Zoo Draw Day

Last weekend our local Rocky Mountain chapter of SCBWI hosted a zoo draw day, organized by the fantastic Karen Windness. It turned out to be a beautiful day and a perfect opportunity to get outside with fellow illustrators and practice sketching animals. We started off with an animal anatomy lesson from Professor David Collins of the Rocky Mountain College of Art and Design who generously donated his time to the cause. He had us all start off with a quiz: drawing a dog skeleton without reference. The gaps in our knowledge quickly became clear.

The anatomy lesson

We quickly discovered how little we know about animal anatomy.

Collins crammed in a bunch of information about the basic structure of a quadruped skeleton and major muscle groups.  It was hard to get through everything in so little time, but we touched on a bit of everything. He also gave us a great list of books and videos to learn more.

anatomy lesson sketch

A page of my notes from the lesson.

After the presentation, we were free to roam the zoo as long as we liked to sketch animals. I started with the elephants, who refused to even think about holding still.

Sketching elephants

The elephant, considering walking away again.


Very hasty efforts at the basic form.

I noticed that quadrupeds like zebras or burros were easier to draw because their form is already familiar from seeing domesticated horses and donkeys. Other animals were more unusually shaped, and it was a great exercise to try to break them all down into their basic forms and to try to see the structure beneath the feathers and fur. The otters were particularly entertaining to watch, but by comparison to the elephants they were downright hyperactive. While I was sketching one otter’s face, another came over, grabbed him with his teeth, and dragged him in a kicking, roiling tumble into the water. A high-speed chase followed.

Sketches of zoo animals

Various animals...

I really enjoyed taking the time to draw different animals, even if it meant I couldn’t possibly see them all. When I take the time to really observe, I often notice interesting details and behavior I wouldn’t otherwise see. The highlight of the day was the baby orangutan, who kept doing somersaults with the blankets and playing “keep-away” with her dad. Here’s a photo of the two of them together.


Father and daughter. They were having a grand time.

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1 Comment

  1. by Kath on October 21, 2016  2:23 pm Reply

    Looks like it was a lot of fun!

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