“Red Squirrel at the Water’s Edge”
I am planning a colour illustration of a red squirrel, so I thought I would do a few studies first, to get to know the creature a wee bit better. This study was created entirely with Winsor & Newton’s Liquid Indian Ink, which (as I mentioned in my last post) is a suspension of traditional Chinese stick ink in water, so it has lots of texture and a tendency to granulate at the slightest provocation – which I like very much, though did not really exploit to any extent in this drawing.
I used the Arches Aquarelle cold pressed 140lb paper again, but on a smaller block, just 7″ by 10″. This paper is suprisingly yellow compared with a typical white piece of paper (as you can see in the final scan above), and it blends very well with the warm tone of this black ink. The study was drawn entirely with brushes, as I prefer to work that way when using ink. I have recently started using very lightweight (and cheap!) aluminium palettes for working with inks, and this has proved most successful. I reserve my ceramic palettes for watercolour paints, and the plastic palettes I used to use with ink never really came clean.
As I don’t happen to have a pet red squirrel who would be willing to pose motionless for several hours, I had to work from a photograph of course. This is never entirely satisfactory, but it’s more or less inevitable when drawing wildlife. The study got off to a fairly bold start, but there were lots of errors in proportion and form:
It doesn’t look too bad if you only glance quickly (except for the missing legs!) but there’s quite a lot wrong. At this stage the unfortunate creature looks rather more like a chipmunk with a bushy tail than a red squirrel. Luckily this robust paper withstands almost anything, so it was possible to make plenty of corrections. For general reworking I use a combination of washing out with a clean paintbrush, lifting with a piece of moistened magic sponge (you can see small pieces to the right of the drawing in these photos), and, when absolutely necessary, scraping back with a scalpel blade.
I completed the legs and feet, using a scalpel blade to correct the toe nails where they were not sufficiently well defined by the actual drawing, and did some more work on the face, ears, and general structure of the squirrel’s body. Eventually, after a great deal more reworking each time I made a mistake, I achieved something resembling the representation of the squirrel in the source photograph. It still wasn’t quite right though:
When I stood back I could plenty of errors, and so continued to fiddle with it for a while, until it got to the point where it was time to stop. The final result is shown (unaltered, straight off the scan) at the top of this blog post.
Although I would love to have such a light and accurate touch that I could convey an animal like this with just a few elegant strokes, one of the advantages of working into the drawing – and then reworking time and again – is that the layering process does build up an impression of depth and structure which a lighter, more elegant drawing would lack. This only succeeds if the paper has plenty of texture itself and is strong enough to withstand the treatment, of course… You can get some idea of the process and result in the detail below, where you can see stroked overlaid on strokes overlaid on strokes, and some of the granularity of the ink. Genuine Indian (or Chinese) ink, with its substantial body and texture, is ideal for achieving this kind of effect, whereas a lighter weight, dye-based ink would be no use.
The final result is fairly dark, and may need brightening up a wee bit if it’s going to be used for reproductions on greetings cards, etc., but personally I like the naturally rich tones of this ink, and it’s a pleasure to work with – and an entirely different experience from working with the coloured inks discussed in my last blog post, although admittedly the result is much less colourful 😀