… and other animals

No rest for the wicked. Today’s outing was to the National Zoo and Aquarium, which I’m rather embarrassed to admit that I had never visited in all my years of living in this city. We went armed with sketchbooks and plenty of enthusiasm to try and draw some of the animals we saw. After having a lot of fun with the quick watercolour sketch at the beach I thought that it was probably a good approach to try with the animals, which I assumed would be unlikely to be sitting still for very long.

At first we wondered whether there were any animals to see. The Snow Leopards were hiding so effectively that no one could spot them and ditto for the next few cages we looked into. At least we did see the recently arrived hyenas. The Black Capuchins (Sapajus nigritus) were more obliging and after a false start so too were the Bolivian Squirrel Monkeys (Saimiri boliviensis), who decided to come out for a play. I’d never seen a yellow monkey before! And yes, the colour I’ve used in my drawing is a close match for their fur. They are quite small, extremely agile and quite entrancing to watch.

The Bolivian Squirrel Monkey

The Bolivian Squirrel Monkey, watercolour and pencil, 9 January 2015

We decided to keep moving. On to the White lions and then the Sumatran Tigers. We were watching the female Sumatran Tiger, who is at the zoo with a view to a future mating with the male in the cage next to hers. We saw her walking back and forth in the one spot, never a good sign for a captive animal, until we realised she could see two small children who were playing on the nearby path! Once the parents had collected the children, oblivious to the tiger’s interest, the tiger moved off quite happily to other parts of her large enclosure. I was also quite excited, although that’s probably not the best way of expressing it, to see the tiger scent-marking one of the trees in her area.

Moving from the large and back to the small we stopped to draw the Little Penguins. The little penguin (Eudyptula minor) is the smallest species of penguin growing to an average of 33 cm (13 in) in height and 43 cm (17 in) in length. Apparently it’s no longer ‘kosher’ to call them Fairy Penguins, which is how I always knew them as a child. Their long, very clear pool, is built so you can lean right over to see them rocketing up and down its length. Great for drawing!

A Little Penguin floating by, watercolour, 9 January 2015

A Little Penguin floating by, watercolour, 9 January 2015

The other feature of these birds, just to pick one, is their colouring, which up close is distinctively a deep slatey-blue, hence yet another common name for them as the Blue Penguin. This particular animal had a white patch on the end of both it’s flippers and a whitish head.

The Little Penguin, AKA, the Blue Penguin, AKA the Fairy Penguin, watercolour, 9 January 2015

The Little Penguin, AKA, the Blue Penguin, AKA the Fairy Penguin, watercolour, 9 January 2015

Near the penguins were another animal I find quite fascinating, the Goodfellows Tree Kangaroo (Dendrolagus goodfellowi). It seems like a contradiction in terms but these are basically tree dwelling kangaroos. This species comes from the New Guinea rainforests, as do the majority of these odd-looking beasts. To combat the heat of the day their pens had very fine sprays of water, which also cooled the air for passing visitors. The first animal I drew was sitting inside a hutch, up a pole, along with another Tree Kangaroo, with it’s back resting along one wall.

Quite relaxed, a Goodfellows Tree Kangaroo, watercolour, 9 January 2015

Quite relaxed, a Goodfellows Tree Kangaroo, watercolour, 9 January 2015

In this case there is a discrepancy in the colours I’ve used. While the majority of the fur is chestnut red, with paler yellow ochre areas, I didn’t have the intense dark brown that characterised the darker areas on the animal’s forearms and legs and the wide stripe down its back. When the animal moved I took the opportunity to try for a tail sketch. Again its a combination of the chestnut and pale ochre in a blotchy sort of pattern. I really need to work out how to get the texture of the tail fur, which reminded me of the fur wrap in Ingres painting of Mademoiselle Caroline Riviere.

Mademoiselle Caroline Riviere, 1806, Jean Ingres, Oil on canvas, 27 3⁄8 × 27 1⁄2 inches. The Louvre, Paris

Moving on to another elegant neck, my final sketching subject of the day was the zoo’s Giraffe (Giraffa camelopardalis), who was temporarily under house arrest while waiting for some training by the keepers. The upside of this, from a drawing perspective, was that he was in one space rather than moving all over his enclosure and that space was fairly close to where we could sit and draw. He also seemed interested in having some visitors to watch while he was waiting.

There is no doubt that the head of a giraffe is more unusual than you might imagine. Can you see the head in your mind’s eye? Not only does a giraffe have two ‘horns’, or more correctly ossicones, on the top of its head, being a male this giraffe also had a well developed medium lump on the front of its skull – who’d a thought it! Luckily he was happy to demonstrate the flexibility of his lovely neck (unless you are being whacked by it).

Look at me, look at me, giraffe, watercolour and pencil, 9 January 2105

Look at me, look at me, giraffe, watercolour and pencil, 9 January 2105

I found drawing the animal’s head was a challenge. It’s a wedge shape which appears way too wide at top for the overall length of the head and the very narrow, chisel shaped lips designed for grasping at leaves and other food. In fact it was so hard to draw that I had to excise one drawing which appeared to demonstrate a direct anatomical link between the giraffe and the Loch Ness monster. Not flattering to the giraffe at all.

In all we spent over 4 hours at the zoo and I can see that this is yet another fascinating place to visit, for the purposes of drawing. I’m really pleased that the Zoo has a Friends of the Zoo membership so I will be encouraged to go back whenever I like.


    1. Thanks Neil. It’s strange how I seemed to have forgotten, until now, how much I enjoy looking at animals. I definitely want to make more drawings and given that I can get a reasonably priced multiple entry to the zoo I plan to spend more time drawing each animal.



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