Tiger drawing by Owen Garratt
This tiger drawing is the second in a series of wildlife chalk art drawings
Getting reference photos is always a challenge. Some people think that as an artist, I should be able to close my eyes and see the image in my mind’s eye – in all shades and hues, and in perfect detail.
Nope. When I shut my eyes, the lights go out.
There’s also some people who think that it shouldn’t matter what anything looks like; it’s up to the artist to create it the way he or she wants it to look.
I agree, and I want it to look realistic!
Sure, a good photo can’t make up for poor skills (some people also think that artists don’t need any skills, but don’t get me started), and sometimes photos can get artists off on a wrong track in terms of foreshortening and lighting. But overall, I want to have an idea of what’s going on before I dive in.
Ticket to Tigertown
So when I found myself in a city with a zoo, and that zoo had a tiger enclosure with some huge Siberians on loan, I beelined it down there.
It was a large circular area with perhaps 200 feet of frontage, and a low hedge ran outside the cage between it and a guardrail. Every so often was a seating area with a glass wall. The area was on the same ground level as the viewing areas, not one of those sunken pits that means you have to look down on them. We could get eye to eye, sort of.
As I began snapping pics, the tiger that I was photographing noticed and took an interest in my dangling camera strap. His ears and whiskers came forward, and his pupils dilated. I lurched to my right and this 600 lb Siberian flinched, just like a kitten when you scratch the couch to get him to play. I stopped, then darted again, and he tracked me, fighting the urge to leap.
For the next ninety minutes I ran around the enclosure, and the big Siberian gave chase inside.
On Your Marks
Despite all appearances, I’m dashed quick. I sprinted in high school, and often surprise folks when a burst of speed is called for.
So in the spirit of experimentation, I took off in a dead run around the enclosure. I ran as if that tiger was out here with me.
I could tell out of the corner of my eye that he was running too.
Intellectually, we all know that it’s impossible to outrun a tiger, but when you’re running as hard and as fast as you can, and you glance over and see a full-grown tiger casually loping along beside you, well, it’s jarring.
I mean I was going as fast as I could, and this big cat was just loping. If it knew the words, I’m sure it’d have been singing “tra-la-la” as it pottered along. It wasn’t even breathing out of its mouth.
I don’t know what I was expecting. Of course, it was faster than me, but I suppose I meant to make him work for it a bit.
Haw. He barely broke out into a trot, never mind a gallop.
A Realization of Helplessness
It was an oddly shocking realization – on an emotional level – that if the tiger wants you, it’s going to get you, and there’s nothing you can do about it.
Then I understood: we only ever experience these things vicariously – through cages and TV screens. Very few of us have ever had to run for our lives, thankfully, but we also don’t know what that’s like. We think that THAT experience will also be vicarious, somehow.
And because the experience is vicarious, we don’t have a full appreciation or proper respect for it.
Think of the idiots* who get out of their cars and run up to bears to get a picture with them. They don’t appreciate the danger because they have no first-person experience of ever really being in danger. They don’t recognize it.
And they always have a shocked look when things go badly…
Because the experience is vicarious, we don’t have a full appreciation or proper respect for it.Click to tweet
*I’m not judging, I’ve done it too. See the story of The Prizefighter…
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Owen On Working
“I either work, or don’t work; I don’t do well if I dabble.
If I’m drawing, I can’t be distracted with phone calls, business meetings, or anything that isn’t directly related to the paper in front of me.
It doesn’t happen by accident, it has to be managed and planned out in advance, and all of the people around me have learned to allow for it, and know how to deal with whatever pops up.
However this has become a big issue since I became a Dad; my output has dropped precipitously…but Lego time has skyrocketed!
I figure I’ll be a crabby old man for a lot longer than I’ll be the Father of Little Boys, and I mean to get the most out of it.”
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