Penny’s Stonking Conk

I’m fascinated by dogs’ noses. A dog’s sense of smell is truly awesome. When I’m out in the woods with my dogs and they go into a sniffy, barky frenzy at the end of their leads it’s not often because there’s a wild animal nearby. It’s more usually because a wild animal walked this way hours and hours ago. Dogs can be trained to detect various drugs, cancer cells, approaching epileptic seizures, and changes in blood sugar levels in diabetics. They can detect bombs and mines. It is such a finely tuned instrument that it puts the best human smellers to shame. And if you want to find out more about how dogs perceive their world through their noses, and how humans can learn to reactivate some of their sense of smell, you could do worse than read Alexandra Horowitz’s Being a Dog.

Especially Penny’s nose is a work of art. Maybe this is why I was trying to draw it again (see a previous effort here). This time, though, I wanted to make an effort to get the texture of her nose right, that craggy leatheriness. So, I did what I always do in these circumstances: I consult YouTube tutorials. What did we even do before YouTube made tutorials freely available? To be fair, some of the ‘tutors’ on YouTube probably shouldn’t be, but in drawing you can judge for yourself: if you like the finished picture, why not follow the steps the person in the video took to get there? I consulted Katie Bowman’s tutorial and found it incredibly helpful. Leontine van Vliet is taking a different route, but also arrives at a similar result: a realistic-looking nose. I also had another look at Kirsty Partridge’s tutorial on how to draw fur.

Screen Shot 2018-01-30 at 10.42.08And another thing: I invested in a blending stump. A very worthwhile investment that’s turned out to be! I never realised the difference that blending makes. But see the results for yourself





I’m still working with a smallish sketchbook but I thought that I should try to make larger-scale drawings to be able to concentrate on detail better. Hence this odd little picture of Penny’s muzzle seen from above as she was reclining and, if I remember rightly, snoring gently.


I began with the nose.


Compared with my previous efforts, this is a lot better. What changed? I had better tools, I knew more about method, I tried to build in highlights from the start, and I took my time. I think it’s Kirsty, who says in her tutorial that you just need to take the time if you want to draw realistically – and I found this advice congenial as well as right.

Moving on.


This is where th eblending stump entered the picture. It made such a difference to the lips. The other piece of advice that I took to heart was layering, i.e. creating layer after layer of skin and fur, so that the final result looks three-dimensional. You can see that I was struggling with Penny’s newly acquired grey fur, though, – me and my girl are greying fast!


When it came to the right-hand side of Penny’s muzzle, I went back to YouTube and found My Drawing Tutorials’ video on how to draw soft white fur, and took a few hints from that.

And on to the finishing line.


Here’s Penny’s stonking conk in all its glory. I’m very pleased with it. Compared to the last time I tried to draw her nose, I’ve improved a lot. It actually does look fairly realistic.


Compared to the reference picture, her nose and lips are slightly too large perhaps, but it’s mostly right. My box of tools now includes: pencils of varying grades, a blunt eraser, a wedge-shaped eraser, a pen eraser and – my newest purchase – a kneaded eraser for those tiny lines and dots. I also feel better about working from photographs: I’ve begun following a few artists on Instagram & they, like me, work from photos displayed on an ipad. Overall, I think this little drawing (it’s about 12 x 13 cm in size) took me about 7 hours to complete. I may well be able to speed up as I get better, but I found the task to be thoroughly absorbing and don’t think I want to aim at drawing faster. It’s not a race, after all.

Onward and upward – I may try a larger picture of my girl’s face before long.

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Wolf-drawing – a portrait of O-Six


Wolves fascinate us. They also scare us – at least they used to. And now that wolves are returning to areas in which humans have previously exterminated them, we may become scared of the big, bad wolf again.

I think our conflicted love/hate-relationship with wolves arises from the fact that we have a lot in common: both human beings and wolves are apex predators. We are both at the top of our respective food chains. Humans have a disagreeable conviction that they must be boss, though, and that we have the right to own land and farm animals, and that any other animal who encroaches on either is a pest and must go.

Perhaps it’s also the closeness between wolves and our beloved dogs that moves us. When we look at our dogs, especially at breeds which physically still resemble wolves like German Shepherds, Huskies, Malamutes, Akitas etc., we seem to detect the wolf behind the goofy doggy grin.

And, of course, we tell stories about wolves. From “Little Red Riding Hood” to the “Three Little Pigs”, wolves figure as dark, menacing (but easily outwitted) foes. The current fashion for nature writing has turned up lots of books about wolves, notably Garry Marvin’s Wolf (in the beautiful series on individual animal species by Reaktion Books), and even stories of individual wolves, as the story of O-Six, which was told by Nate Blakeslee in American Wolf: A True Story of Survival and Obsession in the West (Crown, 2017).

O-Six was a true celebrity wolf. She was called by a number (06) because Yellowstone wolves are not named to prevent anthropomorphism on the part of wolf watchers and science writers – something which utterly fails, of course, since the number itself acquires meaning for fans of particular wolves. O-Six had quite a following and appears in many wolf books, such as Elli Radinger’s Die Weisheit der Wölfe (Ludwig, 2017). It helped that she was beautiful, with distinctive facial markings. But she was also a real character, at first hunting alone, and then with her own pack composed of two brothers, who hung out with her. She was the leading force and an astonishingly good hunter, who managed to bring down big game almost single-pawedly. Her death at the hands of a disgruntled hunter caused a national outcry and brought to the fore much about what is wrong with our perceived mastery over ‘mere animals’ but also highlighted the plight of people who are left behind in today’s America. It’s a powerful story.

And now I wanted to draw her picture. Disclaimer: This is emphatically not a tutorial. I’m too much of a beginner to be able to teach anybody anything. Except perhaps that if you want to draw something – go for it. Learn as you go. The path is the goal and all that.

Here’s how I began: by drawing the outline of her face.


I still struggle with proportions, and it pays to draw the outlines slowly and to compare them frequently with the reference picture. Then I slowly added the facial features.

I did the eyes and the dark area of her face first and was quite pleased that I got her stare right: that self-contained, self-confident wolf stare.

And then there’s her wonderful fur, which made me come up against my limitations with a skid and a bump. I kind of know the theory: you build up fur slowly by creating a layer of ‘undercoat’, which shows the direction the fur is growing in and the bone structure of the animal concerned (well, the latter doesn’t go for a big, fluffy wolf, but it works for other animals) with a hard pencil (H or H2). Then you choose a softer pencil (perhaps B) and build up the layers by adding body. Then use an even softer pencil (B3-6) to add shades. In between stages, you may blend the pencil strokes to add realism. And finally, using a thin eraser, you can add highlights. Have a look at Kirsty Partridge’s tutorial: she explains it beautifully.

But, oh boy, I’m finding it hard to put theory into practice. Here’s the final version of my drawing:


It’s clearly not the best portrait of this remarkable wolf that will ever be done. Currently, it’s the best I can do and I look forward to improving. I may do a few practice drawings just concentrating on different kinds of fur. One day I will perhaps be able to do her justice.

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Learning to draw. An adventure story. Episode 5.

By now we were in December and our tutor’s mind turned to wintry and vaguely Christmassy subjects. In Lesson #9 we were to try our hands at drawing a wintry landscape. We were to show an awareness of depth and perspective, too.


Snow may be a delightful substance when it looks like this, but it is ruddy hard to draw. At least for me. And trees! The larger branches are fine, but how to you do the fiddly small ones? Only time and practice will tell. I’m quite proud of the fence, particularly the wonky garden gate in the foreground. Bit of perspective there, and in the houses.

And in the final session we were drawing candles.

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Once again, I realised that drawing things from life is more difficult than drawing things from a picture. For one, this array of candles arranged on a mirror tile was in the centre of the room, a good 1.5 metres away. My eyesight has grown worse over the last 6 months, and I found looking at the candles and then focusing in on the paper in front of me necessitated a lot of glasses-on, glasses-off, etc. ad infinitum. Mental note: go see the eye doctor for some varifocals. The other thing that was difficult was the way the light shone through the top third of the big candle, which I found difficult to get right. But the candleholders were fun to do, as well as the rather rushed shading in of the darkness surrounding the candle flames.

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And here’s what everyone else did:

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I quite like this final comparing of notes that we do at the end of each session. You can learn from the more advanced students and you can see the different ways in which we approach the same subject. It is rather remarkable how students, who are, after all, just starting out on this journey, quickly develop their own style.

I’ve signed up for the follow-up course, which starts on 19 February. I will probably continue telling the story of this adventure and where it’s taking me. See you then…

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Learning to draw. An adventure story. Episode 4.

Drawing lesson #7 brought a special challenge. We were drawing musical instruments. Well, the more advanced students were. Us beginners were copying a picture of a musical instrument. Mine had, shock, horror, a human being in it!


As you can see I expertly solved the problem of depicting the enraptured cellist by not drawing her at all. After all, the focus was on the instrument, wasn’t it?

Given how dark the original photocopy was in places, I was guessing how to shade in the instrument an awful lot of the time. I think I sized the peg box wrongly, but apart from that, I’m quite pleased with the result. I found shading the body surprisingly difficult. Our tutor had told us not to shade in a surface uniformly, but to allow some bits to be darker and others lighter. She said they looked more realistic that way. I applied that advice better on the music stand than on the instrument. One thing I realised while I was drawing: we’d only done smooth surfaces up to now. So I was clearly stumped by the folds of fabric on the sleeve of the woman’s blouse. The sleeve looks appallingly bad when compared to the not-so-bad rest. I’ll have to practice drawing fabrics…

In week 8, our tutor thought she’d get us to face the brave new world of drawing faces. Human faces, that is. The beginners were to draw faces from pictures. The more advanced students were to draw portraits of each other. Oh dear. Mutiny in the Wiesbaden Volkshochschule! Students throwing up their hands in despair! Open rebellion! Nobody wanted to draw anyone else’s face. I’m not surprised. The potential for embarrassment is endless. So the more advanced students drew something innocuous instead, and we beginners knuckled down to do our more innocent photograph-based portraits.

The injunction this time was to draw quickly. Now, I draw slowly. Very slowly. So my portraits are all unfinished. Which may be just as well. I didn’t keep the pictures on my phone, so have had to take screenshots of my Instagram account for this bit.

Screen Shot 2018-01-23 at 14.29.57

I started out with this determined-looking older chap. No time to do anything more than a cartoon.

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Then the youthful male model. Looks a little bit better than the previous chap. I got the eyes right, but not the flowing locks. And don’t look at the ear.

I really enjoyed trying my hand at this lady, partly because I want to be like her when I’m that age. I found it impossible to do her justice, particularly in the half hour I had. Older faces are interesting to draw. The male model above and the female model below may look fresh and lovely, but this is a face in which there’s something to draw. It’s not symmetrical, for one. But, admittedly, a challenge too far. Maybe I’ll need to give her another go with more time.

And finally the young girl from the Nivea ad. That’s what she looks like to me anyway. Face like an unripe peach. The nose was difficult to do, even though I turned my papers this way and that. But I think the eyes are ok.

Overall, the portraits are seedlings waiting to blossom. I just need to admit that quick sketching is beyond me, at least at this stage. If I’d only drawn one of the pictures in the time I tried to draw four, I think it would have turned out to be more satisfactory. But, talking proportions again, I’m becoming surer of myself. It’s becoming easier to produce an outline that looks like the outline on the original picture. And that’s something to celebrate.

Want to find out how well I’m doing when the subject is a wintry landscape? Check back for Episode 5.

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Sketching: Another look at Deri


My boy Deri is just ever so cute, and, because of his fur markings and the fact that his fur is short, he’s a good model for the beginner drawist. Here he is asleep on my lap.

IMG_9775I started out by lightly sketching the outline with a H pencil and adding a little bit of shading. In the meantime I’d learnt that, if you want to draw short fur, one way is to draw an ‘undercoat’ in a H or HB pencil (lots of strokes next to each other, but not forming a pattern). Afterwards you add more strokes with a softer pencil. Take care to draw a little unevenly (some patches darker than others) and it’ll look more realistic.

IMG_9776Considering my earlier effort at drawing Deri, this time the fur is a lot better, although I still need to learn how to draw white fur. Also, his leg looks a bit weird and he sleeps on thin air. So I added my leg and a bit more substance.


I have much to learn (notably about drawing white fur) but this is a lot better than my last attempt at drawing Deri. It’s getting there. 🙂

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Learning to draw. An adventure story. Episode 3.

In our fifth drawing lesson, us beginners were finally pitched in at the deep end: we had to draw one of those wooden dolls that, presumably, teach arts students about body shapes and movements.


To get us into the mood, we were taught about body proportions and got to copy a few stick figures and clothe them. You can see my attempt in the bottom right corner of the picture.

And then the tutor said: now draw the wooden figure. Oh my. That was hard. Look how that blasted figure is standing – lots of foreshortened perspective here. And the thing is just featureless enough to make it quite difficult to get it down on paper accurately. That’s my excuse and I’m sticking to it!


So here’s my attempt. Not great, is it? I think I’ve managed to get the proportions right, and some of the shading, but I clearly need lots more practice at this to make it look like a three-dimensional figure. As to the wooden block it leans against so casually? Umm. Well. No.

Moving swiftly on, lesson #6 was all about perspective. We began by drawing our favourite room from memory. Cue disaster: we very quickly found out that we knew nothing about perspective. Or can you see the top of your wardrobe while standing in the corner of your room? Well, I could, in my drawing.

We were then taught about vanishing point and drew a very simple picture of a room, with a door, a window, a table and – the big challenge – a bookcase that wasn’t in the copy of our crib drawing.


I remembered about vanishing points from school and so this wasn’t too hard.


Afterwards, we were drawing a street scene with a single vanishing point to keep things simple, taking the photocopy we were given as an inspiration. No, it’s not great art. But a valuable lesson. I wonder how one works out where the vanishing point is, when one draws an actual street scene. I’m sure all will be revealed in a future lesson…

And if you want to know how I got on trying to draw musical instruments, tune in to Episode 4.

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Sketching: a look at Penny

Penny is an all-round gorgeous dog. I love her nose. I love her big paws that look as if she’s still growing. And I love her intelligent, lively face. And so I love trying to draw her.

First of all, I tried to draw her paws. I enjoy doing these small drawings of bits of Penny. Perhaps I should say that these are studies for a larger drawing. But in truth I like doing them because they don’t take me ages.

The challenge here is to get the different surfaces right: soft paw pads, hairy feet and smooth nails.

My drawing of Penny’s paw is a little too narrow, but other than that I’m pretty pleased. It’s a really small drawing and it took hours: more proof that I’m very, very slow. And those bushy bits of longer hair are tricky.

Ready for more paws? Right you are.

I’m slightly better on the nails here, the pads are ok, but her fur leaves something to be desired. And as for my lovely crocheted blanket…. Umm.

Noses next:

Here’s a not very good one. I was trying too hard to replicate the texture of delicate creases on her stonking conk. And the whole thing lacks definition somehow. My next effort is a lot better.

What am I like? Taking a picture of Penny while she’s gently snoring. The drawing still nowhere near good, but this nose is a lot better and I managed to do her teeth quite well, too. It’s a funny picture & makes me smile.

About time that we get to see her whole face. She was looking out of the window of my mum’s third-floor flat – looks like she’s seen a squirrel in the walnut tree in my neighbour’s garden. She’s all focused attention.

I think I caught that experssion. I need to work harder on getting her fur right, but, in essence. this *is* Penny. You can see her personality, even if her muzzle is a bit longer than it needs to be.

The dogs are great to practice on. But the next image – the one I’m currently working on – is of that of a wolf. And not just of any wolf, but the famous Yellowstone wolf O-Six. Let’s see if I can do her justice…

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