Sketching ‘critters’ in real time a quick draw at East Bay gallery
By Lou Fancher
A ring-tailed lemur, fennec fox, hand-sized hedgehog and a sloth mesmerized artists and visitors at the Bedford Gallery’s “Cute Critter Live Draw & Art Auction.”
Seven local artists were invited to replicate animal likenesses in drawings and paintings of Animal Ambassadors provided by Petaluma-based Classroom Safari.
Along with Bay Area professionals — Skye Becker-Yamakawa, Jane Fisher, Yesenia Gonzalez, Martin Hsu, Michael McConnell, Mimolette Monster, Jennie Ottinger and Shannon Taylor — artists of every age and experience from the general public took up the challenge of drawing critters in real time.
“I don’t know why people say sloths are slow, because this one isn’t,” said 9-year-old Shiraz Kamran, of Lafayette.
Indeed, the two-toed model’s poses and constant shifting tested even the skills of his mother, Bushra Gill, a graduate of the New York-based Pratt Institute. Gill aimed for the animal’s essential movements; her son the sloth’s physical features.
“Its fur is brown, black, tan, yellow and white. I’m noticing its feet because you don’t see many things with two fingers,” he said.
Invited artist Michael McConnell, of San Francisco, was excited to see and draw a live sloth.
“They’re weird and creepy and there’s an immediacy to drawing live. The gestural part is sight specific: you see movements that are more natural to animals than what’s found in photographic reference.”
Classroom Safari is owned and operated by Bonnie Cromwell and offers educational outreach programs at schools, private parties and community events.
At the Bedford, the original artwork created during the two-hour live draw event was auctioned every half-hour for $50 each. Funds raised support the city-owned gallery’s free admission days and family arts activities.
Cromwell says that working with animals and kids is invigorating.
“It’s incredible. When kids appreciate animals, when they meet them and connect, it makes a difference. That’s why our programs and the active sanctuary we’re planning aren’t just ‘read a sign and move on. They’re about interacting directly with any animals not big enough to eat us or our audiences.”
At the table of Pocahontas, the hedgehog’s loss of sight in one eye did not prevent it from exploring every inch and edge of its display territory.
“Oh,” exclaimed artist Shannon Taylor as the critter cruised out of its carrier. “I’m so excited she’s out. I’ve drawn animals, but not in a gallery.”
Taylor is director of restoration at Children’s Fairyland in Oakland, and a California College of the Arts illustration professor.
“I do figure-based work and this sounded fun,” she said. “I’m going for Pocahontas’s general shape. It’s shlumpy, tactile. I’m trying to capture that.”
Edward Bachmann, of Vallejo, said his 14-year-old daughter, Shira Bachmann, draws constantly. Domestic cats, dragons, fantastical animals that become cartoon characters or are animated on a graphics tablet — the young Bachmann’s work comes in many mediums.
“I like to draw majestic animals, not people,” she says. “Horses are difficult because their limbs bend the opposite of cats and other animals, like this lemur.”
Although the lemur’s unusually long back legs created initial difficulty, persistence paid off.
“See how the spine curves up — I’m more used to cats’ levelness,” she explained.
Studying her quick sketches of the lemur, Shira said, “I’m getting it. Drawing from life helps you make more accurate representation. It leaves memory of what things really look like.”