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Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Let's Draw Real-Life Dragons

Drawing from life is hard. 
And drawing from life that insists on being alive and wandering off or slithering away is even harder. 

But it can be highly rewarding as well. There is a wealth of information that you glean from direct observation that you just can't get any other way. Like that someone taught that miniature monkey over there how to make obscene gestures and he has been making them at me for the past ten minutes.
But also more useful things like how reptiles breath, how they interact with one another, how they act when they are startled, or how they sit with jaws open to cool off (and not in the hopes that I will carelessly step there.)

These drawings were done at a reserve called Alligator Adventure, in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. This reserve is home to one of the largest crocodiles in the world, "Utan." (pictured above)
Utan is 20 feet long and weighs 1 ton.  He is in his own spacious exhibit, because he ate everything else.

He is a genuine monster, a horror from another age. In other places in the world his kind allegedly still kill more humans than any other predatory animal on the planet.

I doubt this chicken wire would really do much if he really decided he wanted to eat me, it looks like it's a screen door he might accidentally trip through on his way to the loo. But as you can see, I'm not worried at all. This is because I am wearing my sweet camo hat, which renders me pretty much invisible to him.

Here we got the head done, and then Utan decided he'd like a swim.  This was inconvenient, but you don't argue with 20 foot crocodiles.

So I moved on to the smaller lizards:

These juvenile alligators, like the juveniles of other species, could not sit still for more than 30 seconds. Drawing them proved fruitless.

Here we were able to catch a tail, and that is all.

Still there were fascinating tidbits that now get filed away for future projects on enormous, man-eating reptiles. How the water moves around them as they submerge is particularly fascinating.  

This alligator didn't like the way I was looking at him. That, or he didn't like my sweet camo hat. Either way, he eventually had enough and made a break for it.  But not before I snapped a photo which I would later use to cheat and fill in all the missing details.  Justin: 1, Alligator: 0

This guy knew that I knew that he knew that I knew that he was there and that he was NOT a log. I watched him slide into the water for crying out loud.  But that didn't stop him from slowly drifting up to the edge and pretending to be a log.  We all knew the game, and he knew that sooner or later, I would have to cross the water to get back to my car. And in my haste I'd forget that he wasn't a log.  And he'd even that score up a little.

But I knew a little secret called, "using the bridge."
Final Score: Justin: 2, alligator: 0


  1. Beautiful sketches. I like the way you captured their texture and their movement in the water. Utah's head looks awesome, I don't mind the rest of him being unfinished at all.

  2. Awesome draws! The render of the water is really cool!

  3. Fantastic studies and a really cool narrative to go with! I haven't been to the zoo for life drawing in far too long, I need to make it back over there.

  4. Hey, Justin I have a question. What kind of scanner do you use to scan in your images? They are always so crisp and clear, and for some reason I have trouble finding a good scanner that will not turn pencil sketches into a black a white ink drawing.

    1. It is an old Epson GT-15000. Nothing fancy, but it gets the job done.

  5. Really nice work Justin. Why does the sketch have to end though after the animals move? A lot of times when I'm sketching at a farm I'll sketch turkeys or goats that are in constant motion. When drawing them you mainly get the initial gesture and then study the animal as they are moving around to add in the details. Maybe one of the most challenging and rewarding things.

  6. Nice studies! I particularily like the black and white on colored paper ones.