer, but the artist herself, to see what we normally pass over.
I’m awfully glad I’m always prepared with my sketchbook and tools. 🙂 If I’d only had my camera, I’d have been snapping away without really seeing; as it was, not only did I get in some drawing practice, but I got to see these lovely creatures through sharpened eyes… so to speak.