In Ireland we have a saying: ‘Tus maith, leath na hoibre’ – or, ‘A good start is half the work’. So true in the case of animal art. Getting a good look at your subject and getting a good reference is often not only half the work, but also half the fun!
I was really looking forward to seeing him. I had planned to get there early and find a good place where I could spend some quiet time getting to know him. I knew it was going to be a long shot but I was hopeful. I also knew I wasn’t going to have him all to myself and I had heard that he could be a bit…well, awkward; like a lot of celebs, but I was hoping that I’d get lucky and that he would at least glance my way.
As I approached, my heart sank. There was quite a crowd there already. Undeterred, I got as close as I could. I got my camera ready…and waited…and waited.
Then quite suddenly and without any fuss; there he was and boy was it worth the wait! This was no difficult or ungracious performer. This guy was pure class; very aware of his public and ready to reward our patience. He strode purposefully back and forth; working the crowd and he was very aware of the excitement he was creating.
Then it happened. He turned and sat quite close to where I was – glanced my way briefly and then turned away again. That was fine; I had my shot. I stayed as long as possible watching him and his beautiful, but much more shy, mate. Of her we just got fleeting glimpses through the grass high up on the ridge. There are rumours of a little one (or three) on the way.
Eventually, I tore myself away and headed for home to work on a painting based on my reference photo. I think I got lucky with the painting too or maybe it’s because we came face-to-face and I was able to draw on my experience of him and not just the reference photo, but I think I managed to capture a little of his personality. In any event, he has left an indelible mark on my heart!
So I left Dublin Zoo and headed home to start on the painting. My large set of Unisons are always my go-to tools. I like to work on suede mat board and Unisons are just the right mixture of hard and soft for this surface. They are soft enough to layer on lots of pigment but also maintain a firm edge for details.