“I compiled this sketchbook during a recent visit to Botswana, where I wanted to make first-hand studies of African wildlife in its natural environment. We hired a private Land Rover and driver, and could stop and look as long as we wanted at the many animals that inhabit the Kalahari Plains and Okavango Delta.
My sketches were made, out of necessity, with the simplest equipment: a propelling pencil (to save the problem of sharpening) and a sturdy A5 Moleskine sketchbook (the thick, smooth-surfaced paper was ideal for quick work). I clutched my sketching kit in one hand and grasped a bar rail on the truck with the other as we bounced across very rough terrain through the bush (often actually over bushes!) in search of animals.
It was like a cross between riding on a big dipper and sailing a stormy sea — not a place to try to balance a lot of art equipment.
However, I did also have in my pocket a stick of Pitt’s pure graphite (6B) which was sometimes useful to quickly block in very dark tonal areas, such as those on the wild dog and the black manes on the Kalahari lions. It could be easily sharpened to a respectable point with a penknife (another piece of kit I thought might come in handy if confronted by a wild animal!).
All sketches of the wildlife were made from within the truck, as venturing outside might have threatened the animals and provoked an attack. For the same reason, we could neither stand up inside the truck nor make any sudden movements.
Thanks to these precautions, in many cases we managed to stop very close to some of the potentially most dangerous animals, who must have seen us as a harmless square blob. We were frequently able to catch them resting in the hot sun, which gave me time to work on a sketch.
It was the elephants that most often challenged our presence. We had to back away quickly more than once, thanks to ear flapping, head tossing, foot stamping and swinging of trunks.
That’s what happened on one occasion when we found ourselves suddenly in the middle of a big herd which seemed to melt into our vision from amongst the camouflage of surrounding trees. My few sketches of elephants are very skimpy!
I found the animals interesting not only because of their varied forms, but also because of their surface patterning and the tonal contrasts created either by their own often very distinct markings, or by the strong multifarious shadows cast across their bodies by surrounding leaves and branches. As well as sketches I took many photographs that will help me work on more formalised images in due course.”
Editor’s note: Dr Susan E Poole has a BA (Hons) and MA in Fine Art from The Surrey Institute of Art and Design, University College, specialising in sculpture and printmaking. But she has always drawn and valued drawing, and has had drawings and watercolours shown in many national group open exhibitions over the years, for example at the Royal Academy, the Mall Galleries, the Westminster Gallery and the Menier Gallery, London. She took time away from practice to research Aegean art and archaeology, and was awarded a PhD at University College London. Susan was elected Associate Member of the Society in October 2011 and in 2013 joined the Council as Associate Members’ Rep. To see more of Susan’s art, please visit her web site at www.susanpoole.co.uk