Sketching Sheep

Tuesday, 25th April 2006


sheepIt seems as if every time I come to the Peak District I draw mossy rocks. They might be in an old drystone wall, in a crag or by a waterfall but always there seems to be a mossy rock somewhere. You can't have too many mossy rocks but in order to vary the pages of my Peak sketchbook I'm now looking out for different subjects.

Towards the end of the morning, I enjoy spending an hour or so drawing a dozen sheep that are grazing on the other side of the narrow rocky valley of Cavedale, Castleton. It's so soothing.

I use a waterproof, lightfast 0.5 mmm Staedtler pigment liner as I want to add a wash; the ink in my regular fountain pen ink would run.

more sheepAlthough they moved gradually along the slope as they grazed, the sheep kept in a similar pose, with just a slight shuffling of the legs, so there was time to establish the basics of the pose before they turned off in some different direction.

Sometimes I'd get a rear end to draw, sometimes they'd turn their heads so I had just a woolly bundle on legs to work with, but I decided that with sheep there isn't really a 'wrong' pose to draw them in. If I don't like one pose there'll be another one along in a minute. It's not like the crag I was drawing yesterday where one drawing takes an hour or two, and if you don't get it right, that's it, afternoon wasted; these little drawings don't take much more than a minute. The important thing is to keep looking.

sheepOne of the ewes briefly stood with her front legs resting on a fallen ash at the top of the slope (right, top right) which was about as near as I saw to a sheep in a heroic pose, like Landseer's Monarch of the Glen. Apart from that, they never did anything more striking than occasionally scratch against a rock, meet in the odd head to head over a tuft of grass or panic slightly on realising that their companions had ambled off along the slope.

I did all the line drawings first, then, with the sheep turning back across the hillside in similar poses, I added my premixed tonal washes, starting with the lightest and working to the shadows. I felt that I needed to indicate the tone of the grass around them sometimes, to make it obvious that they had lighter highlights where the light was catching them. And I felt I needed to indicate the small shadows beneath them . . . otherwise they'd be drifting off, weightless, like fluffy clouds.

I could spend all day drawing sheep. But I guess it would send me to sleep.

sheepI drew some crinoid (sea lily) fossils at the top end of Cavedale today. The fossil fragments, resembling pieces of pasta, were in a loose block but appropriately I found it up near the top of the dale; when Cavedale was a tropical reef, some 320 million years ago, crinoids lived at the top, catching their food as fragments on the currents wafting up from the depths below. At the foot of the slope there's shelly debris.

It rained at lunchtime but pretty soon after that the weather changed to sunny. For the first time I found myself thinking 'I'm really enjoying doing this drawing!' It was a pleasure rather than a survival course.

And, for the first time, I wore my regular hiking trousers, not the thermal version. Next Page

scratching sheep

Richard Bell,