Category Archives: elephants

Melbourne Zoo sketching

(On Saturday I went sketching at Melbourne Zoo  with Meegan and Kaz.

It was a sketching visit to the zoo, not a general visit. The three of us have three very different sketching techniques and approaches, using different pencils, crayons and paints.

23Jan16 zoo merged page

I wanted to sketch in a larger book than my everyday 13 x 19 Moleskine watercolour sketchbook. I had an old account ledger book I had bought years ago at a market. It is foolscap size, which is a bit bigger than A4. I knew the paper would be thin and not take much water with my water colour pencils. It would buckle and the colours would not be bright. I decided that it was an opportunity to experiment with some ink pens had been given. I mainly used the Sumiro – Thin line

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It has a soft tip and you can vary the thickness and thinness of the line, depending on how much you press the tip of the pen on the page. I am pleased with the result. In one way there is a lot less control of the line the pen makes, but you also get more control as you can press heavier to quickly create thick lines to show shadow or weight – great for sketches where you are trying to get the basic details down on paper quickly.




We saw about one third of the zoo. We walked past some enclosures where the animals were obviously not in sight or were staying undercover (tiger , lemur, otter) or in the distance (pygmy hippopotamus, mandrills ) and others were too lively (red panda). At the end of the day we had spent quality time sketching and closely observing the Elephants, Gorillas, and Orangutans, Tree Kangaroos,  and Colobus monkeys.


My sketches from the day – five animals

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Asian Elephants – The first elephant was on his own, having a great time playing with tyres against a tree. I did some  warm up sketches, not finishing many, but trying to get an understanding of how they move and parts of the body fit together

We then move into the elephant barn, where four (of the eight)  elephants were being cleaned and  measured by the keepers. There was a large audience.

I’ve drawn elephants before for my Elephant in the Room Sketchbook Project.


Tree kangaroo

23Jan16 tree kangaroo merged

There were two tree kangaroos in the enclosure. One stayed in one place the entire time we were there, the other moved a bit, giving us the chance to sketch from different angles. There was also time to use colour . There were some active monkeys on the next enclosure and they attracted everyones attention, so the tree kangaroos were not as popular and  people moved on quickly. Tree kangaroos are from New Guinea, far northeastern Queensland and some of the islands in the region. Most tree-kangaroos are considered threatened due to hunting and habitat destruction.

Gorillas – There is a family of Gorillas including a baby, a few adults and one Silverback . He has  a commanding presence and such power.

(I heard a young girl say “One day can I have a gorilla in my home?”)

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The Black-and-white colobus’ monkeys have beautiful contrasting black and white fur. Hunting led to the colobus’s extermination in some areas. excessively for its beautiful fur. Its skin was  used to make dance costumes, hats, and capes. The biggest threat to the colobus today is habitat loss.

(I heard a young boy say “Mum , have a look at these luscious locks”)

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Why draw at the Zoo?

Firstly for the pleasure in the line on the paper (See my previous blog post on Why drawing makes me happy ). Some images gradually come to life on the page, and I don’t know how they will turn out. Sometimes a few lines will capture the basic shape. Often they will not. Many sketches were not finished on the day, as I started again and again from another angle. (Only a few of the best sketches of the day are on this page). This happens as the animal changes position, moves away or visitors unknowingly move in front.

When I draw I am putting my raw and primary reaction to the animal. My two friends and I drew the same animals, but often focused on different things – colour, shape, texture – and our interpretations were very different too.

I have the opportunity to observe the animal, their colour, shape and how they move. These are things I would not have noticed at a superficial viewing or taking a photo. In general people do not have an understanding of animal bodies, and each animal is so very different. You cannot transfer the human proportions and muscles and shapes to animals, just the tools of measuring comparative shapes and distance.

We will return another day to see and sketch more of the zoo. !