Sunday, December 30, 2007

Least Weasel -#2

I've previously posted a Least Weasel sketch in November, and I didn't feel I did that creature justice, so here is another, in its winter coat.

Coyote (Canis latrans)

The coyote, another consummate survivor, thrives on the boundaries of civilization. It can be found throughout the United States, Canada and Mexico. The name "coyote," comes from Mexican-Spanish, but ultimately derives from an Aztec name, "coyotl". In Native American myth, the coyote is seen both as a trickster and a hero.

The coyote as found in Minnesota grows to the size of a middle-breed dog, around 40 inches long and up to 45 pounds. Coyotes are usually solitary animals, but have been known to roam in small, single sex groups. Coyotes are believed to be once most active during the day, but with the spread of human inhabited areas, they have switched to be mostly nocturnal animals.

The success of the coyote in human-inhabited areas is largely due to wolves being pushed out. Coyotes and wolves survive on many of the same prey animals. Wolves being more skittish and sensitive to human-nearness, the coyote benefits from human presence.

Living so close to humans, coyotes have contact in many ways. For example, coyotes have been known to mate with domestic dogs. The resulting offspring is known as a "coydog," which has the coyotes predatory instincts with the dog's lack of shyness around humans. Coydogs are thus a threat to human livestock and other pets. Coyotes themselves are not afraid to attack and eat the whole variety of human pets, especially cats and small dogs.

The coyote is thus commonly seen as a dangerous pest. In spite of this, and the fact that coyotes are extensively hunted, they continue to thrive and expand their habitation areas into suburban and even urban areas of man.

American Crow (Corvus brachyrhynchos)

The American Crow is one of the few creatures that not only survives, but thrives on the boundaries of civilized areas. The crow is found throughout Minnesota, the United States and Canada. It is omnivorous, which means that it will eat just about anything. It is commonly seen eating roadkill or carrion.

The crow will also hunt small mice, frogs and snakes, as well as raiding bird feeders, garbage cans, pet food containers and public dumps.

Crows build large nests made of sticks in trees, usually in oak trees. Three to six eggs are laid at a time and incubated for about three weeks. Young crows are fledged after 35 days. Crows do not breed until they are at least two years old, and most do not breed until they more than four years old. Many crows stay with their parents and help them raise young in subsequent years. Crows mate and Families may include up to 15 individuals and contain crows from many years of breeding.

Crows are one of the largest victims of West Nile virus, a mosquito-born disease. It is estimated that up to 45% of the North American population of crows has died of this disease since 1999.

In the winter time, crows congregate into very large groups called roosts. These roosts can be of a hundreds or even thousands of crows. These roosts are returned to every year, over many, many years.

The crow is highly intelligent. It is the only bird to have been observed using sticks or grass as a tool to gather food.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Benny Resting - Cross Hatch Exercises

Here's a sketch of Benny resting and some cross-hatching exercises.

Friday, December 28, 2007

Red Tail Hawk (Buteo jamaicensis)

The Red Tail Hawk is one of three species of hawk commonly referred to as the "chicken hawk" (along with the Cooper's Hawk and Sharp-shinned Hawk). The Red-Tail Hawk has several color variations, called "morphs." The Red-Tail Hawk may be light, dark or "rufous" - a word that means reddish color plumage. The Red-Tail gets its name from its broad tail feathers, which are a deep, rusty red color.

The female Red-Tail is up to 25% larger than the male Red-Tail. Females will grow to be about 4 or 5 lbs., with a wingspan of about 4 feet. Red-Tail Hawks have amazing courtship rituals in which they will soar in wide circles. The male will dive down in a steep drop, then shoot up again at nearly as steep an angle. He will repeat this several times, then approach the female from above. The pair will then interlock talons and spiral toward the ground at rapid speed.

The Red Tail can often been found sitting on a high tree branch, tall highway sign or a light pole, 20 to 30 feet up, surveying open ground next to a highway, freeway, field or open plain. When it is doing this, it is using its excellent eyesight to watch for mice, voles or rabbits that may be scurrying in the undergrowth.

Because the Red Tail thrives on the boundaries of human habitation and highways, it has greatly expanded its distribution across North America over the last century, displacing many other hawk species in the process.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Blue Jay (Cyanocitta cristata)

The bright blue feathers of the blue jay make it hard to mistake for another bird. It's frequently seen at bird feeders, bossy and chasing off any other birds before it feeds. It is an aggressive bird, known to eat the eggs and young of other bird species. But its aggression will also sometimes be to the advantage of other birds, as it is known to harass predators such as owls, hawks and cats.

The blue jay has a loud, gull-like "jeering" call, and also makes whistling and gurgling sounds. The male and female coloring is not differentiated.

While blue jays do migrate, it is believed that not all of the birds migrate every year. Some jays will migrate one year, then spend the next winter north.

Jays can be impressive mimics. Some jays will mimic the call of a hawk, perhaps to alert other creatures that a hawk is in the area. Like other corvids (a bird group including crows, rooks, magpies and ravens), jays have a flexible vocal range, including the ability to mimic parts of human speech.

Snowshoe Hare (lepus americanus)

The snowshoe hare is a northern species of rabbit that lives throughout Minnesota, northern states, Canada and Alaska. They are most commonly found in fields, swamps, thickets and other areas with low-lying, thick vegetation. The snowshoe hare gets it name from its oversized rear feet, which are excellent for bounding across snow.

The snowshoe hare, like most rabbits, are heavily hunted upon by predators. Up to 85% of snowshoe hares do not live past one year of age. Lucky hares may live up to 5 years of age in the wild. On the other hand, the snowshoe hare is quite prolific, breeding several times a year with 6-8 rabbits in each litter. This sometimes results in overpopulation, with thousands of hares in a single square mile.

Hares are typically solitary animals, but may live in high densities, individuals having over-lapping territories. These territories are criss-crossed with beaten down trails, which the hares know extremely well. Hares are good swimmers and will not hesitate to enter water to avoid a predator.

Hares have excellent hearing and are very quiet creatures. This makes even more starting the frightening squealing they make if captured, which may shock the predator into dropping its prey. Hares can communicate with each other by thumping their hind feet upon the ground.

The hare is quick-footed and skillful at evading predators. When it sights or hears a predator, it will freeze. Because its fur "molts" over the seasons (white in the winter, brown in the summer), it can easily disappear into the background. If this tactic does not work, it can run up to 27 mph, instantly change direction at high speed, and even leap up to 10 feet in a single bound.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

House Cat (Felis silvestris catus)

The house cat, while independent and completely able to fend for itself; has been associated with humans longer than recorded history. In 2004, a grave site was excavated in Cyprus that revealed a burial of a human and house cat together. The grave was dated to be over 9,500 years old.

The cat is a highly skilled predator that hunts nearly every species smaller than itself. It has highly evolved teeth and claws that excel a capturing and killing prey. They are known as "obligate carnivores," which means they naturally survive by only eating meat. In the wild, the cat would survive (and thrive) solely on meat from the animals it kills. However, because of its socialization with humans, it also ingests human foods... cheese, cereals, and milk based products. These are foods it cannot easily digest, and so many house cats develop obesity and medical issues.

The relationship between cats and humans is called "symbiotic social adaptation." This means that both species derive benefit from the relationship and so both endeavor to maintain it. Some have suggested that, psychologically, the human keeper of a cat is a sort of surrogate for the cat's mother, and that adult domestic cats live their lives in a kind of extended kitten hood.

One of the appealing aspects of cats to humans is that cats are very clean and quiet creatures. These two factors are also considered to evolved behavior. Unlike dogs and lions, cats are not pack hunters. So there is no advantage to a cat in using scent or sound to identify or locate other pack members (as there is for dogs, wolves, lions or other pack animals).

The advantage to the cat, is to be quiet and without scent, in order to more stealthily sneak up on prey.

Self Portrait - Side and 3/4

I'm learning a lot from Drawing on the Right Side... especially about the importance of details, relationships and sighting when drawing portraits. I'm struggling a bit with portraits. I tried a sketch of F.D.R. because I found this great photo that I though would make a good sketch. But after about 5 attempts, I gave it up as lost. The tiniest detail variation can make someone look like an entirely different person...

So, if nothing else, I've learned that anybody can draw a halfway-decent human, but to really make it represent the subject takes incredible attention to detail.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Herbie and Rudolph

From another Christmas classic, "Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer".

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Mallard (Anas platyrhynchos)

An artistic note here: I've got to attempt to make these sketches cleaner. There seem to be too many stray lines and smudges. Maybe I'll try sketching with pen?

The mallard is perhaps one of the most easily recognizable and commonly found "wild" ducks. Its habitat ranges all across North America , Europe, Asia and even Australia. It is a strongly migratory bird. For example, most of the mallards who summer in North America migrate to Mexico, South America and even the Caribbean during the winter.

The mallard and the "Muscovy" duck are thought to be the ancestors of all domestic ducks.

The male mallard, called a "drake," is unmistakable as it has a bright green head. The female mallard has brownish feathers, like most other wild ducks. Both male and female bright blue flight feathers edged in white on their wings. This patch of feathers is called the "speculum."

Like most other creatures that range from northern climates to southern climates, those found in the northern climates tend to be larger. This phenomenon is known as "Bergman's Rule". Bergman's rule also states that appendages exposed to elements (ears, noses, duck bills, etc.) also tend to be proportionally smaller in northern climates to minimize heat loss. This is also true in the mallard, with northern birds having smaller bills than southern birds.

Male and female mallards only stay in pairs until the female lays her eggs, usually in a "clutch" of 8-12 eggs. At that time, the male leaves her and she is left to raise the ducklings alone. Ducklings are able to swim and feed themselves as soon as they are born and will stay with the mother for about two months before moving off on their own.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Ski Trail

For the first December since 2000, we've had a good snowfall in Minnesota. For the last couple of weekends, I've been able to go cross country skiing. There is more snow scheduled for this weekend, but unfortunately, this week the temperatures have been hovering around 30 degrees, so we've lost the good base that we've had.

The sketch at left comes from a ski trail around Sucker Lake, which is within a few miles from our house. The morning I went skiing with a friend, the temperature was -7 degrees, but the skiing had us both sweating within a few minutes.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Big Cats - Siberian Tiger (Panthera tigris)

The tiger is the largest creature in the cat family. It is native to much of eastern and southern Asia and can grow up to 13 feet in length (nose to tail tip) and weighing over 600 pounds. For land-based carnivores, they are second only in size to polar bears.

Because they have evolved and lived in areas of the world densly populated with humans, they have had extensive human contact. That contact has typically been bad for tigers, as now all subspecies are "endangered". Three subspecies of tiger are now extinct: the Balinese, the Javan and the Caspian tigers. All three subspecies were hunted to extinction by humans.

All tigers are easily identified by the coat of black stripes over orangish/reddish fur, with white underbelly. The tiger's fur was highly prized by hunters, but another reason for hunting tigers was simple fear. Because of their proximity and contact with humans, tigers would sometimes become "man-eaters", hunting and eating humans as easy prey. This would nearly always occur as a result of an injury or impairment to the tiger.

For example: "Champawat", a man-eating tigress from the 1930s, killed over 400 people in Nepal and India before finally being hunted down and killed by the famous hunter Jim Corbett in 1937. An examination of the dead tiger's teeth revealed that the upper and lower canine teeth on one side of her mouth were completely broken. This permanent injury prevented her from killing natural prey and led her instead to hunt humans.

Tigers are territorial and solitary. Females may allow their own territories to overlap, but males mark and defend their territories to the exclusion of other males. Usually three or four cubs are born to a mother and father tiger. Males and females tolerate each other's presence within territories, but mother tigers usually raise cubs on their own. Contrary to lions, male lions will allow females and young cubs first feeding after making a kill.

Because of the popularity of tigers in zoos, and the scarcity of tigers in the wild; it is said that the population tigers in USA zoos may rival the entire population of wild tigers, worldwide.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Big Cats - African Lion (Panthera leo)

Well, I can't do sketches of big cats without doing the king of the jungle.

The male lion can be up to 600 lbs and over 8 feet long from nose to tail tip. It is second only to the tiger in size.

Lions are the only cats that live in social groups, called prides. A pride typically contains 3 or 4 males with around a dozen females and all their young. Only the dominant male typically has mating privileges and he will brutally exterminate any young from other males. Female young typically stay with the family group while young male lions usually leave the pride when they reach adulthood. At some point, they will challenge the leader of a neighboring pride or return to challenge the leader of their birth pride. It is extremely difficult, if not impossible for a lion to live in the wild without being part of a pride. An adult lion needs 10 to 15 pounds of fresh meat daily to survive.

The social order within the pride is rigorously maintained. When kills occur, feeding occurs strictly according to social order, with the smallest cub eating last. The prides big eaters (the dominant male and dominant females, the first to eat) will gorge themselves, eating over 60 lbs of meat at a time. The highly maintained social order also plays a role in hunting, patrolling and all other functions within the pride.

Lions are typically inactive for most the day, lounging or sleeping up to 20 hours every day. Lions are effective hunters both day and night, relying more on cooperation and teamwork than either stealth or speed. The females of the pride are the most active and successful in hunting.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Big Cats - Mountain Lion (Puma concolor)

I'm not satisfied with this sketch, so it's likely I'll do another one. There's too much contrast between the black of the irises and the rest of the face. And the face itself is too angular.

The mountain lion is known by many names, some common, "puma", "panther", "cougar"; and some more colorful names, "catamount", "painter" (because of the black tip on its tail) and "mountain screamer". It is native to the Americas and can be found all the way from the northwest regions of Canada to the southernmost tip of South America.

It is a very large cat, growing to be about the size of an adult human. Most adult males grow to be between 115 and 160 pounds, with a length of 5 to 9 feet from nose to tail tip. In rare instances though, these cats have been found to be over 250 lbs.

The mountain lion's feet have evolved to be very effective at capturing prey, as they are over-sized, with extremely sharp claws. The mountain lion is an "ambush predator", meaning that they capture their prey by stealth rather than by chase. They are powerfully muscled and have the ability to leap up to 18 feet vertically and almost 40 feet horizontally. They are excellent at bringing down larger prey, namely deer, which they primarily feed upon.

Mountain lions are almost identical in coloring, with a tawny back/sides and a white underbelly. The commonly known term "black panther," in reality usually refers to jaguars or leopards, rather than a cat in the cougar/mountain lion family.

There have been recent confirmed (filmed) sightings of mountain lions in rural western locations of Minnesota.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Big Cats - Ocelot (Leopardus pardalis)

I thought I'd take a break from local creatures for a bit and do some sketches of something exotic. So... the first in what may be a series, here is... the ocelot.

The ocelot is also known as the "painted leopard". It is primarily found in South and Central America. It grows to be about twice the size of a large housecat (20-30 lbs). Because of its beautiful fur, it was hunted heavily in the 1800 and 1900s. However, perhaps because of the attention of being threatened, it is now off of the endangered species list. In fact, it has expanded it's territory enough to occasionally be seen in Texas.

The ocelot is nocturnal and territorial. It will fight a rival to the death over an invasion of territory. Ocelots eat most of the smaller creatures found in the jungles of South America, monkeys, snakes, rodents, fish and birds.

Because of its size, some people have attempted to keep it as a pet. Perhaps most famously, the artist Salvador Dali often traveled with his pet ocelot.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Cottontail Rabbit - Sylvilagus Floridanus

Quoted from the Minnesota DNR site

The "eastern cottontail" have shorter legs than hares and rely on quick, dodging movements to escape predators. If chased, they usually circle within their territory. They can run up to 18 miles per hour and leap up to 15 feet. Eastern cottontails are not fond of water, but they can swim if necessary.

Eastern cottontails are known for being some of nature's most abundant mammals. Each year a female cottontail produces several litters of young, with four to six rabbits per litter. A female born in early spring may breed that same summer when only 3 months old!

Before giving birth to her young, a female cottontail digs or finds a shallow hole in the ground. She lines the nest with grass and fur pulled from her body. She may breed again when the young are a few days old.

Because cottontails have many predators, only about 1 percent of all rabbits born reach 2 years of age.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Bald Eagle - Haliaeetus leucocephalus

Once, not so long ago, it was a rare and magical event to see a bald eagle around Minnesota. Once on the endangered species list, they've bounced back well enough to be completely removed from both the "endangered" and "threatened" species. Now, it's not so rare to see a bald eagle anymore, but it's still pretty magical. These are enormous, awe inspiring birds.

Female bald eagles grow to be about 25% larger than males. In Minnesota, they can be over 14 lbs with a six or seven foot wingspan. In Alaska, where they grow largest, they can have wingspans up to 8 feet across.

Both male and female birds have the distinct white feathers on their heads, although neither one develops this coloring until after their third or fourth year. Bald eagles can leave to be up to 40 years old in the wild.

Bald eagles primarily eat fish, and so like to build large nests in areas away from human interference but close to good fishing spots. They are known to be good swimmers and will often catch a fish, then swim with it to shore if it is too large to carry off in flight.

Bald eagles are, of course, the national symbol of the United States.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Summer White-Tail Buck

The antlers on this buck turned out OK, but that's about it. The eyes seem way too cartoonish, and all of the shading is far to light. Not enough contrast. Maybe I need to start using something other than a mechanical pencil.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Winter Pine Tree

Monday, December 10, 2007

Contour Sketches

Another exercise from The New Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain by Betty Edwards is to do contour sketches.

On the left, is a "blind" or "pure" contour sketch. You put the paper behind you and do the sketch in a single line without looking at the paper AT ALL while drawing.

On the right is a "modified" contour sketch. Same as the "blind" except you are allowed to refer to the drawing to check progress, but NOT allowed to sketch while looking. I can see at least a couple lines that are unconnected to the main line, which means I was obviously cheating (drawing while looking). Still, this is a useful exercise to force your mind into "right side" drawing. No symbolic references/triggers from the left side. The outcome is (hopefully) a more accurate representation of what you actually see, rather than what you THINK you see.

Self Portrait

Friday, December 07, 2007

Bobcat - Lynx rufus

I personally love cats but my wife is no fan. I guess what I like about them so much is their independence and their grace. I tried to show some of that in this sketch.. but instead the cat almost looks alien. The eyes are far too large for the face.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Gray Wolves

In addition to my technical failings as a sketch artist, I've come to realize that my eyes are serious handicap. I recently bought a pair of cheap 1.25 power drugstore eyeglasses and am amazed at the difference it makes for me looking at things up close. I need to make more use of them for up-close details. For example, I just couldn't get the eyes on these wolves until I put them on. Whammo! I could actually see what I was doing!

Wednesday, December 05, 2007


I've obviously got a lot of work to do to improve some skills in landscapes and such. Not that I'm all that hot with animals or people either.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Black Bear

I'm obviously enjoying doing some wildlife sketches here. This came out OK, but the eyes, while each individually alright, don't really match, so the poor bear ends up looking like he has a lazy eye or something. Also, the right ear appears to be not strictly proportional with the left ear.

Monday, December 03, 2007

Great Horned Owl 2

I wasn't exactly pleased with my first go-round on a horned owl, so here's another take. I like how the feathers and eyes turned out. The beak isn't quite right, but still, overall an improvement on the first version.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

3/4 size guitar

Saturday, December 01, 2007

Right Side Brain Drawing - Igor Stravinsky

One of the assignments from Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain is to copy a Picasso drawing of Igor Stravinksy, but do it upside down. This (in theory) forces the left brain to give up and the right side of the brain to take over.

Here's my upside down version.

A view of that rightside up.

And Picasso's original.