Monday, 18 July 2016

Darwin's Theory

Blogs have been thin on the ground this year due to primary work pressures leaving me less time to concentrate on my art. On a positive note I did not let my artwork slip and have been enthusiastically beavering away in the background honing my skills. I have however completed 5 large drawings this summer for a property company in London, who are looking to base their advertising around birds of the Galapagos Islands and Darwin’s voyage of discovery. I was reluctant at first to take the project on because of the non-British species, which are my passion. Having loosely studied Darwin in the past, I whole heartily agree his findings provide us with an understanding of the basis to life on this planet. Charles Darwin was an English naturalist who whilst embarking on a 5 year voyage around the world, diligently studied the rich flora and fauna that culminated in his ‘Theory of Evolution’. If you have not read "On the Origin of The Species", and are averse to deep religious doctrines, it’s a must to for explaining how each species has adapted over millennia to evolve from basic living organisms into complex animals like ourselves. This he called ‘Theory of evolution by natural selection’.  Regardless of whether you agree, it is certainly thought provoking and if you look closely, you will see it is mirrored in every corner of the natural world. On this premise alone I thought it was worth the effort. While voyaging, Darwin discovered the Galapagos Islands and noticed how the islands Finches had wide variations in beak and claw size, which had adapted to the local food source. This became the basis for his work and the Tanager’s Finch (Oreothraupis arremonops) was named after Darwin, becoming known as ‘Darwin’s Finch’ and one of the subjects that would be the main focus of the project.

With only 3 weeks to produce 5 detailed A3 size Graphite works, it was no mean feat, so alas, day & night it was to be if I was to stand any chance of completing on time! The project was clearly defined and the design team knew exactly what they had in mind. After a few email discussions and rough sketches to outline the pose of each subject, I started with the first bird - the Blue Footed Booby (Sula nebouxii). As comical as the name is, please take a look at any image of this bird and its clear to see why they should be a child's cartoon character! Its hilarious walking movement reminds me of a sergeant majors frog march, combined with a gannet-like head and bright blue webbed feet; they are a curious work of nature.

After studying video footage to obtain the character of the species, I set about depicting one stood on a rock boulder, which seems a favourite pastime of this bird. I wanted to capture the ‘colour without colour’ which is an oxymoron in itself,  but by emphasizing the tones in graphite I hoped to achieve a balance that would display the bird in all its glory – a lot to ask from a basic pencil!

Second on the list was the Greater Flamingo (Phoenicopterus roseus), a bird I'm sure you have all seen at wildlife parks and zoos. A regal bird of elegance and beauty with its stunning salmon pink coloration, and unique bill designed for filter feeding in shallow lagoons, it is like no other bird on the planet. Its long slim legs are designed for wading in water whilst keeping its body clear of the surface and they move like dancing ballerinas......but once again, I had to depict this beauty without colour, so bold shadows and highlights where required to breathe life and depth into the bird.

Next on the list was the Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias) which is virtually identical to our Grey heron (Ardea cinerea). Apart from a few slight colouration differences on areas of its feathering and legs, you can see the very close resemblance, so I had no issues drawing this one. Whilst it retains the typical Heron stance when stood still, flying or hunting, it certainly lives up to its name as its 4.5ft tall with a huge 6.5ft wingspan!

The 4th species on my list was by far the most difficult to draw - the Magnificent Frigate bird (Fregata magnificens). To look at, it’s a very unusual bird indeed with its marauding hawk-like flight and long forked tail and scimitar wings. Black in colour with a slight oily sheen, they snatch prey from the surface of the water and do not dive like other species. Its beak is a very sharp hook designed to aid in the catching of its prey, and combined with an 8 foot wingspan, it is a master of the air. It also has a very dramatic courtship display with the females flying overhead in search of a mate, while the males remain perched on a branch inflating a football-sized blood red neck pouch. It has a strange looking fleshy air sack that is almost heart-like in shape, looking somewhat perverted (maybe that's just my obscure imagination). Either way, a quick look at any photo reference and you can clearly see this defining scrotal feature which was a damn pain to render in Graphite! As a thin membrane of skin covered in small veins and akin to a party balloon, it is the one feature I knew of all the species that would test my patience and skill.

With the 4th piece now complete I was looking forward to the final subject, the one bird which exemplified Darwin's work, so I dearly wanted to do it justice. Replicating Darwin's own drawing of the Tanager's finch (one of 13 in the family), I also wanted to present the bird in a more accurate fashion than the original work, whilst retaining the heritage of his most famous subject. Hours were spent researching and taking cuttings of plants that would represent the bird’s ideal perch. I completed the final drawing just within the allotted time frame and was more than happy with my attempt. I hope you have enjoyed this blog; it is of greater magnitude than my small existence. In the process it has taken me on a voyage to understand Darwin's work a little more, and appreciate how the way we view the world today is based on this one man's theory.


All drawings completed in Graphite pencil on A3 sized, slight cream toned paper to give a more authentic feel to the works.


Strict copyright on all images.


My next blog will be based on kingfishers in watercolour and a fishing book project containing 25 chapter drawings, which has been a privilege and very enjoyable too!


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