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zookeeping, cool art, kawaii shit.


I promised Lissa that I would take some process photos of how I draw rocks, because it is widely known that LISSA TREIMAN CAN’T DRAW ROCKS apparently, and so here they are!  It’s no video tutorial, but it’s something. :)

So drawing rocks is kinda different from drawing other stuff.
What I love about drawing rocks is that they’re abstract, but they’re abstract with their own logic and history to them.  Rocks look the way the do for a reason- sediments, erosion, eruption, human foot traffic, what have you- and it’s important to suss out those reasons while you’re drawing them.  Sometimes you know why rocks look the way they do (maybe you are intimately familiar with the Colorado plateau, I don’t know your deal), but a lot of the time it’s up to you to silently observe trends and features in the rock that speak to a grander system.

Learning geology is gonna seriously boost your rock-drawing skills.
At Bryce Canyon (technically an amphitheater or pothole!), you’re staring at the Pink Cliffs of the Claron formation- limestone eroded into elaborate fins and hoodoos through an ongoing freeze/thaw cycle.  Unlike the formations in Arches, where you can see elaborate upheavals and folds, Bryce’s sedimentary layers are blessedly flat- you can trace the layers across multiple hoodoos, each of them wearing differently according to their particular mineral composition.  Knowing this, knowing what to look for when you’re drawing a particular formation, is a fantastic tool for you as an artist- as you’re laying in the overall shape, these tiered layers give you visual anchors to check the scale and proportions of the rocks.  Thanks a lot, NATURE.

How I personally draw rocks.
A note about hatching- I generally prefer directional hatching, rather than flatter cross-hatching, when I’m working with pen.  Cross-hatching happens in the process, it’s inevitable, but hatching in a direction consistent with the form you’re drawing tends to make for much more plausible 3D forms that sit well in space.  Look to Franklin Booth and Charles Dana Gibson for some particularly expert hatching inspiration.  Try not to cry.  So!  Onto the process itself:

  • I start out with loose outlines, marking particularly important landmarks, change of planar direction, and any deep pits in the rock- they help to anchor the drawing down the line, and give me a nice base to work on top of.  This is the stage when I panic and think the sketch is going to turn out horribly.  It is an ugly stage.
  • From there, I tend to (apparently, I don’t think this is something I’m considering at the time) block out sections of rock to render with more detail, working the entire surface and trying to keep broader value structures in mind.  Those darker pits in the rock help ground me- they give me a “darkest dark” that I can work against as I’m laying down tones.
  • As I start working on new sections of rock, I’ll jump back and forth to cohere the sections, make sure they sit well in the value structure, that the forms are reading across the rock, etc.
  • While you sketch, make sure you aren’t overworking the surface of the rock- let your eyes go out of focus, and really prioritize where to add value, where to leave swaths of blank paper, etc.
  • Once I’m nearing the end of the sketch, I’ll do a quick pass of overall hatching to make sure the piece reads as a whole.  I love the local colour of the hoodoos- the transitions from pink to orange to white- and so I wanted to make sure there was a hint of that broad value structure in my sketch.
  • Add plants, if available.  Plants make everything better.

And you’re done!  Or, well, you’re kinda cold and your butt’s going numb.  Here’s the final piece I ended up with, alongside an in-focus photo of the rocks for comparison:

…it’s not perfect- I can start to pick it apart now that I have them side by side- but it’s pretty damn close! :)

Have fun drawing rocks ALL DAY LONG,


A girl and her platypus.

always0900 said: I looked into zoo keeping & I was wondering if you are actually able to work with the animals alot (like walks daily, and petting them etc) or if you just get to clean the cage and barley spend time with the animals?


First, a sincere thank you for reading, and for your question!
Now I need to get serious for a minute so put on your listening hats, people.  I don’t mean to be harsh but this gets under my skin.  And this isn’t the only question I’ve gotten along these lines, so it applies to many.

One of the main reasons this blog exists is to clear up confusion like this. 

1. “I was wondering if you are actually able to work with the animals alot [sic] (like walks daily, and petting them etc)”
If “working with animals,” for you, invokes images of walking them and petting them, then you do not want to work with animals.  You want pets.  There is a difference.  Pets are there to be your companions, to hang out with you and go for walks with you and let you hug them when you’re sad.  Zoo animals are not pets.  I will say that again, louder: zoo animals are not pets.  Keepers owe their animals respect — this includes respecting their space; respecting their boundaries; respecting that what the keeper wants to do is not always what the keeper should do for the good of the animal; and respecting the fact that they are (captive) wild animals, not pets.  As a keeper, I love my animals and would do anything for them, but I’m there for them, not the other way around.  It’s my job to make sure they’re safe, healthy, well fed, enriched, and appropriately managed.  Nine times out of ten, that does not involve walking them or petting them.

2. “…or if you just get to clean the cage and barely spend time with the animals?”
First, hopefully the animals aren’t in cages, but in species-appropriate holdings and naturalistic exhibits.  Even when things aren’t as naturalistic as we’d like, “cage” is generally not a term that is used in the modern zoo industry.

Second, what makes you think that cleaning and spending time with the animals are mutually exclusive things?  I get to spend time with the animals because I am the one who does everything for them, including cleaning up after them and keeping their space well-maintained.  That’s what “working with animals” is.  It’s cleaning, fixing things, preparing food, moving animals around, training them, keeping after their health, devising new ways to entertain and engage them, and coming up with creative solutions to all the random issues that pop up every day, from clogged drains to broken feeders to overgrown weeds to uncooperative animals.

I’m not going to lie — I do experience a lot of ridiculously cool moments with the animals on a regular basis.  While I may not be walking or petting them, I do get to be up close and personal with them all the time.  But my main point here is that zookeeping is about 20% really cool amazing stuff that makes people jealous when you tell them about it, and 80% difficult dirty exhausting thankless work.  For me, and for many others, that 20% more than makes up for the other 80% (and honestly, that 80% isn’t always bad — sometimes cleaning can be therapeutic, and projects can be fun, and it’s all good exercise and beats sitting at a desk, in my opinion).  But I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again: if you want to be a keeper because you’re imagining yourself petting tigers and hand-feeding giraffes all day, you’re in for a rude surprise because that ain’t real life.

Fiery Throated Hummingbird

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